This study is an historical survey of the development of special education in Western Australia for the period covering 1896 to 1970. During this period, within the Education Department of Western Australia, an administrative sub-system evolved to control and co-ordinate the complex interactions related to the provision of educational services for handicapped children. Not only were provisions made for the education of these children during this period, but, as a result of a number of factors, changes occurred, resulting in the visibility, identification and programmes, and, in the view of the handicapped child in general. As the perception of the handicapped child changed so also did the social allocation of responsibility as it shifted from the family to social institutions.
Prior to the examination of the events that occurred within this area in Western Australia, a survey of the history of the development of special education in some selected countries was undertaken. It was found that there was considerable variation in the explanations offered. Most of the studies examined, in general, related to a specific handicap and it was considered that this accounted for the varied explanations offered. However, when these studies were considered together there was a distinct pattern in the development of facilities; there appeared to be an evolutionary sequence, and the consistencies within the categories of handicaps indicated that there were specific continuities in the patterns of social change. Thus, it was argued that the evolution of special education was not a unique response to specific handicaps, but rather, part of society’s attempts to cope with increasing complexity in the socialization process.
A model was proposed to account for this patterned development. However, it was considered that if this patterned development was to represent a societal response to a problem, it would be necessary to demonstrate a link to social systems in general. The breakdown of certain of the socializing functions within the family and the transference of these functions to social institutions, particularly the education system, was postulated.
The development of educational provisions for the various groups of handicapped children in Western Australia were examined against this theoretical framework.
Each of the major categories of handicapped were discussed as discrete groups. In each case the events that precipitated visibility were outlined, the identification techniques used were discussed against the existing knowledge and attitudes that prevailed, and the organizational arrangements and methodology adopted, were outlined. The evidence presented in this study would tend to give some support to the notion of sequential patterning for each of the handicapped groups and would support the view that, over time, differentiation occurred as the perceived socialization needs changed.