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Teaching the Severe and Profound Student Population....It is Possible!

Updated on February 21, 2012

We Deserve to Be Educated Too!


Goals of Teaching the Severe and Profound Population

Students with severe and profound mental retardation have different needs than those who are not identified as being severe or profound. Typically, the severe or profound MR student is at a much lower level in terms of academic and mental functioning. At the highest, this student will have an IQ score of 34 and at the lowest 0. Essentially what this means is that the student will have very basic skills and even then those skills will need to be re-taught to maintain. Students with severe and profound MR will have very minimal communication skills, but may understand speech and respond minimally (American Academy of Family Physicians, 2000). They will most definitely require education in self care skills like feeding themselves, bathing/toiletry, and personal hygiene. On the profound end of the continuum the students will not be able to care for themselves and will rely on others to do this for them. The general issue facing these students is the degree of independence which they will have all of their life-if any. Many will not be independent and will have to rely on others to take care of their daily needs. In many cases, they will be placed in care homes and will not live with their family.

Teaching the severe or profound MR student is indeed a challenge in itself. The curricular needs for students with severe disabilities should not be considered to be the same for those students in special education with other disabilities (ie. Learning Disabled, LD or Emotionally Disturbed, ED).

The needs of this unique population is one in which creates a specific curriculum. For instance, a student who has been classified as having severe mental retardation does not benefit from learning algebra. Instead, the goals for students with severe and profound MR might focus on enjoying the quality of life, community or social relationships, self care skills (such as taking care of oneself), and simple school related tasks. These types of skills are the skills which would most benefit the student with a severe disability and skills which could generalize to life after school (Monterey County Office of Education, 2005). Furthermore, another goal of curricular development for this population focuses more on life skills that are needed for the student to be able to take care of oneself and actively engage in life by being as independent as possible. This might include being able to feed oneself, cleaning up and basic toileting skills, and interacting with others to communicate their needs. The degree to which goals are needed will be determined by the level of functioning of the student. What may apply to one student might not apply to another student, therefore it is important to determine levels of functioning (Monterey County Office of Education, 2005).

Curriculum Planning for Severe and Profound Students

One may ask what types of curriculum planning should a teacher do for the severe or profound student with MR. The fact that this population is unique in itself presents a problem for the teacher because much of what will be taught to a student with severe MR is not typical academic focus. In fact, teachers often will need to consider how their physical and health needs impact what is done in the classroom (Thomas, 1996). These students have needs that extend far beyond their academic inabilities and this is where teachers will most likely focus their skills training on. Even though these students will not make great strides toward learning new skills taught, the emphasis should be on teaching the student to become an efficient learner (Thomas, 1996).

In addition, it is important for teachers to work with the parents to teach and assist them in preparing their child for life beyond school. Since many students with severe and profound MR tend to depend upon others upon graduating from high school it is important to help the parents cope and learn what their child has been learning (Thomas, 1996).

Finally, it is important to address the educational interventions that should occur for these students. Students with severe MR are often identified early in their life and because of this educators have the ability to intervene with these students to give them a better quality of life. Since many of their needs require adaptive technologies and dependence on others it is important to teach them how to compensate for their inability to do certain tasks or rely on others (Thomas, 1996).

One such intervention that teachers can rely on is helping them use technology that will enable them to do certain tasks without the need for depending on others. For example, through communication devices students with MR are able to communicate their needs to caregivers. It is important for these students to be given the opportunity to participate as much as possible in their self care.

In conclusion, students with severe and profound MR should be given the same opportunities as other students. Even though they have limited abilities, there are certain things they can be taught in order to give them the best quality of life as possible.


American Academy of Family Physicians (2000). Identification and evaluation of mental retardation. Retrieved from

NICHY(2004). Severe and or multiple disabilities. Retrieved

Heward, W.L. (2003). Exceptional children: an introduction to special education (7th ed). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill.

Monterey County Office of Education. (2005). Special education: students with severe disabilities. Retrieved

Thomas, G.E. (1996). Teaching students with mental retardation: a life goal curriculum planning approach. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.


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