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Medical Model and Social Model of Special Educational Needs

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Examine the difference between the 'social model' and the 'medical model' as a way of understanding, identifying and responding to special needs. Models of disability are tools for defining Special Educational Needs (SEN), in the hope that strategies can be devised to meet the needs of disabled people. The medical model of disability focuses on the child's condition, seeing the problem within the child, trying to find a way of treating the child to fit in with his environment. Disability Equality in Education (DEE) defines the medical model stating that the impairment is focused on, rather than the needs of the person (http://www.diseed.org.uk/Medical_Social_Model.htm, no date). In contrast, the social model of disability sees the problem with the environment, addressing that changes need to be made within society. Alcott (2002, p.120) describes the social model explaining that the focus of attention is on the environment in which the child lives, making changes to it as well as changes to the attitudes of society. The introduction of the 1981 Education Act changed the way children with SEN were educated, using the findings from the Warnock report. The Warnock Report promoted the use of the social model of disability, changing the term 'handicap' to SEN hoping that this new expression would encourage the focus to be on the individuals needs rather than their disability. Previous to this report the medical model was adhered to, focusing on a person's disability, labelling them and ignoring their needs as an individual. This paper will evaluate each model of disability, explaining how society understands, identifies and responds to both models, as well as highlighting the advantages and disadvantages of both models in debate. ...read more.


The medical model of responding to SEN firstly means 'labelling' the child. Does the child have a diagnosis and if so, what is the cure for the problem? In many cases remediation is the answer and with conditions such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) medication is often prescribed. Oliver (1990) argues that disability as a long term social state is not treatable and certainly not curable. He also states that the aim is to restore the disabled person to normality and where that is not possible, the goal is to restore the person to a state that is as near normality as possible. In addition, many children with SEN are sent to special schools to receive 'specialist' teaching. The nineteenth century saw the first special schools built for children with visual or hearing difficulties, intended for those from middle or upper class families. The 1870 Education Act saw the expansion of special schools as children with emotional and learning difficulties were now entitled to an education. However many mainstream schools rejected children with SEN and as a result the growth of special schools took effect. Segregation is a common occurrence with a child who has SEN and within a mainstream setting many children miss out on classes to be tutored by the 'special needs teacher'. Burt (1917) encourages separate provision for children with SEN, suggesting an introduction of special classes for children with learning difficulties. The medical model has reduced expectations of a person with SEN, seeing 'handicapped' children as abnormal, assuming that they will have a limit of what they can achieve. ...read more.


However, there are disadvantages of the social model of disability, these being conflicting arguments between both models. Parents feel they have an understanding of their child's needs if they are diagnosed with a certain condition, yet they also want their child being recognised as an individual and not by their condition. As well as this, many resources such as social security benefits rely heavily on having a diagnosis, and many parents have been advised that they are not entitled to receive this help without a medical diagnosis. As previously mentioned, a diagnosis can be helpful in determining certain health issues that are related to a medical condition and without a diagnosis many people would face ill-health and in the worst possible case; death. It should be noted that not one model is seen as a superior to the other as both models have their advantages and disadvantages. The medical model focuses on 'curing' the disability in order to include the person within society, whereas the social model's focus is on the changing of society and human attitudes with the aim of improving the life of the disabled person, making it easier for the person to gain an education and carry out day to day activities. The identification processes are diverse with the medical model identifying SEN generically, and the social model by way of observation and collaboration. Responding to SEN under the medical model labels the child, assuming they need 'specialist' education, with the hope of remediation. In contrast the social model embraces the child, removing the barriers to achievement by responding to the child's individual needs; underpinning inclusion. Additionally, if elements of both models were used sensibly the long-term health, education and well-being of the child could be improved. ...read more.

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