Special education is a term that refers to the education of children who have needs that the typical student does not have. Special education covers a broad range of needs ranging from more mild learning disabilities to severe mental retardation, with everything in-between. A lot of kids, at least 10% of school kids, require some sort of specialized education in order to succeed fully in schools.
Traditionally, special education has meant either specialized classrooms or specialized schools. This was especially true for kids with more serious handicaps. However, the present trend is towards inclusion. Inclusion is the practice of integrating special education students into mainstream classrooms. Inclusion has many advantages for disabled and non-disabled students. However inclusion also presents more challenges to educators. Often, successful inclusion requires extra support of additional school personnel, such as paraprofessionals or the use of a specialized resource room. This also requires general education instructors to be much more familiar with special education needs and how to work with a variety of special education students.
If a child is suspected of having a special education need, he/she will be referred for some sort of assessment. This could be a simple assessment, such as referring a child suspected of a hearing problem for a hearing evaluation. Or, it could mean assigning the child to a complete child study team, consisting of teachers, counselors, medical professionals, school administrators and often a school psychologist for complete evaluation. Usually, a chid who is determined to have a special education need is prescribed an individualized education plan, or IEP, to specifically state how the child's educational program will be modified to address the chid's specialized needs. Laws govern the rights and treatment of students with special needs.