SPED Resources: Special Education Services, Students, and Schools

Dayton Uttinger
Special Education Services, Students, and Schools

If you’ve recently discovered that your child might need special education, it can be a bit disorienting. You might be resistant to the idea at first, but it’s important to gather all the available information on special education before making any hasty decisions.

Table of Contents

What is Special Education?

Special education consists of programs, curriculum, and teaching styles aimed at students with disabilities at every level, from kindergarten through high school. The point of special education is to effectively teach children with disabilities in a way the benefits them the most.

Who Qualifies for Special Education?

Special education can serve students with all sorts of disabilities, including students with deafness, blindness, communication difficulties, learning disabilities, mobility impairment, and more. There is not a specific restriction on who can be placed in special education, but the state is required to provide special education options to those who fit the profile for at least one of 13 disabilities, which are:

  • Autism
  • Deafness
  • Blindness
  • Deaf-blindness
  • Emotional disturbance
  • Hearing impairment
  • Specific learning disability
  • Intellectual disability
  • Multiple disabilities
  • Orthopedic impairment
  • Other health impairments
  • Speech or language impairment
  • Traumatic brain injury

Generally, parents and teachers can coordinate to evaluate students if a disability is suspected, or parents can disclose their child’s special needs and provide the necessary documentation right from the start. Some conditions take longer to manifest in children, or may only become apparent once they begin attending school, so an evaluation is not at all unusual at every level of education.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) ensures that children with disabilities are still provided adequate education. Depending on your child’s needs, curriculum may need to be adjusted on an individualized basis, but IDEA demands that children with disabilities spend as much time as possible in typical classrooms with other students. The qualifying disabilities in the previous section were determined by IDEA.

The state is required to provide a free and appropriate education to all children. If you believe that the state is failing to do so, speak to your case worker and your school board.

Important Special Education Terms and Definitions

If you are unfamiliar with the special education system, it can be confusing to understand some of the common terms and options involved, much less to make the best choices to care for your child. We’ve outlined some foundational terms below for you to get started.


Devices or services that enable students with disabilities to succeed academically; examples include audio books or quiet spaces for test taking.

General Education Classroom

A classroom where typical state-mandated curriculum is taught. IDEA requires that children with disabilities spend as much time in general education classrooms as possible.

Inclusion Classroom

Classrooms where students with and without disabilities learn together.

Individualized Education Program (IEP)

A formal document detailing the educational plan for a student with disabilities. Parents, teachers, and counselors consult each other annually and revise it as needed.


Changes to curriculum to compensate for a student’s disability.

Out-of-District Placement

If a student’s school district cannot meet their needs, the district can pay to place your child in a specialized school or program outside of their regular area.

Self-Contained Classroom

Classrooms that consist solely of students with disabilities, making it easier for accommodations or modified curricula to be taught.


A shorthand version of “special education” used in IDEA.

I Don’t Want My Child in Special Education

The social stigma surrounding special education can be overwhelming, but if your child is truly in need of it, don’t let judgement deter you. However, you do know your child better than anyone else. If you don’t want your child in special education, there are options available to you.

Can a Parent Refuse Special Education Services?

Yes, you can. If the school suspects that your child might benefit from special education services, they will request to evaluate your child. You can refuse this evaluation.

Additionally, even if you allow your child to be evaluated, you can still refuse to have you child placed in special education. They cannot move forward with an IEP without your consent.

When Special Education May Not Be the Right Choice

Just because your child is not performing up to expectations doesn’t necessarily mean that special education is the answer. Evaluate your child’s behavior and their physical health independently. Perhaps one of these is having an effect on their academic performance. Don’t let one isolated experience determine this designation.

Alternatives to Special Education

Ultimately, if your child is struggling, there are alternatives to special education. You can ask your school about tutoring services and different learning programs. Some students benefit from different learning approaches. For example, some students struggle to concentrate for an entire school day, and there are some programs that provide larger breaks between lessons, especially with remote learning.

The alternative you may choose will depend on the nature of your child’s struggles. However, if your child does have a disability, special education programs can provide him or her with the guidance necessary to succeed in life. Consider your options carefully before moving forward.

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