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Parents and guardians of children with special needs are faced with many decisions they need to make every day — what doctors to go to, what medical treatments to try, how do they meet all of their child’s needs each day. The process can be quite overwhelming!

Caregivers also have to make important decisions when it comes to their child’s education. And again, depending on what type of special needs their child has, the endeavor can sometimes leave parents with more questions than answers.

Types of Special Education

One of the most important questions parents will need to answer is what type of special education learning environment do they want for their child. Different schools offer different options, from full inclusion classrooms to specialized smaller group classes where more intensive help is needed. And depending on your child’s special needs and personality, different situations may be more suitable for them.

The good news is today, thanks to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), most schools are equipped to help students with special needs. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2009 about 95 percent of students who have disabilities aged 6 to 21 were served in regular schools, meaning they did not have to attend a private school or another type of institution.

The first step is to make an appointment with your child’s school to speak with your child’s teacher, principal and anyone else involved in the special education program to find out what options are available, and which options they recommend for certain disabilities and for your child in particular. According to an article on SchoolPsychologistFiles.com, schools are required to place students with special needs in the “Least Restrictive Environment,” part of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEIA) of 2004. That means if children with special needs should be allowed to learn with their peers as much as their special needs allows them to. This would then become part of the student’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP).

Caregivers should also get feedback from their doctors for their recommendations and guidance.

To help you get started, here’s a look at some of the special education options traditionally offered in schools to give you some background on what you can expect.

Inclusion Classroom

An example of a Least Restrictive Environment for a student with special needs would as part of an inclusion classroom. According to the National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities, this would allow that student to learn alongside their peers — regardless if they have special needs or not. And during the day students with special needs are given all the services they require, so students with special needs are not pulled out of class during the day, but instead get to stay and work with their peers.


For some special needs, students can still do the majority of their learning in a standard classroom and then receive specialized help a few times a week or month from a specialist – such as the school psychologist, a language specialist, or special education teacher – resulting in a teamwork approach to the student’s education.

Resource Room

Another option your school might have is a resource room for students with special needs. In this type of environment, students with special needs are in a smaller class with a special education teacher, allowing for more attention to be paid to those who may have greater needs. Depending on the program, students may spend time in the Resource Room for just a few hours a day, or receive the bulk of their education in this environment.

Day/Out-of-District Placement

For those students with severe needs, or schools that are unable to address all of a student’s needs, sometimes these children are better served attending a specialized school outside your hometown.