What is Special Education?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
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  • Last Modified Date: 12 October 2019
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Special education refers to education for students who may require additional support to be successful students. It also refers to education for those students who will not be able to compete in a regular classroom setting. Since in the US, all children are entitled to receive an education, even those children who lack the mental abilities to take on more advanced education are offered schooling which can help them master basic skills.

Thus some special education services may involve separate classrooms for students unable or unready to be in a mainstream course. Other times, special education services may help children with a particular issue. For example, students with speech delays may have speech therapy and students with physical problems might take special occupational therapy courses. This is often done in grammar schools on a pullout basis. A student will attend normal classes but will be called out of the classroom to receive needed services.

Occasionally, students with ongoing problems like autism may work with a special aide in the classroom so that all work can be mainstreamed. Special education does not imply that a child’s mental abilities are poor. In many cases, very intelligent children receive services to help them better handle the school environment.


Special education services can also begin long before kindergarten. US parents who are concerned about a child’s speech or physical delays, or who have children with serious health issues, may contact the Special Education Local Plan Area (SELPA) program as soon as their children are three if they have concerns. Per state and federal law, SELPA must provide testing for those students who appear at risk for developmental delays or who qualify by having a serious health condition.

Children who are found to have significant variance from their peers are invited to participate in SELPA preschools. This service is free and is often a fantastic one for kids who show delays. Teachers are thus able to address these delays two years before kindergarten begins. An alternative to pre-schools is access to therapy programs like speech therapy.

As well, adults with significant cognitive disabilities can participate in programs to learn self-reliance and living skills. These are also offered at no cost, and can help adults with cognitive impairment achieve a greater amount of personal freedom.

During the school years, those receiving special education services have an individualized education plan (IEP), which sets forth goals and accommodations needed for the student. Parents, teachers, counselors, and experts who offer services to the school all participate in these reviews to help best address areas where a child needs assistance.

There is currently some concern regarding special education modification and assistance at the middle school and high school level. Laws in some states do not allow students to take an even slightly modified curriculum and receive a diploma. As well, parents criticize exit exam requirements in some schools that do not allow for the use of some adaptive aids for students with certain needs. For example, some dyslexic students have particular trouble memorizing times tables. Yet they are not allowed use of a calculator on exit examinations in California schools. While the student may be a very successful math student, he or she may not pass high school because this adaptation is not currently allowed.

Both parents of differently abled children, and special education teachers are working to change such rules that appear inflexible to a child who requires modifications. As well, faced with knowledge of state standards, special education teachers work to help students evolve skills that will allow them to fully participate with their peers, and successfully graduate high school when applicable.


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Post 2

Sunny27- I totally agree. Obtaining a private speech therapist is far better, if you can afford it. Some therapist charge between $30 to $45 per half hour and most therapy takes place two to three times per week.

Parents become experts on speech therapy after a while. With the various games and exercises that parents practice with their children some children only need a few months of therapy.

Most children enjoy speech therapy because they not only learn proper speech formation, but they get to play games as well. The subtle techniques that the therapist uses allow the child to progress while having a good time.

Post 1

Great article, I want to add that obtaining a speech therapy evaluation takes a while. Most parents should make an appointment with a private speech therapy provider in order to obtain a diagnosis as well as treatment options.

While this is costly, it is far better than remaining on waiting lists for months for a free evaluation. In that time frame, a child may have completed the necessary therapy needed, or at least made significant progress.

Also the additional speech exercises that the parent performs with the child, at home helps the child progress even faster.

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