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Special education or special needs education is the practice of educating students with special needs in a way that addresses their individual differences and needs. Ideally, this process involves the individually planned and systematically monitored arrangement of teaching procedures, adapted equipment and materials, accessible settings, and other interventions designed to help learners with special needs achieve a higher level of personal self-sufficiency and success in school and community than would be available if the student were only given access to a typical classroom education.
Common special needs include learning disabilities, communication disabilities, emotional and behavioral disorders, physical disabilities, and developmental disabilities. Students with these kinds of special needs are likely to benefit from additional educational services such as different approaches to teaching, the use of technology, a specifically adapted teaching area, or a resource room.
Intellectual giftedness is a difference in learning and can also benefit from specialized teaching techniques or different educational programs, but the term "special education" is generally used to specifically indicate instruction of students with disabilites. Gifted education is handled separately.
Whereas special education is designed specifically for students with special needs, remedial education can be designed for any students, with or without special needs; the defining trait is simply that they have reached a point of underpreparedness, regardless of why. For example, even people of high intelligence can be underprepared if their education was disrupted, for example, by internal displacement during civil disorder or a war.
In most developed countries, educators modify teaching methods and environments so that the maximum number of students are served in general education environments. Therefore, special education in developed countries is often regarded as a service rather than a place. Integration can reduce social stigmas and improve academic achievement for many students.
The opposite of special education is general education. General education is the standard curriculum presented without special teaching methods or supports.
Some children are easily identified as candidates for special needs due to their medical history. They may have been diagnosed with a genetic condition that is associated with intellectual disability, may have various forms of brain damage, may have a developmental disorder, may have visual or hearing disabilities, or other disabilities.
For students with less obvious disabilites, such as those who have learning difficulties, two primary methods have been used for identifying them: the discrepancy model and the response to intervention model. The discrepancy model depends on the teacher noticing that the students' achievements are noticeably below what is expected. The response to intervention model advocates earlier intervention.
In the discrepancy model, a student receives special education services for a specific learning difficulty (SLD) if the student has at least normal intelligence and the student's academic achievement is below what is expected of a student with his or her IQ. Although the discrepancy model has dominated the school system for many years, there has been substantial criticism of this approach (e.g., Aaron, 1995, Flanagan and Mascolo, 2005) among researchers. One reason for criticism is that diagnosing SLDs on the basis of the discrepancy between achievement and IQ does not predict the effectiveness of treatment. Low academic achievers who also have low IQ appear to benefit from treatment just as much as low academic achievers who have normal or high intelligence.
The alternative approach, response to intervention, identifies children who are having difficulties in school in their first or second year after starting school. They then receive additional assistance such as participating in a reading remediation program. The response of the children to this intervention then determines whether they are designated as having a learning disability. Those few who still have trouble may then receive designation and further assistance. Sternberg (1999) has argued that early remediation can greatly reduce the number of children meeting diagnostic criteria for learning disabilities. He has also suggested that the focus on learning disabilities and the provision of accommodations in school fails to acknowledge that people have a range of strengths and weaknesses and places undue emphasis on academics by insisting that students should be supported in this arena and not in music or sports.
A special education program should be customized to address each individual student's unique needs. Special educators provide a continuum of services, in which students with special needs receives varying degrees of support based on their individual needs. Special education programs need to be individualized so that they address the unique combination of needs in a given student.
In the United States, Canada, and the UK, educational professionals use the initialism IEP when referring to a student’s individualized education plan. For children who are not yet 3, an IFSP. (Individual Family Service Plan)It contains 1) information on the child’s present level of development in all areas; 2) outcomes for the child and family; and 3) services the child and family will receive to help them achieve the outcomes.<©2011, 2000 PACER Center>
Students with special needs are assessed to determine their specific strengths and weaknesses. Placement, resources, and goals are determined on the basis of the student's needs. Accommodations and Modifications to the regular program may include changes in the curriculum, supplementary aides or equipment, and the provision of specialized physical adaptations that allow students to participate in the educational environment as much as possible. Students may need this help to access subject matter, physically gain access to the school, or meet their emotional needs. For example, if the assessment determines that the student cannot write by hand because of a physical disability, then the school might provide a computer for typing assignments, or allow the student to answer questions verbally instead. If the school determines that the student is severely distracted by the normal activities in a large, busy classroom, then the student might be placed in a smaller classroom such as a resource room.
