The current state of special education is quite a modern accomplishment.  Before 1975, many students with disabilities were simply denied access to public schools.  There were several important federal laws which provided some funding for some services before 1975, but they were modest and not universal.  However, in 1975, the U.S. legislature enacted the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (Public Law 94‑142).  The current law is enacted as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).  This piece of federal legislation, and the Department of Education regulations that go with it, are extensive and complex.  Each state then lays their own legislation and regulations on top of these federal pieces.
About 10% of students enrolled in public schools receive special education.  Those students are three to twenty-two (3-22) years of age.  Schools are required to provide these services as long as they accept federal educational funds.  Some of the most common disabilities under which students qualify to receive special education are Speech Impairments and Learning Disabilities.  In special education speak, these are called eligibility categories.  There are 13 categories in all.
Auditory  Impairment, Autism, Deaf-Blindness, Emotional Disturbance, Intellectual Disability, Multiple Disabilities, Noncategorical Early Childhood, Orthopedic Impairment, Other Health Impairment, Specific Learning Disability, Speech or Language Impairment, Traumatic Brain Injury, and Visual Impairment
Some of these categories are incredibly broad.  For example, the condition of Emotional Disturbance may include many psychological conditions with which you may be familiar, such as Bipolar Disorder, Anxiety, Depression, Schizophrenia, etc.
The term special education is simultaneously simple and complex.  Special education is not a specific person, place or thing.  At its core, special education is specially designed teaching methods, therapies and services, equipment, and modifications to his/her environment or curriculum.  Special education is tailored for each individual student.  A students Individualized Education Program (IEP) is designed to ensure that the student receives a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE).  These statements appear to be fairly straightforward.  However, schools and parents do not always agree on what these terms mean.
Students that are entitled to special education have a properly documented disability and a Aneed@ for special education and related services.  The word Aneed@ can be incredibly controversial.  The federal and state laws and regulations have failed to define this term.  Many parents have also balked at the description of their student=s IEP as an Individualized Education Program when it was generated by computer software by a school staff member that has never met the student.  Schools have argued that one therapy or another does not provide a student FAPE because it is not Aappropriate@ for the student, despite a recommendation from numerous licensed practitioners and scientific-based research indicating otherwise.  It can be overwhelming to consider the impact that each and every word of the federal and state laws and regulations may have on the education of a single student.  If you know a parent who is experiencing frustration with their child’s public school, please pass this article on and let them know I am here to help them understand and exercise their rights and the rights of their child. Please contact George Shake at or (214) 416-9010.