Special education is a form of teaching or instruction specifically created to address disabled children according to their own specific needs. These can often include paying particular attention to speech, language and cognitive development, or relate to a physical or learning disability. Special education is provided at no cost to parents of a disabled child. For a student, special education can consist of a specialized curriculum that is different from that of their non-disabled peers, or they may be able to attend a mainstream school with some adaptations or modifications. Each child is catered for via an Individualized Education Program (IEP). The IEP is often referred to as the centerpiece of the special education system, which is developed in consultation with the child's parents, teachers, and if appropriate, the child themselves.
It is compulsory for the IEP to include the following components: performance assessments, goals and objectives, services and participation (which is a statement of specific educational services to be provided and the extent to which the child will be able to participate in regular educational programs), transition services (including a statement of responsibilities with regard to services to be rendered when the student leaves the school setting), a time line for services, and criteria for measuring success — used for determining whether instructional objectives are being or have been achieved. The IEP only addresses educational needs resulting from a child's disability. If a child requires special education support for all activities throughout the school day, the IEP will cover these needs. If the child doesn't need special education support in one or more areas e.g. music, science or physical education, then these subjects will not be included. The child will access these subjects through the general curriculum, with no additional special services.
This individualization of instruction is an important part of special education. Occasionally a student may require changes in their day-to-day work or routines due to their disability. Modifications or accommodations can easily be arranged when it comes to their studies. An example would be making an assignment easier so the student is not doing the same level of work as other students, or making a change that allows a student to overcome or work around their disability, like allowing them to provide oral answers if they find it difficult to write. In this scenario, the student will always be tested to the same standard as their peers regardless of their mode of answer.
Modifications or accommodations are commonly made in the following areas:
- Scheduling: providing the student with extra time to complete assignments or dividing tests over several days.
- Setting: working in a small group or one-on-one with the teacher.
- Materials: providing audiotapes, books, copies of teacher's lecture notes, Braille, or digital text on CD.
- Instruction: reducing the difficulty of assignments, the reading level, or by using a student or peer tutor to assist their studies.
- Student Response: allowing answers to be provided orally, via dictation, using a word processor, sign language, Braille, or another native language.
Parents of students are provided with the opportunity to participate in the development of their child's program. They are also kept informed of any potential changes, and are kept up-to-date with procedures for resolving conflicts, including hearings involving an impartial third party. Special education can be provided within a range of environments: in the classroom, home, hospital, or institution. Unless a child's IEP requires alternative arrangements, the child must be educated in the school they would normally attend if they were free from disability. IEP also stipulates that special classes, separate schooling, or other removal of children with disabilities from a regular school environment only occurs if the nature of the disability is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved to a satisfactory degree.
A special education teacher requires a minimum of a bachelor's degree in order to become a certified teacher. Students usually enroll in a professional program at an accredited college or university in which they are pursuing a license or certificate. Volunteering is an excellent way to discover the variety of professional careers available within special education. Skills and competencies gained through working as a volunteer can prove to be valuable assets for trainee specialists hoping to further their careers in teaching special education.