Special education is a very broad field and has many different specialties. Those who specialize in working with students who have extra challenges may find themselves in a number of different scenarios, depending on the school district or type of school that they are working in. There are six main types of special education within most public-school settings.
What is Special Education?
Special education provides customized instruction to students who have been identified with disabilities. These programs seek to meet student’s individual learning needs in order to provide them with optimal opportunities to succeed in their school environment. By doing so, they are being equipped to achieve a higher level of self-sufficiency not only in their school life but personal and social as well.
This resource takes an in-depth look at the various types of special education to provide you with a better understanding of when and why they can be applied.
Students with disabilities who require minimal intervention often receive “push-in” services as a first step in the special education process. A specialist, such as an occupational therapist or SLP, will come into the classroom to assist the teacher during regular lesson plans for the day. This collaborative effort is beneficial for students as it allows them to remain in their general education classroom environment without disrupting their daily schedule. It also provides the opportunity for students’ instructors to interact directly, allowing them to provide even more individualized support. There are certainly things to be aware of with this service. For example, there can be more distractions in a general education classroom which can make it harder for students with attention issues such as ADHD.
Students who need a bit more focused help from a speech-language therapist, occupational therapist or another specialist may be pulled out of the classroom for work in a one-on-one or group setting. Students who struggle in reading, writing, or speech are often placed within these types of programs. This service is especially beneficial as it provides a way for students to receive direct, tailored instruction to meet their unique needs. By providing one-on-one care, students also have the opportunity to develop a deeper sense of trust which in turn helps to provides them with emotional support. Something to consider with this service is how students may feel by being removed from their general education classroom setting. It could certainly present the obstacle of feeling isolated from their peers and should be considered when choosing this route.
Inclusive classrooms will have a mix of children of varying abilities and co-teachers within the room that allows those who have special needs to get the additional help they require while remaining in a traditional classroom setting. Often, some of the students within the classroom may receive some pull-out services in addition to their assisted learning. With an inclusive classroom, students each have the opportunity to receive individualized care that meets their specific needs. It presents an opportunity for students to be a part of a unique community, thereby increasing their ability to socialize in a safe and comfortable environment. Very often, specialized school professionals, such as speech therapists, are brought into this classroom setting which also provides less interruption to students’ regular daily schedule.
Some students benefit from being placed in a smaller classroom of students who have similar educational needs. Though they may remain within a traditional school setting, the lower student-to-teacher ratio can help them to grasp educational concepts and overcome challenges that would hold them back in other classroom formats. Providing students with an environment where they can relate even more with their peers can also allow them to feel understood and accepted more so in another type of environment. Similar to inclusive education services, this option provides students with the opportunity to receive individualized attention. While this may not be the perfect fit for each student, it’s certainly something to consider for others.
Those who have severe cognitive challenges and certain physical disabilities may be placed into a specialty school where individual needs can be met by a very low student-to-staff ratio. This makes it easier for students to receive the care that they need in an adequate timeframe. These students can receive not only occupational, speech, and cognitive services but also will take advantage of other therapies to help improve their quality of life and prepare them for adulthood. These may include art therapy, aquatic therapy, job training, life skills, and other services as offered by the school. Specialty schools have the ability to provide students with a more structured and individualized school day which may not be easily achieved in a general school environment as well. Equally beneficial is the opportunity for students to relate to their peers, equipping them with a greater sense of self-esteem.
Residential special education programs are best for students who require around-the-clock care that is beyond the capability that their community can offer. These students often have medical needs beyond what can be managed at home or in even a specialty school that come before their educational needs. Students in these types of programs will often be transitioned into adult assisted living or residential care facilities as they mature out of the program. Consistency can be key for students, making a residential program a great fit for them since they will experience a daily schedule. As with other services, being amongst peers that students can identify with can strengthen their sense of belonging and self-esteem. Because residency programs focus on every aspect of a student’s life – academic, social, vocation – there are long-term benefits to prepare students to live life fully.
Depending on the level of needs of a specific student, there are many different options to ensure that they have a quality education that expands on their strengths and helps them overcome their challenges. Those interested in working with special needs students can use this guide to help them best prepare and choose an educational track that will give them the tools they need to work with these amazing children.
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