An Introduction into Special Education

Whether you are a parent with a special needs child, or just an interested party wanting to learn more about special education, here is a brief history and introduction into what you will need to know.

Special Education: A History

With the final regulations of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) passing in 2011, the current laws protecting children who have disabilities that interfere with their learning are stronger than they have been in decades.

It was only as recently as 1975 that students with disabilities were permitted to be taught in public schools by law. Before the Education of All Handicapped Children Act of 1975, students with disabilities were often segregated, denied education, or held back in school. This Act was amended to the current law today, which is the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

IDEA guarantees all students with disabilities, from ages 3 to 22, the right to education without discrimination.

Areas of Disability that Qualify for Special Education Services

There are 13 major categories of disability that may qualify a child for Special Education services:

Hard of Hearing, Deaf, Deaf-Blind, Visually Impaired, Speech and Language Impaired, Specific Learning Disability, Multi-Handicapped, Orthopedically Impaired, Mental Retardation, Autism, Emotional Disturbance, Traumatic Brain Injury, and Other Health Impaired.

A disability, however, does not automatically enroll a child into Special Education services, even if the disability falls into one of the above categories. The child’s educational performance must be affected by the disability as well.

A team, consisting of the parents, the child’s current teacher (or a teacher qualified to teach a child of comparable age), and one or more of the following: school psychologist, speech pathologist, remedial reading teacher, or other individuals qualified to conduct assessments of children, will make the determination if the child has a disability that requires Special Education services to assist in learning.

Overview of the Special Education Process

Step 1: Determining need.

In order to enroll a child into special education, your child will first need to be diagnosed. The doctors or experts will then assess your child to determine whether special instruction tailored to your child’s need would assist in his or her education. This evaluation considers the impact of the disability on your child’s ability to progress in a standard education setting.

Step 2: Formally assessing the need.

Once the evaluators decide that your child needs or would benefit from special education, a variety of tests are administered to gain an overview of your child’s current academic performance, strengths, and weaknesses.

Step 3: Individualized Education Program (IEP) and initial meeting.

This step involves creating a specialized learning plan for your child. IDEA requires the school to create a plan no later than 30 days after assessment for a child with special needs. During the first meeting, when the IEP is set, your child’s needs and goals will be discussed.

Step 4: Progress updates and annual meetings.

After the first IEP meeting, you will meet with your child’s educators every year to discuss progress and goals, modifying the IEP as needed.

Knowing Your Child’s Rights

Under IDEA, all students with special needs are entitled to “free and appropriate public education (FAPE).” Your school district is required to work with you in addressing your child’s special needs and in providing an educational environment with content as similar as possible to students without special needs.

If you do not agree with the IEP that has been recommended, it is your right to challenge the IEP or request a mediation. As the parent, however, you will be required to prove that the IEP is inadequate.

Once an IEP has been discussed and agreed upon, school districts have 10 days to provide the necessary support, teachers, and materials for the assisted learning program set for your child.

You also have the right to request a meeting at any time before the annual progress report, and a meeting will have to be held within 30 days of the request.

If your child is falling behind in school due to special needs, a disability, or undiagnosed issues, special education is required by law to be available to address those issues. The assessment process and progress report development takes time—but the school districts are under a strict deadline to ensure that your child gets as close to the same level of education as children who do not have special needs.

If in doubt about the process and/or your rights and your child’s rights, refer to a special education attorney or advocate for assistance.

What is Special Education Due Process?

As a parent, you want to make sure that your child has the best opportunities possible. If your child has special needs, making sure that he or she receives the same opportunities as everyone else and is receiving fair treatment is surely one of your biggest concerns.

Fortunately, the government has made this a much easier task for the parents of special needs children, as Federal and state laws have set forth the process of following specific steps in order to ensure that special needs children are receiving the same educational opportunities as their typically developing peers.

Known as Special Education Due Process, ensuring that the educational rights and requirements of special needs children are met includes evaluating special needs, providing the services that they require and evaluating their progress.

If you have a special needs child, being familiar with this due process will help you ensure that your child is receiving the educational requirements that he or she requires.


If it is thought that a child might have special needs and requires specialized help in the school setting, the referral process should be initiated.

