Teacher Perceptions of Students' Understanding of Their Own Disability

May. 15, 2009

Source: Teacher Education and Special Education, Volume 32 Number 2,
p. 121-136 (May 2009).

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

Teacher education programs typically provide pre-service teachers preparation in assessment and identification procedures used to identify students with learning disabilities. What may be missing from teacher preparation is the development of communication skills to thoughtfully and professionally teach children about their disabilities. The authors examine teachers' perceptions regarding students' knowledge and understanding of their learning disability.

Research Questions

Therefore, this study was developed to determine answers to the following three questions: (a) What are teachers' perceptions regarding students' knowledge and understanding of their learning disability? (b) What do teachers tell students about their identified learning disability? (c) What do teachers do (specific activities, lessons, discussions) to help students understand their disability and how the disability affects their academic, social, and emotional lives?


This study was initiated using a pre-survey focus group. Data from the focus group were later used to construct the First Step Survey. Five special education teachers were invited to participate in the focus group. Their experience ranged from 2 to 7 years, and three were intermediate elementary grade special education teachers and two were middle or junior high school teachers. These teachers taught at the same level as the teachers who were expected to participate in the survey later. The First Step Survey was constructed based on the focus group data.


A mailing list of special education teachers in the second largest school district in the state was obtained from the state department of education. Using a set of randomly generated numbers, a graduate assistant selected 100 teachers from list. Every teacher mailed a survey held a valid special education teaching license. Surveys were sent to 70 intermediate level elementary teachers and 30 middle school special educators. As indicated, no follow-up mailings were sent. The return rate was 30% (n = 30).

Results of the study reveal that teachers often speak in jargon and euphemism to children with disabilities. They use deflecting behaviors to pass the responsibility onto parents and the students themselves. Although teachers are aware of self-determination activities, they fail to implement them appropriately. Finally, the mix-method nature of the survey allow for more accurate descriptive results.

Updated: Jun. 29, 2009