Special Educational Needs and Disabilities also called special education, is a range of services for children who differ socially or mentally from other children of their age and grade and have a significant impact on their learning. This term covers a broad range of difficulties, including deafness and blindness; mental impairments; physical impairments such as orthopedic, neurological, or speech and hearing problems; and gifted children with advanced academic abilities.
In the United States, laws governing special education and disabilities are based on the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Under this law, a child who qualifies for special education can be provided with free public education that is specifically tailored to his or her unique needs by a team of professionals, through an individualized education program, or IEP. The IEP contains the student’s current level of educational performance, information on how the disability impacts the student’s academic performance, and identifies the accommodations and modifications required to enable the student to successfully participate in regular education classes and school activities.
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The goal of special educational needs is to enable the student to achieve his or her highest level of academic achievement. Ideally, this is achieved in regular classrooms with the support of a special education teacher or assistant. However, in some cases, a more restricted educational environment may be needed. This might include a resource room, self-contained class, or specialized therapeutic settings. Children with special educational needs are usually evaluated by a team of professionals, including teachers and educational psychologists. In some cases, medical specialists and psychiatric personnel may also evaluate children who might qualify for special education programs.