This is the first step in special education due process and it can be initiated by the parents, staff of the school or anyone who is in close relation to the child. The referral can be requested orally or in writing. Essentially, it is a request to have the child in question evaluated for special needs.


An evaluation of the child will be made in all areas that the child is suspected to have disabilities in. This evaluation will be completed by a trained and certified special educator and the results will be used to determine whether or not the child is eligible to receive special education or supplemental services.

Based on the results of the evaluation, a suitable educational program will be determined for the child. As the parent, if you don’t agree with the findings, you do have the right to request an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE) for a more detailed assessment of your child’s needs.

Eligibility is Determined

Once an evaluation and recommendations have been made, you and a group of educators will determine whether or not special assistance is necessary and if so, in what form.

Eligibility is Founded

If it is determined that your child is eligible for special services, group of educators will meet to determine an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) for your child. Known as an IEP Team, this group of individuals will assess your child’s specific needs and come up with a customized education plan that will meet those specific needs.

Services will be Provided

Once an IEP has been created, the school will implement the specialized educational requirements that it details. You child’s teachers, service providers (aides, specialized teachers, etc) and anyone else who works with your child will be made aware of the provisions of the IEP in order to ensure that your child is receiving the accommodations and modifications that are necessary in order to support his or her specific needs.

Assessments are Made

Your child will be assessed throughout the school year in order to ensure that he or she is making academic advances.

IEP is Reviewed

Your child’s IEP will be reviewed by the IEP team. This review will be made once a year, or more, if you deem it to be necessary. If it is found that the IEP needs to be revised, changes will be made in order to better meet the needs of your child.


Your child will be reevaluated at least once every three years in order to determine whether or not your child still requires special assistance. This reevaluation ensures that your child is on track and is receiving the specific accommodations and modifications he or she needs.

Thanks to Special Education Due Process, every child, no matter what his or her needs are, can receive the same educational opportunities and experiences.

Ten Special Education Facts That Might Surprise You

In the labyrinth of special education rules, regulations, facts and figures, the ordinary visitor is bound to overlook certain details. Even an experienced parent, who has been studying the details for some time may be surprised by what they find after extensive research.

Brush up on some laws and facts that you might have missed the first time reviewing all there is to know about special education. Below are some myths debunks, some facts uncovered, and some information reviewed about special education and learning disabilities.

1. Jean-Mark-Gaspard Itard, a French physician, is considered to be “The Father of Special Education.” Even though Special Education laws weren’t passed until 1975, with the Education of the Handicapped Act, Itard was attempting to educate children with mental disabilities in a systematic fashion as early as the late 1700s and early 1800s. He is particularly famous for his work with Victor, a feral child known as the “Wild Boy of Aveyron.” Itard developed a program, considered by many as the first attempt at special education, to teach Victor language and empathy.

2. More boys than girls are being diagnosed with learning disabilities. Nearly four times as many boys are diagnosed with LD, but that doesn’t mean that there’s a gender discrepancy in having a learning disability. It’s just that many girls are going unidentified or treated for their LD.

3. There aren’t waiting lists for special education. In fact, a “waiting list” for special education is illegal. A school must provide the appropriate IEP, resources, and teachers for a child that needs special education. Schools are permitted a certain time frame in which to evaluate the student, develop a personalized education program, and begin providing the services—anything that extends beyond that time frame violates the law.

4. If you disagree with the school’s proposed IEP, sign it immediately. This advice is counterintuitive, as you are unlikely to want to sign anything with which you disagree. However, in most states, signing it, including your concerns and then filing a complaint is the best course of action to address the issue immediately—otherwise, it is assumed that you have implied consent even without signing it. If you are not sure as to the process of filing a complaint or how to address a dissatisfactory IEP, contact a special needs advocate or attorney for advice and assistance.

5. You legally can bring anyone as an advocate to the IEP meeting. If you are the parent of a student with a disability, by law, you can bring whomever you want as an advocate. Ideally, you would want to bring someone who is familiar with the process, and some of the laws, and has the best interest of your child in mind. This is particularly important if you are very new to the process, are too “close” to the situation, or have established an adversarial relationship with the school.  This would also be a case where a special needs attorney or advocate would be useful as a neutral third-party, to protect the parent’s and student’s interests.

