MY GUIDE Agencies > What Is Special Education?

KEYWORDS: age 3 through 5agencieslocal education agency

Unique for each child

Special education is instruction that is specially designed to meet the unique needs of a child with a disability. Since each child is unique, it is difficult to give an overall example of special education. It is individualized for each child. But in general, special education for any student will be:

  • An individualized curriculum that is different from that of same-age peers who do not have disabilities (for example, teaching a student who is blind to read and write using Braille), or
  • The same general education curriculum as used for the child’s peers who don’t have disabilities, with accommodations or modifications made for the student, or
  • A combination of these elements
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Things to know

Your child’s Individualized Education Program (the blueprint for her special education services) does not necessarily cover her entire education. The IEP only addresses those educational needs resulting from your child’s disability. If your child needs special education support throughout the school day for all activities, the IEP will cover all these needs. If your child doesn’t need special education support in one or more areas, such as physical education, music, or science, then the IEP will not include these subjects. Your child will access them through the general education curriculum/class, without special education services.

It’s also important to understand that special education is not a place. It’s a set of services that can be provided in many different places, depending on the child’s needs. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) says that as much as possible, children with disabilities should be educated in the general education classroom with their peers without disabilities. If your child is going to spend any part of the school day not participating with peers in the regular classroom and in other school activities, then the IEP must explain why.

What the IEP includes

In each state or school district the IEP form can look different. Under IDEA, every IEP must include:

  • Your child’s present levels of academic achievement and functional performance (PLAAFP)
  • Annual goals for your child
  • How your child’s progress will be measured
  • The special education, related services, and supplementary aids and services that will be provided to (or on behalf of) your child, including program modifications or supports for school staff
  • An explanation of the extent (if any) to which your child will not participate with children without disabilities in the regular class and in school activities
  • Any modifications your child will need when taking district-wide assessments
  • The dates when services will begin and end, as well as how much, how often and where they will take place
  • How and when you will be informed of your child’s progress
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Training and Information

Partners Resource Network (PRN) is a non-profit agency that operates the Texas statewide network of Parent Training and Information Centers (PTI's) funded by the US Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP). The Texas PTIs help parents understand their rights and responsibilities under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and participate as team members in planning services for their children. PRN offers workshops and assistance on a variety of topics related to disabilities and special education. Locate the PTI that serves your area.