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Special Education Defined

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Special education refers to additional services, support, programs, specialized placements, or environments to support students who are exceptional. Special education services are provided to students who are deemed exceptional, and these service are provided at no additional charge to the child or parents. The range of special education support varies greatly based on the need of the individual student. In the United States, special education is governed by several federal laws. The Individual with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA), established in 1975, is perhaps the most important. Under IDEA, students with disabilities have a right to a free appropriate education in the least restrictive environment possible. Students with disabilities have a right to an education that fits their needs. To the extent possible, these students are educated with their non-disabled peers. Special day classes are considered when a placement in the general education class will not meet the needs of the particular student or will not be an appropriate setting for that student.

Exceptional Students

Did You Know

According to the U.S. Department of Education, learning disabilities make up 52% of disabilities classified as special education.

There are thirteen categories under IDEA that meet the definition of exceptional:

  • Autism
  • Deaf and blindness
  • Developmental delays
  • Emotionally disturbed
  • Hearing impairments
  • Mental retardation
  • Multiple disabilities
  • Orthopedic impairments
  • Other health impairments
  • Specific learning disabilities
  • Speech and language impairments
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Visual impairments

The goal of special education is to make sure these students can take part in education in an equitable way. An Individualized Education Plan (IEP) will be developed for each child identified as having a special need. The IEP has annual goals and regular checks on the child's progress towards those goals.

If a learning disability is suspected, an evaluation by a professional who specializes in identifying learning disabilities is needed. Once a diagnosis is made, a plan for treatment or accommodations can be made. In the school setting, a student with a diagnosed learning disability qualifies for an Individual Education Plan (IEP) to help him or her be successful in school. The IEP will be tailored to the specific needs of the individual. Teachers, parents, specialists and other individuals who work with the student will work together to develop an appropriate IEP. Because accommodations for learning disabilities are governed by federal law, you can access an abundance of information through the U.S. Department of Education's website at

Help for the Future

A learning disability does not have to doom a child to poor learning environments, lower standards, and lower achievement. If your child has a learning disability, be an advocate and help ensure a bright future and a successful education. Begin by finding out what you can do to help. Our experts in special education can help you help your child.

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