Special education is instruction that is modified or particularized for those students with special needs, such as learning differences, mental health problems, specific disabilities (physical or developmental) , and giftedness. Most times, however, the term "special education" in North America refers specifically to students with learning disabilities or other mental problems.
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 may depend on their specific needs, location, family choice, or government policy. Special educators describe 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. In the main, special education will be provided in one, or a combination, of the following ways:
- Inclusion: Regular education classes combined with special education services is a model often referred to as inclusion. In this model, students with special needs are educated with their typically developing peers for at least half of the day. In a full inclusion model, specialized services are provided within a regular classroom by sending the service provider in to work with one or more students in their regular classroom setting. In a partial inclusion model, specialized services are provided outside a regular classroom. In this case, the student occasionally leaves the regular classroom to attend smaller, more intensive instructional sessions, such as speech and language therapy or occupational therapy. Inclusion is geared towards students who do not require intensive support.
- Mainstreaming: Regular education classes combined with special education classes is a model often referred to as mainstreaming. In this model, students with special needs are educated with their typically developing peers during specific time periods based on their skills. Mainstreaming is geared towards students who require significant support and who are unsuccessful in a regular classroom.
- Segregation: Full-time placement in a special education class may be referred to as segregation. In this model, students with special needs spend no time with typically developing students. Segregation is geared towards students who require intensive support or are unable to copy with even brief attendance in a regular classroom. Segregated students may attend the school as their neighbors, but spend their time exclusively in a special-needs classroom. Alternatively, these students may attend a special school that is specifically designed, resourced and staffed to meet the needs of the particular students who attend it.
- Exclusion: A student whose disabilities preclude attending any school is said to be excluded. Such a student may be in hospital, homebound, or detained by the criminal justice system. These students may receive one-on-one instruction or group instruction within their institution. Residential centres, which are live-in schools where complex needs can be met with appropriate medical care and provision of a variety of therapies, are sometimes considered segregation and sometimes exclusion. Students who have been suspended or expelled are not considered excluded in this sense.
Modifications can consist of changes in curriculum, supplementary aides or equipment, and the provision of specialized facilities that allow students to participate in the educational environment to the fullest extent possible. Students may need this help to access subject matter, to physically gain access to the school, or to meet their emotional needs.
Support is targeted to the needs of the individual student and can be short or long term. In the United States, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act requires that special needs students be included in regular education activities as much as possible. In Scotland the Additional Support Needs Act places an obligation on education authorities to meet the needs of all students in consultation with other agencies and parents.
In North America special education is commonly abbreviated as Special Ed, SpecEd, SPED, SpEd, in a professional context.
In England and Wales the initialism SEN is most commonly used when discussing special education needs. The term is used to denote the condition of having special educational needs, the services which provide the support and the programmes and staff which implement the education. In Scotland the term Special Educational Needs (SEN), and its variants are not official terminology although the very recent implementation of the Additional Support for Learning Act means that both SEN and ASN (Additional Support Needs) are used interchangeably in current common practice.
- Special education has been a field in which large, empirical studies have been difficult to implement, given the differences in service delivery models. In a meta-analysis of special education, researchers found no significant effect size when examining the relationship between student outcomes and inclusion in special education (see Kavale, K. A., Glass, G. V (1982) The Efficacy of Special Education Interventions and Practices: A Compendium of Meta-Analysis Findings. Focus on Exceptional Children, v15 n4 p1-14).
- Special education as implemented in public schools has been criticized because the qualification criteria for services are extremely variable from one education agency to another. In the United States, all Local and State Education Agencies must use classification and labeling models that are aligned with the federal definitions, outlined the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
- At-risk students (those with educational needs that are not associated with a disability) are often placed in classes with students with disabilities. Critics assert that placing at-risk students in the same classes as disabled students may impede the educational progress of people with disabilities.
- Special education programs continue to be criticized by disability activists because they are still often segregated from regular education programs.
- The currently popular practice of inclusion has been criticized by advocates and some parents of children with disabilities because some of these students require instructional methods that differ dramatically from typical classroom methods. Critics assert that it is not possible to deliver effectively two or more very different instructional methods in the same classroom. As a result, the educational progress of students who depend on different instructional methods to learn often fall even further behind their peers without disabilities.
- Parents of typically developing children often fear that the special needs of a single "fully included" student will take critical levels of attention and energy away from the rest of the class and thereby impair the academic achievements of all students.
- 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.
- An alternative to homogenization and lockstep standardization is proposed, using the Sudbury model schools, an alternative approach in which children learn at their own pace rather than following a chronologically-based curriculum. Proponents of unschooling have also claimed that children raised in this method do not suffer from learning disabilities.
- Gerald Coles, in his book, The Learning Mystique: A Critical Look at "Learning Disabilities", asserts that there are partisan agendas behind the educational policy-makers and that the scientific research that they use to support their arguments regarding the teaching of literacy are flawed. These include the idea that there are neurological explanations for learning disabilities.
- Journal of Applied Research in Intellectual Disabilities, ISSN: 1468-3148 (electronic) ISSN: 1360-2322 (paper), Blackwell Publishing
- British Journal of Learning Disabilities, ISSN: 1468-3156 (electronic) , ISSN: 1354-4187 (paper)
- British Journal of Special Education, ISSN: 1467-8578 (electronic) ISSN: 0952-3383 (paper), Blackwell Publishing
- Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry, ISSN: 1461-7021 (electronic) ISSN: 1359-1045 (paper), SAGE Publications
- Developmental Neurorehabilitation, ISSN: 1751-8431 (electronic) 1751-8423 (paper), Informa Healthcare
- Disability & Society, ISSN: 1360-0508 (electronic) 0968-7599 (paper), Routledge
- Holistic Special Education: Camphill Principles and Practice, Jackson, Robin. Edinburgh: Floris Books, ISBN 0-86315-547-2.
- Journal of Intellectual Disability Research, ISSN: 1365-2788 (electronic) ISSN: 0964-2633 (paper), Blackwell Publishing
- Journal of Policy and Practice in Intellectual Disabilities, ISSN: 1741-1130 (electronic) ISSN: 1741-1122 (paper), Blackwell Publishing
Notes and References
- Wilmshurst, L, & Brue, A. W. (2005). A parent's guide to special education. New York: AMACOM.
- National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities (NICHCY)
- Council for Exceptional Children
- U.S. Department of Education Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services
- Special Education and Medicaid KnowledgeBase
- Learning Disabilities on About.com covers LDs, special education, and living with disabilities for all ages.
- Education and Advocacy for Children
- Special Education Questions Answered
- National Association of School Psychologists
- Special Educational Needs (SEN) Teaching Tools and Support Websites
- Schools for Children, Inc. blog covering special education and research into special ed. need and supports
- When It's Your Own Child: A Report on Special Education from the Families Who Use It Public Agenda, 2002
- Inclusive Education in Scotland
- LD Online
- SchwabLearning.org A parent and educator's guide to helping kids with learning difficulties through free information, resources, and support.
- Idea.ed.gov Federal disability categories and definitions for parents and educators
- Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, Inc.
- Mental Health Advocay Services
- Special Education in Malaysia A blog by a Malaysian special education teacher.
- Adapted Physical Education
- UK Department for Education and Skills
- Disability studies
- Exceptional education
- Least restrictive environment
- Mainstreaming in education
- Post Secondary Transition For High School Students with Disabilities
- Response to intervention
- Special education in the United Statesbg:Специална педагогика
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