1 Introduction

The education system has witnessed in the last few years an active worldwide movement to advocate for learners with disabilities rights. The CRPD and UNESCO emphasized the importance of providing equal education and equal opportunity to learners with disabilities. The UNESCO seeks to achieve goal number 4 from the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that guarantees inclusive education for all (UNESCO 2018).

The IDEA (2017) sought to achieve inclusive education by addressing the curricula and learners with disabilities. While Every Student Act (n.d.) demanded that schools provide an accessible environment for learners to be able to learn from general curricula.

The prevalence of Severe and Multiple Disabilities in society is about 1–2 per 1000, as indicated by the Executive Office of the Council of Ministers of Labor and the Council of Ministers of Social Affairs in the Arab Gulf Cooperation Council (2017). However, there is a limited number of studies about the inclusion of LSMD in Arab countries. Furthermore, UNESCO (2020) stated that in Arab countries, the quality of education for learners, including learners with disabilities, is uneven and variable. Additionally, there are still LSMD who are denied their right to an inclusive education (Agran et al. 2020), despite several studies and appeals highlighting the value of inclusive education and its benefits for all students, including those with Severe and Multiple Disabilities (Alquraini & Gut 2012).

Thus, there are persisting questions about achieving a balance in the education of this category within the academic framework and functional curriculum, in addition to concerns about the accessibility of this group to the general education curriculum. As a result, this study will contribute to enhancing the quality of inclusive education in formal settings, preparing stakeholders in the region to engage and work adequately with learners with disabilities in schools, and adopting the UNESCO vision to do more research in this field.

This paper aims to develop a draft of the curriculum framework for Learners with Severe and Multiple Disabilities in schools in the UAE by critically analyzing the relevant literature.

The author divides the paper’s aim into four objectives: identify the main characteristics of LSMD, understand the importance of including it in the regular classroom, research the latest LSMD curricula, and understand the critical educational components shaping the curriculum framework. And attempts to answer the following questions:

  1. 1.

    What are the main characteristics of LSMD?

  2. 2.

    Why it is important to develop an initial curriculum framework for LSMD in schools in the UAE?

  3. 3.

    What are the curriculum options available to LSMD?

  4. 4.

    What are the critical educational components to build the target curriculum framework?

2 Methodology

The significance of research design comes from structuring the study to respond to the research question considering the available data and warrants (Jansen n.d.). Therefore, the current study adopted the systematic literature review as a data collection tool to answer the research questions and coded this literature for reaching the findings and conclusion (Hallinger 2013; Onwuegbuzie & Leech 2015). According to Munn et al. (2018), the goal of this type of research is to concentrate on a particular topic, identify gaps and patterns in the available information, and guide future studies in the field. It concentrates on a certain set of issues and independent documents (Xiao & Watson 2019).

The author designed the literature review process and protocol by planning, reading, screening and analysing, authoring, and amending. (Machi & McEvoy 2016; Durach, Kembro & Wieland 2017). A study was carried out using various academic databases and journals (SAGE Journals, ProQuest, BUiD library). Priority was given to updated references for the last ten years matching the keywords. The author carefully assessed the studies which were relevant to the aim, research questions, and inclusion\exclusion criteria such as year of publication, keywords and sufficient relevant details (Hammick, Dornan & Steinert 2010; Mthimunye & Daniels 2019). The study accepts the qualitative and quantitative research in the synthesis of data to provide a comprehensive picture related to LSMD (Hallinger 2013; Machi & McEvoy 2016).

The author adopts Suri (2019) ethical consideration which are: choosing an epistemological orientation, choosing a suitable goal, finding related literature, analyzing, interpreting, and synthesizing reports, and connecting ideas. The first exploration produced 41 articles. The subsequent stage resulted in 22 articles being obtained based on the final inclusion and exclusion decision.

Following the completion of the literature analysis, the author adopted thematic analysis and generated three themes for the current study that were formed using the data that had been retrieved through the collection of relevant information. Then, Finish by interpreting the findings and coming to conclusions considering the data offered in the papers you read (Hammick, Dornan & Steinert 2010).

3 Literature Review

Learners with Severe and Multiple Disabilities

The literature debates the utilization of several terms to refer to LSMD such as Sever Disabilities, and Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties. However, there was no concise definition since they are a heterogeneous group. For instance, the Executive Office of the Council of Ministers of Labor and the Council of Ministers of Social Affairs in the Arab Gulf Cooperation Council (2017) defined a person with profound disabilities as someone who has severe levels of cognitive, communicative, social, or physical disability. The National classification of Disabilities in the United Arab Emirates (2018) defined the Multiple Disability as a person who has a disability that can be categorized under one of these categories (sensory disabilities, physical disabilities, neurodevelopmental disorders, psycho-emotional disorders) accompanied by one or more other cognitive, communicative, social or motor disturbances, excluded hearing and visual impairment together and those who have two types (sub-categories) of neurodevelopmental disorders.

