Frequently Asked Questions

All of your frequently asked questions for special education answered!


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How many students with disabilities are in U.S. schools?

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, it is estimated that over six million students receive special education services in the United States each year. This makes up around 12% of the 49.8 million K-12 students. Of the students receiving special education services, about 35% had specific learning disabilities.

What are the most common disabilities among special education students?

There are various learning, developmental, and physical disabilities that students who receive special education services have. Some of the most common ones are: autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, dyslexia, epilepsy, and spina bifida.

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What is an IEP?

IEP stands for “Individualized Learning Plan,” and it is a plan or program to ensure that a child who has a disability is provided the proper learning accommodations and any related services. The purpose is to set reasonable learning goals and to state the services that the school district will provide. An IEP is typically developed in an annual meeting between the child’s parents, special education teacher, physical education teacher, speech pathologist, the director of special education, and a general education teacher. Depending upon the child’s needs, there may also be others in attendance, such as an occupational therapist, physical therapist, social worker, school psychologist, or school nurse.  The school’s principal is also usually invited to the meeting. An IEP can be revised when necessary so that it better addresses the child’s current needs; although a meeting occurs every year, parents can request one at any time.

Do special education teachers need to know ASL (American Sign Language)?

While it is not a requirement for special education teachers to know ASL, it can be a highly beneficial skill to acquire. Many students in special education use signs to communicate their needs. If their teacher is unable to understand what they are trying to say, that can be detrimental for the student. It can lead to frustration, behavioral issues, and unwillingness to socialize. Taking a sign language course or simply taking the time to learn some basic signs can help a special education teacher can truly stand out and enter the classroom with one more effective strategy to help students succeed.

How is it determined if a child can receive special education services?

In order for a child to qualify for special education, it must be determined that they in fact have a disability and is in need of special education and any related services. A child must go through an evaluation process that is guided by the requirements outlined in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). (It is important to note that the term “mental retardation” is used in older documents, but that is no longer a socially accepted diagnosis; it is now referred to as having an “intellectual disability.”) There are 13 eligibility categories under IDEA (to see them in detail, click here), and a child must meet the definition of one of the categories and show a need for special education services. This can be shown using a child’s grades, scores on state achievement tests, and assessment results, to name a few. From there, the parents of a child with a disability and the school team develop an IEP that will recommend the appropriate goals and services.