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Special Education FAQ



Frequently asked questions (FAQs) on special education are addressed in this article. Answers address what special education is, who provides it, and who is eligible for special education. These FAQs focus on federally-funded special education programs.

Whom is special education for?

We need to begin by defining Special Education. Although the term is used by some, including the National Association of Special Education Teachers (NASET), as an umbrella term for the education of exceptional students including those who are Gifted and Talented, as well as disabled students, the federal definition refers to legislation created to assist individuals with specific disabilities.

What is special education?

Special education is education provided for by the law called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This law, based on the earlier legislation, Education for All Handicapped Children Act (PL 94-142) guarantees a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) using an Individualized Education Program (IEP) geared to each student, and provided in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) in which the student is able to function. In addition, the law gives the right of parental participation, and ensures due process if treatment is thought to be unfair for any reason. IDEA sets standards for the identification and evaluation of students who are eligible for special education services.

How is it decided who receives special education?

There are three definitions in IDEA that help determine if a child is eligible for special education services.

• Infants and Toddlers from Birth to 2 These children are eligible if they experience developmental delays in or more of the following developmental areas:

  • adaptive 
  • cognition
  • communication
  • emotional or social 
  • physical

• Children and Youths from 3 to 9 years

These children are eligible if they meet the criteria for infants and toddlers above, but they only need to be experiencing delays in one area to be eligible. Alternatively, they can be assessed using the definition for children 3 to 21 that follows.

 • Children and Youths from 3 to 21 years

These children are eligible if they have a disability in any of the following thirteen disability categories. 

  • autism
  • deaf-blindness
  • emotional disturbance 
  • hearing impairment (including deafness)
  • mental retardation 
  • multiple disabilities 
  • orthopedic impairment 
  • other health impairment 
  • specific learning disability 
  • speech or language impairment 
  • traumatic brain injury
  • visual impairment (including blindness)

Specific learning disability is a term that many people need defined. It refers to conditions such as brain injury, developmental aphasia, dyslexia, mimimal brain dysfunction, and perceptual disabilities.

Who provides special education?

Special education is provided by classroom teachers in conjunction with professionals with specialized training in special education and other related areas. They include: 

  • audiologists
  • behavior strategists
  • deaf educators and interpreters
  • instructional assistants
  • occupational therapists
  • orientation and mobility specialists
  • physical therapists
  • resource room personnel
  • school psychologists 
  • social services caseworkers
  • special education teachers
  • speech language pathologists
  • vision specialists

Paraprofessionals, also know as paraeducators or teaching assistants, may assist in providing the mandated services, under the guidance and supervision of the classroom teacher of other qualified special education personnel.

Written by Mary Elizabeth

Sources Used for This Article

college.hmco.com/education/resources/res_prof/students/spec_ed/legislation/pl_94-142.html
ed.gov/about/offices/list/osers/osep/index.html
fape.org/idea/what_idea_is/index.htm
naset.org/giftedandtalented2.0.html
nichcy.org/pubs/genresc/gr3.htm