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The Role of Professional Groups

As the education profession itself matured and as compulsory school attendance laws became a reality, there was a growing realization among teachers and school administrators that a large number of students must be given something beyond the ordinary classroom experience.

The Council for Exceptional Children (CEC)

Elizabeth Farrell, a teacher in New York City in the early twentieth century, was highly instrumental in the development of special education as a profession. She was to make sure that every child was receiving appropriate education and received the related health and social services necessary for optimum learning in school. In 1922, Farrell and a group of other special educators from across the United States and Canada founded to Council for Exceptional Children, which is still the primary professional organization of special educators.

The Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) is the largest international professional organization dedicated to improving the educational success of individuals with disabilities and/or gifts and talents. CEC advocates for appropriate governmental policies, sets professional standards, provides professional development, advocates for individuals with exceptionalities, and helps professionals obtain conditions and resources necessary for effective professional practice.

Services Provided

Teachers, administrators, students, parents, paraprofessionals, related support service providers.

Population Served
All aspects of the education and development of students with disabilities and/or those who are gifted.

The Development of Other Professional and Parent Organizations

Much of the progress that has been made over the years has been achieve primarily by the collective efforts of professionals and parents. Professional groups were organized first, beginning in the nineteenth century. Effective national parent organizations have existed in the United States only since 1950. Parent organizations have typically served three essential functions: (1) providing an informal group for parents who understand one another’s problems and needs and help one another deal with anxieties and frustrations, (2) providing information regarding services and potential resources, and (3) providing the structure for obtaining needed services for their children. Some of the organization that came about primarily as the result of parents’ efforts include:

ARC (formerly the Association for Retarded Citizens)

The Arc is the world’s largest community based organization of and for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. It provides an array of services and support for families and individuals and includes over 140,000 members affiliated through more than 780 state and local chapters across the nation. The Arc is devoted to promoting and improving supports and services for all people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Local chapters of The Arc come in every shape, form and size – from small voluntary groups to large and sophisticated multi-million dollar organizations.

The Arc’s vision is that every individual and family affected by intellectual disability in the United States has access to the information, advocacy, and skills they need to participate as active citizens of our democracy and active members of their community. They work to ensure that people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families have the supports they need to live an ordinary, decent American life:

  • People with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families are valued, respected and included in all communities.
  • People with intellectual and developmental disabilities direct their own lives. People choose their services and supports from many available sources.
  • People are empowered through nonprofit advocacy. State and federal governments administer programs and set budgets that meet everyone’s needs.

The National Association for Gifted Children

  • Supporting the needs of high-potential learners
  • An estimated 3,000,000 gifted children sit in classrooms across the U.S. today. Because learning styles and levels vary widely, the needs of "smart kids" are far too often overlooked in the logical quest to meet minimum standards. But that begs the question: What is a maximum standard and how can we shift the focus in the U.S.?
  • For over 50 years, NAGC has worked to increase public awareness about these key questions and to affect positive change.
  • The 8,000+ members of NAGC work on behalf of these 3,000,000 students who represent a good portion of the oft-heralded "pipeline of talent." Luis J. Rodriguez, an award-winning author and Chicano activist once said "It is not enough to prepare our children for the world; we also must prepare the world for our children." We owe it to ourselves and to future generations to help prepare the world of education for gifted students.
  • Thus, NAGC invests all of its resources to train teachers, encourage parents and educate administrators and policymakers on how to develop and support gifted children and what's at stake if high-potential learners are not challenged and encouraged.

The Learning Disabilities Association

In March of 1963, parents of children with learning disabilities representing local support groups from around the country gathered in Chicago for a national conference. These concerned families organized into a national organization which was incorporated in 1964 as the Association for Children with Learning Disabilities (ACLD). From those beginnings, the Learning Disabilities Association of America has grown to serve tens of thousands of members with learning disabilities, their families and the professionals who work with them.

Today, LDA is the largest non-profit volunteer organization advocating for individuals with learning disabilities and has over 200 state and local affiliates in 42 states and Puerto Rico. LDA's international membership of over 15,000 includes members from 27 countries around the world.

The membership, composed of individuals with learning disabilities, family members and concerned professionals, advocates for the almost three million students of school age with learning disabilities and for adults affected with learning disabilities. The state and local affiliates, through their affiliation with the national LDA, work continuously for individuals with learning disabilities, their parents and the professionals who serve them.

LDA Visualizes a World in Which:

  • All individuals with learning disabilities are empowered to thrive and participate fully in society
  • The incidence of learning disabilities is reduced
  • And learning disabilities are universally understood and effectively addressed

The Autism Society of America

  • The Autism Society, the nation’s leading grassroots autism organization, exists to improve the lives of all affected by autism. We do this by increasing public awareness about the day-to-day issues faced by people on the spectrum, advocating for appropriate services for individuals across the lifespan, and providing the latest information regarding treatment, education, research and advocacy.
  • Founded in 1965 by Dr. Bernard Rimland, Dr. Ruth Sullivan and many other parents of children with autism, the Autism Society is the leading source of trusted and reliable information about autism. Through its strong chapter network, the Autism Society has spearheaded numerous pieces of state and local legislation, including the 2006 Combating Autism Act, the first federal autism-specific law. The Autism Society's website is one of the most visited websites on autism in the world and its quarterly journal, Autism Advocate, has a broad national readership. The Autism Society also hosts the most comprehensive national conference on autism, attended by 2000 people each year. Our information and referral team, our program staff, and our strong chapter presence serve thousands of families each year who are searching for help in their journey with autism.
  • The Autism Society's national office is headquartered in Bethesda, Maryland. The Autism Society is a member and chapter organization who’s national Board of Directors is composed of democratically elected members and appointed members. We are proud to be one of the few organizations to have members with autism serving as active board directors. The Autism Society's Panel of Professional Advisors sets the standards for our Options Policy that governs our practices, and we are proud to count the top professional experts in autism on our PPA. The Autism Society's Panel of People on the Spectrum of Autism Advisors is a first-of-its-kind advisory panel comprised solely of individuals with autism, who help Autism Society staff create programs and services that will advocate for the rights of all people with autism to live fulfilling, interdependent lives.
  • Each year, people with autism, families and professionals volunteer thousands of hours to help the Autism Society achieve its mission of serving all those affected by autism.

The Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health

  • The National Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health is a national family-run organization linking more than 120 chapters and state organizations focused on the issues of children and youth with emotional, behavioral, or mental health needs and their families. It was conceived in Arlington, Virginia in February, 1989 by a group of 18 people determined to make a difference in the way the system works.
  • Members of the National Federation come from all walks of life. Emotional, behavioral or mental health needs cut across all income, educational, geographical, racial, ethnic, and religious groups. They are found among single parents and two-parent families and in birth, adoptive, and foster families.
  • The National Federation works to develop and implement policies, legislation, funding mechanisms, and service systems that utilize the strengths of families. Its emphasis on advocacy offers families a voice in the formation of national policy, services and supports for children with mental health needs and their families.