What is Special Education?

Approximately one out of every ten students will require special education sometime during his or her school life.

Approximately one out of every ten students will require special education sometime during his or her school life. In Connecticut, over 80% of students with disabilities are spending time in general education classrooms. Regular classroom teachers support children with disabilities in their classrooms, including the high incidence exceptionalities of attention deficit disorders, learning disabilities, communication disorders, emotional disturbance, and developmental delays.

Further, prevalence rates for low incidence disabilities, including autism spectrum disorders and intellectual disabilities, are on the rise. With few exceptions, children with disabilities are expected to meet the same high academic standards as children without disabilities using the general education curriculum.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004 (IDEA 04) stipulates that students with disabilities are entitled to a free, appropriate public education that addresses their individual educational needs.

It also defines what constitutes special education and specifies that related services (psychological and counseling services, speech and language services, audiological services, guidance, social work, transportation, physical and occupational therapy) must be provided to allow students to have access to their special education program.

The reasons that a student’s educational needs are not being met in the usual educational program can differ. These include learning problems; communication deficits; physical, sensory, health, or intellectual limitations; emotional or psychological problems; or intellectual or academic deficits.

Special education is instruction specifically designed to meet the individual needs of these exceptional students. IDEA 04 defines special education as “specifically designed instruction, at no cost to parents, to meet the unique needs of a child with a disability, including instruction conducted in the classroom, in the home, in hospitals and institutions, and in other settings, and includes instruction in physical education.”

Special education involves many different components. For example, special education could include the use of a curriculum that focuses on functional life skills for a student with an intellectual disability, or it could involve the use of a specific learning strategy to teach math skills to a student with a learning disability.

Another component of special education is the instructional environment, which not only includes where instruction takes place (e.g. the general education classroom or in a separate classroom), but also involves adaptations to the instructional environment that facilitates learning. For example, a student with autism might need a structured, predictable classroom with a consistent schedule. Instructional technology is a component that is used to help support learning. IDEA 04 defines an assistive technology devise as “any item, piece of equipment, or product system whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of a child with a disability.” Assistive technology devices can range as such low tech devices like a pencil grip for a child with a physical disability, to something high tech like an iPad with a voice synthesizer to assist a nonverbal student.  

To be eligible for special education and related services:

  • Your child must be between 3 and 21 years old;
  • Your child must have one or more of the following disabilities, determined by IDEA 2004:

• Autism

• Deaf-blindness

• Deafness

• Developmental delay (for 3- to 5-year-olds, inclusive)

• Emotional disturbance

• Hearing impairment

• Intellectual disability (mental retardation)

• Multiple disabilities

• Orthopedic impairment

• Other health impairment (limited strength, vitality or alertness due to chronic or acute health problems such as lead poisoning, asthma, attention deficit disorder, diabetes, a heart condition, hemophilia, leukemia, nephritis, rheumatic fever, sickle cell anemia, and Tourette syndrome)

• Physical impairment;

• Specific learning disability

• Speech or language impairment

• Traumatic brain injury

• Visual impairment including blindness

  • The disability must adversely affect your child’s educational performance; and as a result;
  • Your child requires a specially designed instructional program to address his or her unique educational needs.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Wolfe September 10, 2011 at 02:28 AM
Alan, I think that the reason why learning disabilities are on the rise is due to the what is being taught in the elementary and middle schools. There used to be a standard curriculum that was followed for each grade. If you did not pass that grade, then you had to stay in that grade until you passed. It was simple and fair. Today, however, instead of the basics (math, english, science, history, reading) being taught at the elementary level, children are being taught the digestive tract in the second grade. I'm sorry, but that was something I learned in biology....in the sixth grade. Then there is the amount of homework. Children become disinterested in school because of the amount of homework that they are given today. Thirty minutes per class per night should be the goal. We don't have "disabled" children. We have disinterested and overly tired children.
Christine E. September 10, 2011 at 03:04 PM
Wow. I don't know where to begin, because the words you just spewed are so grossly inaccurate i'm having trouble gathering my thoughts. 50 years ago learning disabilities were not recognized the way they are today. If you were child with dyslexia, and you couldn't read words on a page, you were nto diagnosed with dyslexia and given the appropriate help. You were instead told that you weren't trying hard, and you were left back a grade only to repeat the same cycle all over again next year. Some of these "disinterested and overly tired students" that you speak of actually aren't lazy. They actually are interested. They just get so frustrated with themselves and their lack of ability to keep up, even when they work hard, that instead of working hard they give up on themselves and accept the failures. Completely blasting the entire school curriculum as the problem is a bold move, and nothing short of disrespectful to all of the kids who need the services that are provided. In addition, it is also disrespectful to all of the parents who tearfully and uncontrollably watch their children come home and struggle every single day. As a side note - you are making a general statement about learning disabilities. Do you feel this way about kids with Autism? Changing curriculum in elementary school won't stop them from having autism. How about kids with Sensory Processing disorders? Kids with Down Syndrome? Are they overly tired and disinterested, too?
L. Crespo September 12, 2011 at 07:04 PM
Thank you for posting this information. There are many parents who stuggle with children they do not realize are within the "needs" category and parents who are aware that their child has special needs but just do not know what kinds of services their children are entitled to due to extremely complex world of Special Education in Connecticut. Hopefully, this will raise some awareness within our community.


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