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Special Education Introduction

Angela Oswalt Morelli , MSW

Inside My Classroomimage by Marie (lic)Special needs children are children who, due to significant medical, physical, cognitive, emotional, or learning issues, require different, usually more intensive accommodations from schools and learning environments than do typical children. For example, children with Dyslexia become easily lost and disoriented during regular class instruction because they don't understand the letters and words as easily as their classmates. Children with Cerebral Palsy may need to use a wheelchair, as well as other assistive devices, to help them navigate school grounds. Children with ADHD can require extra organizational support with regard to note-taking, homework and testing. Without the presence of classroom accommodations designed to address each of these children's special needs, they would likely fail to meet their academic potential.

Within the United States public education system, children's special needs are protected by law. Special needs children are entitled to be educated according to an individualized education plan (IEP) designed to meet their unique educational needs which details the adjustments to traditional educational programming they require so as to best meet their learning needs. By accommodating these children's specialized learning requirements, public schools and educational systems work to ensure that each child can benefit from a formal education.

This document provides you with an overview of the special needs education process within United States public education system. Reading on, you will learn about:

  • Ways that special education differs from traditional education
  • The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
  • The disabilities covered by IDEA
  • The formal process through which students with special needs are identified
  • The appeals process, also known as "due process"
  • The construction and renewal of Individual Education Plans (IEPs), and 504 plans

The document goes on to describe:

  • Early childhood special education programs offered to pre-school children and their families
  • Transitional services offered to students graduating high school, and
  • Education of gifted and talented students

The article concludes with a discussion of various ways parents can cope with the stress that results from navigating the often bureaucratic special education system. This article does not substitute for legal advice from an attorney! All aspects of the special needs educational process are governed by law. It is important to recognize that the special education process can sometimes turn into a legal process despite everyone's best effort and intentions. If parents have any significant concerns about how their children are moving through the special education process, they may benefit from legal consultation with a lawyer specialized in education law.

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