South Lanarkshire Council (2015) confirmed that LSMD have faced real challenges in different developmental areas and skills such as communication, cognitive complex health needs, and physical disabilities. LSMD lacks self-care and self-direction and exhibited a deficiency in life skills (Al-Otaibi & Alshalawe 2016). Therefore, they derived from these characteristics the incessant demand to provide immense support for these learners. Further, LSMD have problems with their health and mental well-being which affects their engagement level and communication (Lehr 2020).

In conclusion, the term ‘Severe and Multiple Disabilities’ refers to someone suffering from one or more physical, cognitive, or developmental disabilities with severe deficiencies in one or more of the developmental areas, excluding hearing and visual impairment.

Peer-reviewed research by Alquraini and Gut (2012), Ballard and Dymond (2017) reported that although there are significant challenges in the inclusive education of LSMD, the continuous advocation for their right to enroll in schools is necessary. Their inclusion has benefits at the level of the LSMD, society, and stakeholders.

The attendance of LSMD in a regular classroom alleviated their social interaction skills, motor skills, communication skills and academic performance (Al-Otaibi & Alshalawe 2016; Agran et al. 2020).

Models of Curricula for LSMD

Ballard and Dymond (2017) reported that the type of curriculum for LSMD consisted of three elements are the balanced curriculum, meaning that the curriculum is evenly distributed between standards-based curriculum and other curricula attending to the specific needs and academic and pragmatic skills of LSMD for all ages, the social skills, and the academic exposure.

South Lanarkshire Council (2015) focused on the Curriculum for Excellence, which places the learner at the center and claims to provide a comprehensive education experience by encompassing the eight curriculum domains.

In Finland, the EHA2 Curriculum was established by considering the normal psychological development of children in the four essential developmental areas (Kontu & Pirttimaa 2010). Ballard and Dymond (2017) raised an important point regarding meeting the curriculum requirements for LSMD. They suggested curriculum overlapping and a multilevel curriculum as a good example.

In the United Arab Emirates Ministry of Education Special Education Dept. (2010) developed several special education programs to serve learners with disabilities focusing on inclusive education environments, rather than targeting the curriculum itself. These programs were classified based on learning, from the least to the most constraining environments. And recently the policy in some states has been updated to lest the vocational curriculum as an option for LSMD (KHDA 2017).

In principle, Al-Otaibi and Alshalawe (2016) stated that the curriculum should be a comprehensive curriculum incorporating school, daily life, social, vocational, and recreational skills.

Educational Considerations to Formulate the Curriculum Framework

The mission of the United Arab Emirates Ministry of Education Special Education Dept. (2010) is to deliver full comprehensive support to learners with special needs in the educational sector through several considerations, such as the Individual Education Program (IEP) or Advanced Learning Plan (ALP). Similarly, IDEA (2017) stressed the importance of delivering IEP to LSMD in the general curriculum. The South Lanarkshire Council (2015) provides a similar service under the name Personalized Approach and Additional Support Plan (ASP). It recommended implementing both the process and task-based methods in the ASPs, although the process-based method could provide better clarity in goals formation and monitoring. This is significant for the follow-up phase of the learner’s progress.

On the other side, activating the role of stakeholders is important to ensure adequate access for learners to the curriculum in the classroom (United Arab Emirates Ministry of Education Special Education Dept. 2010; Ballard & Dymond 2017). Alquraini and Gut (2012) identified the roles of stakeholders, which are prioritizing the unique needs of LSMD, recognizing the goals of LSMD, and maintaining productive communication between school team members and learners. Accordingly, the duties of stakeholders are mainly centered around the needs of LSMD.

The competence of the teachers to handle and teach learners with disabilities is one of the most important pillars during the preparation of the curriculum. Therefore, Alquraini and Gut (2012) and South Lanarkshire Council (2015) reported that teachers should thoroughly understand the characteristics of LSMD.

The teaching method is an integral part of applying the curriculum. The teaching practices in the South Lanarkshire Council (2015) followed a learner-centered approach by focusing on active participation and communication, as well as creating a responsive learning environment and incorporating suitable learning activities in small groups.

However, Alquraini and Gut (2012) highlighted in their study a new method for teaching practices founded by Copeland and Cosbey to help LSMD which are a) Cooperative Learning, b) Inquiry Learning and c) Universal design. Additionally, they discussed Embedded Instruction and Response Prompting techniques. In conclusion, a unique and flexible teaching approach is urgently needed for the education of LSMD.

