What is Special Education?

What is Special Education?


Special education is instruction designed to meet the unique needs of each child with a disability. For example, a child with autism may need special curriculum, while a child who is deaf and uses sign language may need an in-class interpreter. In 1975, Congress passed what is now known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA. This law guarantees all children a free and appropriate public education, including any services they require due to disability. IDEA sets up a three-step process for determining if a child needs special education. First, schools must try to meet the student’s needs in a typical classroom setting. Second, if a child is struggling and may need special support, their parents and teachers may ask for a comprehensive learning evaluation. This will determine whether the child has a disability and, if so, whether that disability interferes with their learning. Children who meet both of these criteria qualify for special education. Third, a child that qualifies for special education receives an Individualized Education Plan, or IEP. At least once a year the child’s parents, teachers, and school administrators meet to decide which services the child needs. These are then spelled out in a legal document guaranteeing the child a right to those services.

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