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The umbrella term of special education broadly identifies the academic, physical, cognitive, and social-emotional instruction offered to children who are faced with one or more disabilities. Under the IDEA, these disabilities are categorized into the following areas:.


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Autism Spectrum Disorder refers to a developmental disability that significantly affects communication both verbal and nonverbal and social interaction. Deaf-blindness refers to concomitant visual and hearing impairments. This combination causes severe communication, developmental and educational needs that cannot be accommodated through special education programs solely for those children with blindness or deafness. Developmental delay is a term designated for children birth to age nine, and is defined as a delay in one or more of the following areas: cognitive development, physical development, socio-emotional development, behavioral development or communication.

Children with multiple disabilities are those with concomitant impairments such as intellectual disability and blindness or intellectual disability and orthopedic impairment s. This combination causes severe educational needs that cannot be met through programs designed for children with a single impairment.

Deaf-blindness is not identified as a multiple disability and is outlined separately by IDEA.

Teaching Special Education

Orthopedic impairment s include those caused by congenital anomalies and diseases, as well impairments by other causes i. Cerebral Palsy. Included are conditions such as perceptual disabilities, dyslexia also dyscalculia, dysgraphia , brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction and developmental aphasia.

Traumatic brain injury refers to an acquired injury to the brain caused by external physical forces. TBI does not include congenital or degenerative conditions or those caused by birth-related trauma. TBI applies to injuries that result in impairments in one or more of the following areas: cognition, language, memory, attention, reasoning, abstract thinking, judgment, problem-solving, psychosocial behavior, physical functions, information processing, and speech.

After a student is deemed able to receive such services, their progress is annually reviewed. An Individualized Education Program commonly referred to as IEP is a document, mandated by the IDEA, which clearly defines the individual goal and objectives set for a child with a disability. This team meets annually at minimum to assess the academic and developmental progress of the student, design appropriate educational plans, and adhere any changes if necessary.

The main goal these reviews is to ensure that the child is receiving appropriate and adequate services within their least restrictive environment. Just as with general education certification, becoming a certified Special Education teacher allows you to work with a wide range of student ages, grade levels , and abilities. Special Education programs are designed to meet the specific and unique instructional needs of each child, allowing students to be grouped homogeneously by developmental stage ability rather than by age.

This unique aspect of Special Education allows teachers to provide aid and instruction based on the students' skill level, rather than biological age.

School Services for Children with Special Needs: Know Your Rights

Once you've made your decision of which age group to become certified in, consider which degree you want to earn to teach special education. Typical undergraduate programs in education are four years and provide students with the resources, qualifications, and experience needed to become a certified teacher in their respective state. Average course loads include theory, fieldwork and practical application of skill.

Graduate degrees in Special Education are offered for both certified teachers looking to further validate their credentials, as well as those looking to complete their initial certification. Other states provide a flat grant based on the count of all students in a district, rather than on the number of special education students.

Advocates for this system argue that it takes away the incentive to over-identify students for special education. However, the range of special education eligible students in various districts is so broad, that the flat grant based system creates significant disparities in the local effort required. There are other funding systems in use.

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Under a resource-based system, funding is based on an allocation of specific education resources, such as teachers or classroom units. Resource-based formulas include unit and personnel mechanisms in which distribution of funds is based on payment for specified resources, such as teachers, aides, or equipment. Under a percentage reimbursement system, the amount of state special education aid a district receives is directly based on its expenditures for the program. Many states use separate funding mechanisms to target resources to specific populations or areas of policy concern such as extended school year services or specialized equipment.

According to the CSEF report, a growing number of states have a separate funding stream that can be accessed by districts serving exceptionally "high-cost" special education students.

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The purpose of federal special education funding is to maintain or improve the quality of special education services. This purpose would be undercut if additional federal dollars were "supplanted" by merely reducing the level of state or local funding for special education. For this reason, like many other such programs, the federal law and regulations contain accounting guidelines, requiring "maintenance of effort. By federal law, no student is too disabled to qualify for a free, appropriate education.

