Special Education

Special education programs in the United States were made mandatory in 1975 when Congress passed the Education of the Handicapped Act (EHA) in response to discriminatory treatment by public educational agencies against students with disabilities. The EHA was later modified to strengthen protections to disabled pupils and renamed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The IDEA is found in Title 20 of the United States Code, starting at section 1400.

The two most basic rights ensured by the IDEA is that every disabled student is entitled to a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment (LRE). To ensure a FAPE, a team of professionals and parents meet to determine the student's unique educational needs, develop annual goals for the student, and determine the placement, program modification, testing accommodations, counseling, and other special services that the student needs through the development of an Individualized Education Program (IEP). The educational agency is required to develop and implement an IEP that meets the standards of federal and state educational agencies.

The LRE mandate requires that all students' educations be with their non disabled peers to the greatest extent possible, while still providing a FAPE. The LRE requirement is intended to prevent unnecessary segregation of the disabled, and is based on Congress' finding that over twenty years of research and experience demonstrates that education of disabled students is more effective by having high expectations of such children and ensuring their access to the general curriculum to the maximum extent possible.

Some special education services (such as speech and language therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, etc) may be provided within the mainstream class (i.e. inclusion) or in a separate classroom if this is decided to be the LRE. Students receive individualized services to meet their goals, and these services are outlined in each child's IEP. Special equipment may be used, such as a standing frame, to encourage inclusion and achieve multiple IEP goals at once (i.e. standing while working on speech). A transition plan is also an important part of Special Education students' schooling process, which focused on their life after school, and is first developed starting at age 16. The transition plan focuses on the learner's goals for the future, addressing living and employment.

Most educators also believe that children with disabilities and non disabled children should be taught together whenever possible. Isolating children with disabilities may lower their self-esteem and may reduce their ability to deal with other people. In addition, non disabled children can learn much about personal courage and perseverance from children with disabilities. The practice of integrating children with disabilities into regular school programs is called mainstreaming. Students with disabilities attend special classrooms or schools only if their need for very specialized services makes mainstreaming impossible (i.e. a child with a wheelchair cannot participate in physical education, while a child with AD/HD may have trouble concentrating in a large class.) Many children with disabilities attend regular classes most of the school day: They work with a specially trained teacher for part of each day to overcome their disability. These sessions may be held in a classroom called a resource room, which may be equipped with such materials as braille typewriters and relief maps for blind students. Other students with disabilities attend special classes most of the day but join the rest of the children for certain activities. For example, youngsters with mental retardation may join other children who do not have retardation for art and physical education.

Although the place where instruction occurs (the setting) is seen as important in the field of special education, the types of curricular modifications and interventions may be a more important area to focus on in the future. Special education programming is influenced by behaviorism to a larger extent than general education.

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