Special education programs are in place to serve individuals from infancy to age 21 who have a disability that might interfere with the educational process. Such disabilities include, but are not limited to, autism, hearing and vision impairment, physical impairment, emotional disturbance and developmental delay. The focus of special education programs is to facilitate access to an appropriate education, regardless of the disability, to help the student achieve academic and life success.
Facilitate Academic Progress
Special education programs facilitate academic progress by providing the least restrictive environment and tailoring instruction and assessment to the individual. A written plan, called an Individual Education Program, or IEP, is drawn up to outline special accommodations and modifications within the educational environment for each special education student. This plan's focus is structuring the elements that drive the educational process — instruction and assessment — so that the individual can benefit from the educational environment. Without this specialized educational plan, the student's disability might stymie educational efforts.
Prior to the passage of legislation in the mid-1970s, students with disabilities were routinely educated in isolation, without adequate educational resources, or not at all. Now, special education students are routinely included in the general education environment, a strategy referred to as inclusion. The inclusion environment not only facilitates academic progress but also acts to socialize special education students. This socialization is vital to their personal growth and learning social skills that will be useful in the workforce.
Teach Life Skills
Some special education programs are geared toward teaching life skills, such as dressing, personal hygiene, safety, handling money and day-to-day decision making. Students in these programs are also educated in workplace expectations and often engage in programs that provide workplace training. For instance, the local burger joint may employ one or more of these students during a period of the school day so that they can get some on-the-job experience. These special programs are essential if these students are to eventually enjoy any degree of self-sufficiency.
Modify Student Behavior
Special education programs also teach behavior that is appropriate and acceptable by society. Some students with disabilities may exhibit behaviors that are objectionable, offensive or disruptive to social and classroom situations. Special education allows for some tolerance of these behaviors within the instructional environment, as teachers work to educate the student academically and behaviorally. Students who are overly aggressive or exhibit behaviors that are socially inappropriate benefit from special education programs.
- U.S. Department of Education: Office of Special Education Rehabilitative Services
- National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities: Categories of Disability Under IDEA
- Georgia Department of Education: Special Education Services and Supports
- Federal Education Budget Project: Individuals with Disabilities Education Act Overview
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