Schools use different approaches to providing special education services to students. These approaches can be broadly grouped into four categories, according to how much contact the student with special needs has with non-disabled students (using North American terminology):
A special school is a school catering for students who have special educational needs due to severe learning difficulties, physical disabilities or behavioural problems. Special schools may be specifically designed, staffed and resourced to provide appropriate special education for children with additional needs. Students attending special schools generally do not attend any classes in mainstream schools.
Special schools provide individualised education, addressing specific needs. Student to teacher ratios are kept low, often 6:1 or lower depending upon the needs of the children. Special schools will also have other facilities for children with special needs, such as soft play areas, sensory rooms, or swimming pools, which necessary for treating students with certain conditions.
In recent times, places available in special schools are declining as more children with special needs are educated in mainstream schools. However, there will always be some children, whose learning needs cannot be appropriately met in a regular classroom setting and will require specialised education and resources to provide the level of support they require. An example of a disability that may require a student to attend a special school is intellectual disability. However this practice is often frowned upon by school districts in the USA in the light of Least Restrictive Environment as mandated in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
An alternative is a special unit or special classroom, also called a self-contained classroom, which is a separate room or rooms dedicated solely to the education of students with special needs within a larger school that also provides general education. These classrooms are typically staffed by specially trained teachers, who provide specific, individualized instruction to individuals and small groups of students with special needs. Self-contained classrooms, because they are located in a general education school, may have students who remain in the self-contained classroom full-time, or students who are included in certain general education classes. In the United States a part-time alternative that is appropriate for some students is sometimes called a resource room.
One of the first special schools in the world was the Institut National des Jeunes Aveugles in Paris, which was founded in 1784. It was the first school in the world to teach blind students. The first school in U.K, for the Deaf was established 1760  in Edinburgh by Thomas Braidwood, with education for visually impaired people beginning in the Edinburgh and Bristol in 1765.
In the 19th Century, people with disabilities and the inhumane conditions where they were supposedly housed and educated were addressed in the literature of Charles Dickens. Dickens characterized people with severe disabilities as having the same, if not more, compassion and insight in Bleak House and Little Dorrit.
Such attention to the downtrodden conditions of people with disabilities brought resulted in reforms in Europe including the re-evalutation of special schools. In the United States reform came more slowly. Throughout the mid half of the 20th century, special schools, termed institutions, were not only accepted, but encouraged. Students with disabilites were housed with people with mental illnesses, and they were not educated much, if at all.
With the Amendments to the Individuals with Disabilities Act of 1997, school districts in the United States began to slowly integrate students with moderate and severe special needs into regular school systems. This changed the form and function of special education services in many school districts and special schools subsequently saw a steady decrease in enrollment as districts weighed the cost per student. It also posed general funding dilemmas to certain local schools and districts, changed how schools view assessments, and formally introduced the concept of inclusion to many educators, students and parents.
Different instructional techniques are used for some students with special educational needs. Instructional strategies are classified as being either accommodations or modifications.
An accommodation is a reasonable adjustment to teaching practices so that the student learns the same material, but in a format that is more accessible to the student. Accommodations may be classified by whether they change the presentation, response, setting, or scheduling of lessons. For example, the school may accommodate a student with visual impairments by providing a large-print textbook. This is a presentation accommodation.
A modification changes or adapts the material to make it simpler. Modifications may change what is learned, how difficult the material is, what level of mastery the student is expected to achieve, whether and how the student is assessed, or any another aspect of the curriculum. For example, the school may modify a reading assignment for a student with reading difficulties by substituting a shorter, easier book. A student may receive both accommodations and modifications.
