What is special education?

By Amanda Morin

At a glance

  • Special education refers to a range of services that help kids with disabilities learn.

  • It’s not a “one size fits all” approach — special education is tailored to meet the needs of individual kids.

  • Kids who qualify for special education have an IEP.

Special education refers to a range of services that can be provided in different ways and in different settings. There’s no “one size fits all” approach to special education. It’s tailored to meet the needs of students with disabilities.

Special education focuses on helping kids with disabilities learn. But it doesn’t mean placing kids in a special classroom all day long. In fact, federal law says that kids who get special education services should learn in the same classrooms as other kids as much as possible. This is known as the least restrictive environment (or LRE).

The services and supports for one student may be very different from those of another student. It’s all about the individual child and giving them the resources they need to make progress in school.

For example, some students may spend most of the day in a general education classroom. Others may spend just an hour or two in a resource room working with a specialist. And others might need to attend a different school that specializes in teaching kids with learning disabilities.

Kids who qualify for special education have an Individualized Education Program (IEP). They get individualized teaching and other resources at no cost to their families. Specialists work with kids on strengths as well as challenges. And families are key members of the team that decides what kids need to thrive in school.

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    About the author

    About the author

    Amanda Morin is the author of “The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education” and the former director of thought leadership at Understood. As an expert and writer, she helped build Understood from its earliest days.