6. Children with severe disabilities do not need to attend a special school or center. A common misconception is that severely disabled children should be educated in a center designed for special education. Educators are unable to decide whether or not segregation is the best course of choice; however, by law, a child with special education needs must be educated with non-disabled children so long as he or she makes reasonable progress in his or her IEP goals with the aid of special supports and services. Only if the child is not making progress in a regular classroom setting will a special program of school be considered.

7. While people are aware of learning disabilities, they aren’t very familiar with the details. The NCLD survey found that 90 percent of respondents could identify dyslexia is a learning disability, and 80 percent could correctly define it, but most were far less familiar with other types like dysgraphia, dyscalculia, and dyspraxia.

8. You can ask for a new IEP meeting at anytime. You don’t have to wait until the next annual IEP meeting to make changes to the IEP. If you request a meeting, one must be held within 30 days. Any changes agreed upon during the meeting are added as an amendment to the original IEP.

9. Special education students do go onto college, even if the Special Education laws don’t extend to post-secondary schooling. Many colleges and universities offer support services for students with disabilities. And while only 10 percent of students with LD enroll in a four-year college program within two years of graduating (compared to 28 percent of the general population), 2004’s Individuals with Disabilities Education and Improvement Act (IDEA) specifically requires that students be prepared, as much as possible, during early schooling, for further continuing education and independent living.

10. Many people who have learning disabilities go on to become extremely successful, and in some cases, famous. Some of the greatest minds have had learning disabilities or other special education needs: Abraham Lincoln, Buzz Aldrin, Walt Disney, Albert Einstein, Sir Isaac Newton, Thomas Edison, Bill Gates, Henry Ford, Vincent Van Gogh are just a few of the notable names.

In the course of making sure your child gets all the assistance he or she needs, no stone should be unturned. Debunking myths, educating yourself on laws, and just picking up interesting factoids can help you be a better advocate for your child.

Is Starting with Preschool Special Education Right for Your Child?

Oftentimes, the needs of children who require special academic or emotional support don’t present themselves until they are already enrolled in a full-time school program. Many children with special needs don’t exhibit signs of requiring specialized instruction until they are in elementary school. However, there are those children who do present special needs at an earlier age; sometimes before even beginning preschool. Children who are afflicted with genetic disorders, cerebral palsy, turrets, speech delays, cognitive delays, and even in some cases, autism, begin to show signs very early on in life.

For the parents of these children, several questions need to be considered – one of them being whether or not a special education preschool is the right option.

So, is your young child displaying signs of special needs? Is he or she approaching the preschool age? If so, you have likely been debating over whether or not you should send him or her to a special education preschool or a traditional preschool. The only way to decide is to consider the benefits of each type of setting and the needs of your child.

In order to help you reach the best decision for your child, consider the following:

The Benefits of the Preschool

The first step of determining which environment is better suited for your child is to consider the benefits of each setting.

Typical preschool settings offer a well-rounded introduction to academics, socialization and the school setting. Your child will likely be involved in a fairly consistent schedule (consistency is key when working with young children, no matter what their needs are) that includes circle time, center time, opportunities for gross and fine motor development, as well as social interactions. Children will be provided with the basic foundations of academics in a safe and healthy environment.

Special education preschool settings really are quite similar to the typical preschool environment. Children are provided opportunities for academic learning, as well as social interactions in an environment that is safe and secure. As with a typical preschool setting, a regular routine will be followed, which will likely include circle time, center time, opportunities for fine and gross motor development, as well as opportunities for social interactions.

However, in the special education preschool, your child’s specific needs will be taken into consideration and will guide his or her instruction. For example, if your child has difficulties with motor development, an occupational therapist may be brought in to provide one-to-one instruction, or if speech delays are evident, a speech pathologist work with him or her.

Consider Your Child’s Needs

Of course, you also want to consider your child’s specific needs when choosing the type of preschool setting to engage him or her in. Is your child exhibiting severe special needs? Does he or she only suffer from minor delays? Do you want those delays to possibly be corrected before starting kindergarten? Your child’s needs are unique and at this young age, you are responsible for determining which educational opportunity is the best.

The bottom line is this: At the preschool setting, children are just gaining an understanding of the world of academics and are only just being introduced to basic principles and ideas. Certainly, a special education setting could benefit your child, but it won’t necessarily shape his or her academic success for the remainder of his or her academic career.