Special education is a broad term that refers to specially designed instruction that meets the unique needs of a child with a disability. Special education provides support to children who need assistance in a variety of developmental areas. Services can include instruction in the classroom, at home or in hospitals and can range from a specific program or class for the child to access to specialists and modifications in the educational program such as in curriculum or teaching methods. The type of service varies based on the child’s needs, as educational disabilities can range from mild to severe and can include mental, physical, behavioral and emotional disabilities.
A child’s special education curriculum is part of his/her Individualized Education Program (IEP). In order for a child to qualify for services, he/she must have met at least one of 13 categories of special education proven to adversely affect his/her educational performance.
In public schools, special education services are free. The Federal law, under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), requires that children be offered Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). One feature of an appropriate education is that it is provided in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) in which a student can progress with appropriate supports.
If you suspect your child may need special education services, the first step is to get him/her evaluated. You can request this free evaluation through your school district. If the evaluation reveals that your child does not have one of the qualifying disabilities, he/she may still qualify for services under Section 504 of the American Disabilities Act of 1973.