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Special Education: Definition, Types & Philosophy

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Mary Firestone

Learn what special education is, and the different types. Find out about the philosophy behind special education. Read the lesson, and then take a brief quiz to test your knowledge.

Definition

Special education is a form of instruction that's designed to meet the needs of students with disabilities, so that they can learn the same skills and information as other children in school. The term 'special education' is used interchangeably with special needs, and the disabilities may be physical, emotional or behavioral.

Philosophy

The general philosophy of special education is that all people have the ability to learn, regardless of their particular disabilities. The trend in public education has shifted from isolating special education students in separate classrooms to 'mainstreaming' them in the regular classroom for at least part of the day. This is in keeping with the U.S. Department of Education Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) mission to '...achieve full integration and participation in society of people with disabilities by ensuring equal opportunity and access to, and excellence in, education, employment and community living.'

Types of Special Education Structures

Students needing special education include those with autism spectrum disorders, vision and hearing impairment, intellectual disability (functioning far below age levels), emotional disorders, specific learning disabilities related to reading or ability to do math, and speech and language impairment (Special Education Categories, n.d.).

In public education, students with disabilities are first given an Individual Education Plan (IEP) that determines what services he or she will receive. After this is established, some types of educational structures offered to students with disabilities include (as cited in Differentiating Instruction for Special Education Children, n.d.):

  • Placement in the general education classroom. For many special education students, it's possible for them to receive individualized instruction within the regular classroom without the need for additional support.
  • Placement in the general education classroom but during pre-set times during the day meets outside the classroom with specialists for sessions that address their different needs. These may be speech pathologists, psychologists, or other types of professionals.
  • Placement in the general education classroom, but part of the day is spent in a resource room that is designed for their needs with a teacher trained to work with special needs students.
  • Placement in a special education classroom for most of the day but placed in the general education classroom for certain classes, such as physical education or art.
  • Separated from general education entirely. Placement in a school designed for special needs students only.
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