All developed countries permit or require some degree of accommodation for students with special needs, and special provisions are usually made in examinations which take place at the end of formal schooling.
In addition to how the student is taught the academic curriculum, schools may provide non-academic services to the student. These are intended ultimately to increase the student's personal and academic abilities. Related services include developmental, corrective, and other supportive services as are required to assist a student with special needs and includes speech and language pathology, audiology, psychological services, physical therapy, occupational therapy, counseling services, including rehabilitation counseling, orientation and mobility services, medical services as defined by regulations, parent counseling and training, school health services, school social work, assistive technology services, other appropriate developmental or corrective support services, appropriate access to recreation and other appropriate support services. In some countries, most related services are provided by the schools; in others, they are provided by the normal healthcare and social services systems.
As an example, students who have autistic spectrum disorders, poor impulse control, or other behavioral challenges may learn self-management techniques, be kept closely on a comfortingly predictable schedule, or given extra cues to signal activities.
At-risk students (those with educational needs that are not associated with a disability) are often placed in classes with students who have disabilities. Critics assert that placing at-risk students in the same classes as students with disabilities may impede the educational progress of people with disabilities. Some special education classes have been criticized for a watered-down curriculum.
The practice of inclusion (in mainstream classrooms) has been criticized by advocates and some parents of children with special needs because some of these students require instructional methods that differ dramatically from typical classroom methods. Critics assert that it is not possible to deliver effectively two or more very different instructional methods in the same classroom. As a result, the educational progress of students who depend on different instructional methods to learn often fall even further behind their peers.
Parents of typically developing children sometimes fear that the special needs of a single "fully included" student will take critical levels of attention and energy away from the rest of the class and thereby impair the academic achievements of all students.
Some parents, advocates, and students have concerns about the eligibility criteria and their application. In some cases, parents and students protest the students' placement into special education programs. For example, a student may be placed into the special education programs due to a mental health condition such as obsessive compulsive disorder, depression, anxiety, panic attacks or ADHD, while the student and his parents believe that the condition is adequately managed through medication and outside therapy. In other cases, students whose parents believe they require the additional support of special education services are denied participation in the program based on the eligibility criteria.
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, is debated. While many severely disabled children can learn simple tasks, such as pushing a buzzer when they want attention, some children may be incapable of learning. Some parents and advocates say that these children would be better served by substituting improved physical care for any academic program. In other cases, they question whether teaching such non-academic subjects, such as pushing a buzzer, is properly the job of the school system, rather than the health care system.
Another large issue is the lack of resources enabling individuals with special needs to receive an education in the developing world. As a consequence, 98 percent of children with special needs in developing countries do not have access to education.
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White Papers in 1995 and 2001 discuss special education in the country. Local schools are given some independent authority.
Both modifications and accommodations are recommended, depending on the student's individual needs.
Japanese students with special needs are placed in one of four different school arrangements: special schools, special classrooms with another school, in resource rooms (which are called tsukyu), or in regular classrooms.
Special schools are reserved for students whose severe disabilities cannot be accommodated in the local school. They do not use the same grading or marking systems as mainstream schools, but instead assess students according to their individualized plans.
Special classes are similar, and may vary the national curriculum as the teachers see fit. Tsukyu are resource rooms that students with milder problems use part-time for specialized instruction individually in small groups. These students spend the rest of the day in the mainstream classroom. Some students with special needs are fully included in the mainstream classroom, with accommodations or modifications as needed.
Training of disabled students, particularly at the upper-secondary level, emphasizes vocational education to enable students to be as independent as possible within society. Vocational training varies considerably depending on the student's disability, but the options are limited for some. It is clear that the government is aware of the necessity of broadening the range of possibilities for these students. Advancement to higher education is also a goal of the government, and it struggles to have institutions of higher learning accept more disabled students.
