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Special Education: Special Needs Students - Information & Resources

  • Synopsis: Special education is designed to help learners with special needs using individually planned and systematically monitored arrangement of teaching procedures.

Definition: Defining the Meaning of Special Education

Special education or special needs education is the practice of educating students with special needs in a way that addresses their individual differences and needs. The Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) defines Special Education as "specially designed instruction, at no cost to the parents, to meet the unique needs of a child with a disability," but still, what exactly is Special Education? Often met with an ambiguous definition, the umbrella term of Special Education broadly identifies the academic, physical, cognitive and social-emotional instruction offered to children who are faced with one or more disabilities.

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Defining Special Education

Special education is the individually planned and systematically monitored arrangement of teaching procedures, adapted equipment and materials, accessible settings, and other interventions designed to help learners with special needs achieve a higher level of personal self-sufficiency and success in school and community than would be available if the student were only given access to a typical classroom education.

Students with special needs, such as learning differences, mental health issues, specific disabilities (physical or developmental), and giftedness are those whose needs are addressed within the classroom setting. However generally, the term "special education" refers specifically to students with learning disabilities, mental conditions, and other disabling conditions.

The provision of education to people with disabilities or learning differences differs from country to country, and state to state. The ability of a student to access a particular setting depends on the availability of services, location, family choice, or government policy.

In the United States The Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) is dedicated to improving results for children and youth with disabilities ages birth through 21 by providing leadership and financial support to assist states and local districts.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) authorizes formula grants to states, and discretionary grants to institutions of higher education and other non-profit organizations to support research, demonstrations, technical assistance and dissemination, technology and personnel development and parent-training and information centers. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 was signed into law on December 3, 2004. As the nation's special education law, IDEA serves approximately 6.8 million children and youth with disabilities.

Special educators have historically described a cascade of services, in which students with special needs receive services in varying degrees based on the degree to which they interact with the general school population.

Some parents, advocates, and students have concerns about the eligibility criteria and its application. In some cases, parents and students protest the students' placement into special education programs. For example, a student may be placed into the special education programs due to a mental health condition such as OCD, depression, anxiety, panic attacks or ADHD, while the student and his parents believe that the condition is adequately managed through medication and outside therapy. In other cases, students whose parents believe they require the additional support of special education services are denied participation in the program based on the eligibility criteria.

Understanding the makeup of the special education population helps us understand what we can expect them to achieve. Because the special education population is varied, every student will be able to achieve at a different level. That's why special education requires individualized education plans.

Quick Facts: Special Needs Students

Special education means specially designed instruction, at no cost to the parents, to meet the unique needs of a child with a disability including: instruction in physical education, and instruction conducted in the classroom, home, hospitals and institutions, and other settings.


For students with less obvious disabilities, such as those who have learning difficulties, two primary methods have been used for identifying them: 1) the discrepancy model and 2) the response to intervention model . The discrepancy model depends on the teacher noticing that the students' achievements are noticeably below what is expected. The response to intervention model advocates earlier intervention.


A special school is a school catering for students who have special educational needs due to severe learning difficulties, physical disabilities or behavioral problems. Special schools may be specifically designed, staffed and resourced to provide appropriate special education for children with additional needs. Students attending special schools generally do not attend any classes in mainstream schools.


Different instructional techniques are used for some students with special educational needs. Instructional strategies are classified as being either accommodations or modifications.


At-risk students (those with educational needs that are not associated with a disability) are often placed in classes with students who have disabilities. Critics assert that placing at-risk students in the same classes as students with disabilities may impede the educational progress of people with disabilities. Some special education classes have been criticized for a watered-down curriculum.

Latest Special Education Publications

Full List of Special Education Documents (60 Items)




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