What is Special Education?

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  • The federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act defines special education as “specially designed instruction, at no cost to parents, to meet the unique needs of a child with a disability.” IDEA specifies that all children are entitled to a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE).

    There is a two-part test for determining whether a student is eligible for special education services: (1) a student must have a disability, and (2) as a result of the disability, the student must need special education services to benefit from education.

    Many parents are surprised to find that the disability category qualifying their child for special education and related services is different from their medical diagnosis.  For young children moving from Early Childhood Intervention (ECI) to preschool, the criteria that qualified them for infant services may not be the same as the criteria that makes them eligible for public school services when they turn three. Federal law (IDEA 2004, Part B) has 13 disability categories that States must use to determine if students, ages 3-21, are eligible to receive special education and related services. 

    The federal law (IDEA) uses the following terms to define a “child with a disability”:

    • Autism,
    • Deaf-blindness,
    • Deafness,
    • Emotional disturbance,
    • A hearing impairment,
    • Intellectual Disability,
    • An orthopedic impairment,
    • Other health impairment,
    • A specific learning disability,
    • A speech or language impairment,
    • Traumatic brain injury,
    • A visual impairment including blindness, or
    • Multiple disabilities.
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