Kamryn Skwiera, Alyssa Lechuga, Grace Isenberg, Jocelyne Araujo
Education, Early Childhood Development, Elementary Education, Special Education
Material Type:
Community College / Lower Division
  • AEM
  • Accessibility
  • Accessible Educational Materials
  • Cultrual Competence
  • Cultural Awareness
  • Culture
  • History of Special Education
  • Special Education
  • accessibility
  • accessible-educational-materials
  • aem
  • culture
  • special-education
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    Cultural Competence in Special Education

    Cultural Competence in Special Education


    This resource is to educate others on the importance of cultural competence in special education and the lack of cultural awareness that is currently in special education classrooms. It includes history of special education and the laws surrounding it, the importance of cultural awareness and competence, what the current system is doing and why it does not work and what the future will hopefully look like for culture in special education.



    The goal of this is to provide resources for cultivating a culturally competent special education classroom. This reviews the past, present and future of cultural competence in special education. It also reviews what the ideal special education classroom looks like.

    History of Special Education

    Brown v. Board of Education paved the way for changes to be made in the education system. Segregation of schools were unequal and deprived the equal rights of students. Students should be able to have an equal education free from discrimination. Once people had seen how segregation can discriminate and how everyone deserves a chance of a equal education it led to parents speaking out about children with disabilities. They too deserved an equal education that met their needs.

    (Public Law 94-142) Education for All Handicapped Children Act; protects the rights of meeting the individual needs and improving the results for children who have disabilities. 

    Before congress enacted EHA children with disabilities were denied the access to an education. They were secluded from a learning environment with peers their age. Some were sent to institutionalized facilities where their needs were being being met at the bare minimum.  EHA ensured that students with disabilities had access to a free public education that met their needs. 

    Students who are bilingual have a harder time being assessed for special education. "The field has not yet adequately determined how to distinguish between disabilities and normal second- language learning development." Assessing students who are bilingual can affect their scores by their lack of understanding the questions, and their lack of familiarity with the second language.  


    Importance of Cultural Integration

    Culture is the foundation on which we build our identity. It is the system of our beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors. While there is no right or wrong thing to make up one's cultural identity, culture can be built upon elements such as language, traditions, rituals, holidays, food, religion, and art. 

    It is important that culture is respected and recognized because doing so allows for someone to be seen and accepted. When accepting the cultural differences of children, you are encouraging diversity and giving the opportunity for them to thrive in a safe environment. Not only is it important to acknowledge culture but to integrate it into the curriculum and make accommodations if needed. 

    Recognizing and accommodating a child's culture and needs allows the child to build a positive self-image and feel validated in their background. Children should feel safe, accepted, and most importantly secure in their identity. All these key components are relevant for a culturally responsive teaching. 

    Cultural Deficits in Special Education

    Cultural and linguistic diversity play a crucial role in a child’s development and educational needs. As they continue to learn, children need someone to model positive, culturally accepting behavior. This is why it is so vital for teachers to receive proper training on how to be accepting and responsive to the cultural and linguistic backgrounds of their students.

    Though it is desperately needed in every classroom, providing the proper training for teachers and implementing a multicultural curriculum is not a simple task. Teachers do not represent the range of cultural, ethnic, and racial diversity of their students. They instead represent the background of the current teacher population, which is predominantly white, monolingual, and female. Leaving no room for others’ individuality and uniqueness to be seen.

    The lack of representation in current classrooms can lead to feelings of self-doubt in children. They do not see themselves and therefore begin to believe that something is wrong with them and begin to feel alienated. Classrooms are lacking content integration and do not include the student’s needs in the curriculum. Teachers tend to be those who are able and do not take into account accommodations for those who might have disabilities. Getting to know students’ backgrounds, cultures, and perspectives can help to improve the lack of representation both in and out of the classroom.

    “Content integration uses examples and information from different cultures to illustrate various concepts or ideas already contained in the curriculum”

    Integrating the children’s culture into the classroom and curriculum allows for the children to feel seen and not like they have been disregarded or pushed to the back. In that classroom, they matter and are accepted, whereas, in other areas of their life, they might not be.

    Ultimately, a child’s self-esteem and self-image are strongly influenced by culture and how it is integrated into the classroom. If a child can see themselves represented and see their peers represented, there is a greater chance they will be accepting of the different backgrounds and cultures of others. Integration of culture can also promote social and emotional skills by including linguistic diversity and presenting a multilingual education. However, in the current state of education, cultural deficiencies in the classroom are limiting the possibilities and opportunities for all students.




    Students have always been diverse. Whether in the past, future or in the present day, students learn at unique paces, show unique personalities, and learn in their own ways. In recent decades, though, the forms and extent of diversity have increased. Now more than ever, teachers are likely to serve students from diverse language backgrounds, and to serve more individuals with special educational needs. 

    To include every child, our classrooms must be diverse; this is especially true for special education classes. The classrooms of the future will be diversified and cutting edge. collaborating with students from various backgrounds and giving them all the assistance they require to establish an equitable classroom.



    Key takeaways

    • The history of rights for special education children and the laws that protect those rights

    • Respecting a child's cultural background ensures they feel secure in their identity. 

    • How culture is not accurately represented in current day education and the drawbacks of the system.

    • The future special education classroom with changes in cultural representation