Whether it is useful and appropriate to attempt to educate the most severely disabled children, such as children who are in a persistent vegetative state or in a coma , is debated. However, schools are required to provide the services, and teachers design individual programs that expose the child to as much of the curriculum as reasonably possible.

Some parents and advocates say that these children would be better served by substituting improved physical care for any academic program.


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Parents who suspect or know that their child has a problem making adequate school progress should request an evaluation from their local school district. The request, called a "referral for evaluation," should be initiated in writing. The referral should be addressed to the principal of the local public school or the special education coordinator for the district, and should provide the child's name, date of birth, address, current school placement if applicable , and the suspected area of disability or special need.

Referrals can also be made by general education teachers or guidance counselors. Upon receipt of the referral, the school district will contact the parent to set up a meeting time in order to explain the process and obtain written consent to perform the necessary evaluations. To prepare for this meeting, parents should be able to describe their child's problems in depth, providing examples of their child's difficulties in the classroom.

Parents can request any evaluations they feel are needed to add to the picture of the child's specific educational needs, such as speech and language testing, occupational therapy testing or neurological testing.

Five Ways to Help Students with Special Needs

All evaluations needed to provide a full picture of the child's disabilities must be provided by the school system at no cost to the family. After the referral process, the district will begin the evaluation. The law requires a comprehensive and nondiscriminatory school evaluation involving all areas of suspected disability.

Testing can be done in numerous places but it is most common in schools: Elementary schools, Middle Schools, High Schools, and Universities. Testing must be in the native language of the child if feasible. It must be administered by a team of professionals, which must include at least a general education teacher, one special education teacher, and a specialist who is knowledgeable in the area of the child's disability.

Testing must be administered one-to-one, not in a group. Any tests or other evaluation materials used must be administered by professionals trained and qualified to administer them; i. Teachers also document any interventions they have already been using in the classroom. Anything a teacher or committee member can bring with them to help see the student's whole academic picture e. In addition to testing, an observation of the child either in school or in a comparable situation is required for an initial evaluation, and often at later stages as well.

It is through the observation that the child can be assessed while interacting with his peers and teachers. To insure objectivity and cross-referencing, this observation must be conducted by a person other than the child's classroom teacher.

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Special education in the United States

The observation need not be done exclusively in the child's classroom, especially when the child's suspected area of disability may become manifest in larger settings, such as the lunchroom, hallways or gym. For children over twelve years of age, vocational testing is required. This requirement is in keeping with the spirit of the IDEA Amendments that encourage preparation of children for useful employment. The vocational testing should identify areas of interest and skills needed to attain employment after graduation from school.

During the testing process, the parent is free to provide any privately obtained evaluative material and reports. Experts may include professionals such as psychotherapists, psychiatrists, neurologists, pediatricians, medical personnel, and tutors. Professionals who have been working with the child over time can often provide the district with a long-term view of the child's needs.

Once all the evaluative material is presented and reviewed at the meeting, the IEP team must first determine whether the child is eligible for special education services. If the team finds the child eligible for special education, they must then classify the child in one of 13 categories. The following are the students in the U. The Individual Education Program is developed by a team sometimes referred to as the Committee on Special Education that must include at least one parent and the professionals who work with the student.

Teachers and a representative from the school administration are generally required to attend these meetings. Parents may additionally include anyone they choose, for any reason they choose. Parents must be notified of the meeting in writing. The notification must indicate the purpose, time and location of the meeting and list the people who will be in attendance, including the name and position of each person.

If parents are unable to attend at the appointed time, the meeting should be rescheduled to accommodate the needs of the family. After the IEP meeting the parents must be given written notice of exactly where and how the services will be provided for their child. Most often, the suggested program will be located within the public school system in the district. When a student's disability is such that his or her needs cannot be met in the district, the school district may suggest a placement in an out-of-district program.