Special education is the education of children with special needs in a way that addresses a student’s individual differences and needs. Special education is a term generally used to address students whose special needs reduce their ability to learn independently, opposite of the intellectual giftedness of students that also need specialized teaching techniques.
The opposite of special education is general education. General education is the standard curriculum presented with standard teaching methods and without additional supports.
The process of special education involves planned teaching procedures, adapted equipment and materials, and other inventions to help learners achieve a higher level of self-sufficiency in school and within their communities. Common special needs include challenges with learning, communication challenges, emotional and behavioral disorders, physical disabilities, and developmental disorders.¹
Schools are beginning to reduce special education classes in order to integrate students into regular classes. This decreases the social stigmas surrounding special education and improves academic achievement for many students.²
Some children are easily identified as candidates for special needs from their medical history. They may have been diagnosed with a genetic condition, have a form of brain damage, or have hearing or visual disabilities. For students who are less obvious about showing learning difficulties, two methods are used: the discrepancy model and the response to intervention model. The discrepancy model depends on the teacher noticing that the students’ achievements are below what is expected while the response model advocates earlier intervention.
Special education programs need to be individualized so that they address the unique combination of needs in a given student.³ In the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom, educational professionals use the term IEP when referring to a student’s individualized education plan.³
For example, if an assessment determines that a student cannot write by hand because of a physical disability, a teacher or school might accommodate that student by providing them a computer for typing assignments or allow the student to answer questions orally.
1. “What is Special Education?” from New Zealand’s Ministry of Education
2. Gartner, Alan; Dorothy Kerzner Lipsky. (1997). Inclusion and School Reform: Transforming America’s Classrooms. Brookes Publishing Company.
3. Goodman, Libby. (1990). Time and Learning in the Special Education Classroom. Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press. p. 122.
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