Few studies talked about the role of implementing Assistive Technology (AT) as a supportive tool for LSMD. Alquraini and Gut (2012) in line with IDEA (2017) emphasized implementing AT as an important educational tool for LSMD.

Assessment practices should be closely supervised during assessment and progress monitoring. The Council highlighted that the assessment process is a formative assessment and should be carried out more intensely at the beginning of the school year (South Lanarkshire Council 2015). Consequently, three-step assessment criteria development. All team members repeatedly observe, the first and most important stage in the assessment. The second phase, organised assessment, involves observing and documenting in a flexible assessment setting. One-on-one assessments in quiet environments are best. Progress monitoring tracks LSMD’s curriculum growth. Qualitative data collecting follows this stage.

According to UNESCO (2018), there should be more emphasis on providing instructional tips and training for parents. Parents have an important underestimated role that should be accounted for when contemplating any curriculum. The role of parents is to engage efficiently in an inclusive environment. Parents are the first teachers to their children, so targeting them and involving them is essential (United Arab Emirates Ministry of Education Special Education Dept. 2010; Alquraini & Gut 2012).

Alquraini and Gut (2012) concurred with Ballard and Dymond (2017) to divide the factors of curriculum accessibility for LSMD into 4 factors are: 1) positive learning community 2) adult support which consists of attaining support to facilitate the delivery of the curriculum from specific 3) modification and accommodation which are essential requirements to get access to the curriculum for LSMD collectively by all team members. Alquraini and Gut (2012), associated a strong relationship between the appropriate modification and the academic benefit that LSMD receive from the curriculum. Interestingly, United Arab Emirates Ministry of Education (2020) applied the Emirates Code for a qualified and approved environment. 4) location of education delivery for LSMD, is still undefined. Ballard and Dymond (2017) listed different options based on studies such as a regular classroom, special education classroom, and non-classroom environments. However, the consensus for the best location was one where the accessibility of literacy skills can be reached through everyday life skills. The United Arab Emirates Ministry of Education (2020) is still working on preparing the operational policy, regulations, and executive procedures to determine the most appropriate place for providing education programs for learners with disabilities in general.

4 Discussion and Finding

The literature demonstrates that LSMD has a distinct and complex range of characteristics (Alquraini & Gut 2012; South Lanarkshire Council 2015). These characteristics underscore the significance of the present study, which aims to develop a curriculum that ensures their entitlement to an education that aligns with their specific requirements. Indeed, Literature showed that there were benefits of integrating LSMD in schools. Alquraini AND Gut (2012) for example mentioned that this inclusion improved the academic performance and social-communication skills of LSMD. While Ballard and Dymond (2017) stated that inclusion has benefits at the level of the LSMD, peer, and society.

Interestingly. LSMD have access to a variety of curriculum options that can be implemented while they are in school. In order to accomplish the vision of inclusive education, the majority of these curricula emphasise integrating the academic aspect with the skills and needs of the learners (Kontu & Pirttimaa 2010; South Lanarkshire Council 2015; Ballard & Dymond 2017). In the United Arab Emirates Ministry of Education (2020) took significant steps to enhance their inclusive policy by incorporating various programs, services, and curriculum modalities.

To develop a curricular framework, the literature highlights many key aspects, which are outlined below:

1- Adopting the IEP model or any other similar model is a necessity (Alquraini & Gut 2012; Individuals with Disabilities Education Act 2017; MOE 2021).

2-Teaching methods such as cooperative learning, inquiry learning, and universal design could be new useful strategies (South Lanarkshire Council 2015; Dymond & Carter 2020).

4- Proposing the use of assistive technology to access the curriculum (Alquraini & Gut 2012). Additionally, the different roles of adequate modification and accommodation, the role of peers, a positive learning environment, and a collaboration between teams (Ballard & Dymond 2017).

5- Conducting an adequate assessment (South Lanarkshire Council 2015).

6- Incorporating health and mental wellbeing in the curriculum framework (Lehr 2020).

Figure 1 provides a comprehensive overview of the key findings pertaining to the various components of the curricular framework.

Fig. 1.
figure 1

The draft of the curriculum framework for learners with SMD

5 Recommendation

The findings in this study clearly illustrate how to develop a curriculum framework for LSMD and specifically underline the educational components that should be attached to this group. Regarding schools in the UAE, it is recommended to do a pilot trial in a small number of schools and examine the outcomes. Future studies should look at each educational element in detail to allow researchers to investigate how well each element contributes to the development of the curriculum framework.