Special education is regulated centrally by the Singapore Ministry of Education. Both special schools and integration into mainstream schools are options for students with special educational needs, but most students with disabilities are placed in special schools.
Students with special education who wish accommodations on national exams must provide appropriate documentation to prove that they are disabled. Accommodations, but not modifications (e.g., simpler questions) are normally approved if they are similar to the accommodations already being used in everyday schoolwork, with the goal of maintaining the exam's integrity while not having students unfairly disadvantaged by factors that are unrelated to what is being tested. The accommodations are listed on the Primary School Leaving Exam.
Australian Association of Special Education Inc (AASE)‘s position is informed by the Disability Standards for Education 2005 which require that students with disabilities are treated on the same basis as other students in regards to enrolment and participation in education.
With respect to standardized tests, special consideration procedures are in place in all states for students who are disabled. Students must provide documentation Not all desired forms of accommodations are available. For example, students who cannot read, even if the inability to read is due to a disability, cannot have the exam read to them, because the exam results should accurately show that the student is unable to read. Reports on matriculation exams do not mention whether the student received any accommodations in taking the test.
Each country in Europe has its own special education support structures.
For more details on 28 European countries see European Agency for Special Needs and Inclusive Education.
Schools must take students' special education needs into account when assessing their achievements.
In Denmark, 99% of students with specific learning difficulties like dyslexia are educated alongside students without any learning challenges.
Schools adapt the national guidelines to the needs of individual students. Students with special educational needs are given an individualized plan.
They may be exempted from some parts of school examinations, such as students with hearing impairments not taking listening comprehension tests. If the student receives modifications to the school-leaving exams, this is noted on the certificate of achievement. If they are not following the national core curriculum, then they are tested according to the goals of their individual educational program.
French students with disabilities are normally included in their neighborhood school, although children may be placed in special schools if their personalized plan calls for it. Each student's personalized school plan describes teaching methods, psychological, medical and paramedical services that the school will provide to the student.
Most students with special needs in Germany attend a special school that serves only children with special needs. These include:
One in 21 German students attends a special school. Teachers at those schools are specially trained professionals who have specialized in special needs education while in university. Special schools often have a very favorable student-teacher ratio and facilities other schools do not have.
Students with special educational needs may be exempted from standardized tests or given modified tests.
Greek students with special needs may attend either mainstream schools or special schools.
Students whose disabilities have been certified may be exempted from some standardized tests or given alternative tests. Accommodations are responsive to students' needs; for example, students with visual impairments may take oral tests, and students with hearing impairments take written tests. Accommodations and modifications are noted on the certificate of achievement.
Special education is regulated centrally.
According to the 1993 Act on Public Education, students with special educational needs may be exempted from standardized tests or given modified tests. They have a right to extra time, a choice of formats for the tests (e.g., oral rather than written), and any equipment that they normally use during the school day.
As of 2006, students with disabilities received a significant bonus (eight points) on the university entrance examination, which has been criticized as unfair.
As a general rule, students with special educational needs are integrated into their regular, mainstream schools with appropriate support, under the "Going to School Together" policy (Weer Samen Naar School). Four types of disability-specific special schools exist. The national policy is moving towards "suitable education" (passend onderwijs), based on the individual's strengths and weakensses.
The National Support System for Special Needs Education (Statped) is managed by the Norwegian Directorate for Education and Training. The general objective for Statped is to give guidance and support to those in charge of the education in municipalities and county administrations to ensure that children, young people and adults with major and special educational needs are secured well-advised educational and developmental provisions. The institutions affiliated with Statped offer a broad spectrum of services. Statped consists of 13 resource centres owned by the State, and 4 units for special education, where Statped buys services. These centres offer special educational guidance and support for local authorities and county administrations.
Students with disabilities have a "guaranteed right" to appropriate accommodations on assessments. Schools are generally considered autonomous.
On national tests, the National Examination Center normally grants most requests for accommodations that are supported by the local school's examination committee. Legislation opposes the use of modifications that would be unfair to non-disabled students.
Schools are required to provide services and resources to students with special educational needs so that they make progress and participate in school. If the local school is unable to provide appropriately for an individual student, then the student may be transferred to a special school.
Local schools have significant autonomy, based on national guidelines. Schools are expected to help students meet the goals that are set for them.
There are special schools (Swedish:Särskola) for students with low abilities to attend normal education. There has in 2012-2013 been media criticism on the fact that students with light problems such as dyslexia have been placed in special schools, seriously hampering their chances on the labour market.
Education is controlled by the 26 cantons, and so special education programs vary from place to place. However, integration is typical. Students are assessed according to their individual learning goals.
In England and Wales the acronym SEN for Special Educational Needs denotes the condition of having special educational needs, the services which provide the support and the programmes and staff which implement the education. In England SEN PPS refers to the Special Educational Needs Parent Partnership Service. SENAS is the special educational needs assessment service, which is part of the Local Authority. SENCO refers to a special educational needs coordinator, who usually works with schools and the children within schools who have special educational needs. The Special Educational Needs Parent Partnership Services help parents with the planning and delivery of their child's educational provision. The Department for Education oversees special education in England.
Most students have an individual educational plan, but students may have a group plan in addition to, or instead of, an individual plan. Groups plans are used when a group of students all have similar goals.
In Scotland the Additional Support Needs Act places an obligation on education authorities to meet the needs of all students in consultation with other agencies and parents. In Scotland the term Special Educational Needs (SEN), and its variants are not official terminology although the very recent implementation of the Additional Support for Learning Act means that both SEN and ASN (Additional Support Needs) are used interchangeably in current common practice.
In North America, special education is commonly abbreviated as special ed, SpecEd, SPED, or SpEd in a professional context.
Education in Canada is the responsibility of the individual provinces and territories. As such, rules vary somewhat from place to place. However, inclusion is the dominant model.
For major exams, Canadian schools commonly use accommodations, such as specially printed examinations for students with visual impairments, when assessing the achievements of students with special needs. In other instances, alternative assessments or modifications that simplify tests are permitted, or students with disabilities may be exempted from the tests entirely.
All special-needs students receive an Individualized Education Program (IEP) that outlines how the school will meet the student’s individual needs. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that students with special needs be provided with a Free Appropriate Public Education in the Least Restrictive Environment that is appropriate to the student's needs. Government-run schools provide special education in varying degrees from the least restrictive settings, such as full inclusion, to the most restrictive settings, such as segregation in a special school. The education offered by the school must be appropriate to the student's individual needs. Schools are not required to maximize the student's potential or to provide the best possible services. Unlike most of the developed world, American schools are also required to provide many medical services, such as speech therapy, if the student needs these services.
According to the Department of Education, approximately 6 million children (roughly 10 percent of all school-aged children) currently receive some type of special education services. As with most countries in the world, students who are poor, ethnic minorities, or do not speak the dominant language fluently are disproportionately identified as needing special education services. Poor, black and Latino urban schools are more likely to have limited resources and to employ inexperienced teachers that do not cope well with student behavior problems, "thereby increasing the number of students they referred to special education."
During the 1960s, in some part due to the civil rights movement, some researchers began to study the disparity of education amongst people with disabilities. The landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision, which declared unconstitutional the "separate but equal" arrangements in public schools for students of different races, paved the way for PARC v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and Mills vs. Board of Education of District of Columbia, which challenged the segregation of students with special needs. Courts ruled that unnecessary and inappropriate segregation of students with disabilities was unconstitutional. Congress responded to these court rulings with the federal Education for All Handicapped Children Act in 1975 (since renamed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)). This law required schools to provide services to students previously denied access to an appropriate education.
In US government-run schools, the dominant model is inclusion. In the United States, three out of five students with academic learning challenges spend the overwhelming majority of their time in the regular classroom.
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