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What is Special Education? And Why Does it Matter?

It goes without saying that all children are special and unique. Some have educational needs that rise above and beyond what’s typically provided in the traditional school system.

Thankfully, these kids have access to specialized services, including therapy and learning supports, designed to ensure they can succeed and thrive in their educational experience.

Because every child deserves the chance to have full access to a robust, inclusive educational experience—no matter what.

Nowadays, we not only recognize more and more educational needs earlier and earlier in development, but we’ve also created a system where children with special education needs can get easier access to the services and supports they require to enhance their ability to fully engage while in school.

And that’s great news. Because when every child is given the opportunity to succeed—all children benefit.

But you may still have questions about what special education services truly entail. You might also wonder why they’re so important, and how a child qualifies to receive them.

In this article we’ll tackle all these and more questions about special education—so you can learn everything you need to know about this vital range of educational services.

Let’s start by exploring what special education is, and how it came about.

What is special education?

Special education refers to a wide range of educational services that are above and beyond what’s provided in a typical school classroom setting.

These specialized services are designed to support children with learning differences and disabilities to have full access to the educational experience offered to their same-aged peers, in the least restrictive setting possible.

Special educational services are all about identifying children in need of added support during the school day and creating individualized resources and accommodations to assist them and give them access to the educational experience they deserve.

While some may imagine special education as being provided in a separate setting from the regular classroom—this is an outdated picture of special educational services.

Nowadays, special education programs prioritize keeping students in the regular classroom setting as much as possible. This is done both to minimize stigma and to enhance learning in the least restrictive environment.

The specific services provided depend on each individual student receiving them.

Special education is an umbrella term that encompasses many different types of programs and strategies to help children in need to learn and succeed in the educational system.

The specific, individualized services being provided to a child in need are clearly outlined in a legal document, called an Individualized Education Program, or IEP.

When a need is demonstrated and the qualifications are met for special education services, these customized educational supports are provided at no cost to families, as their provision is protected under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA.

Special educational services can include the services of therapists such as physical therapists, occupational therapists, and speech-language pathologists.

For more info about how occupational therapists and speech-language pathologists can support and guide your child to achieve their fullest potential, check out these articles, explaining the scope of practice of each of these vital therapy disciplines in the school system—

According to the special educational section of the IDEA document, the provision of specially designed instruction is designed to address the unique needs of an individual child requiring educational support, and To ensure access of the child to the general curriculum, so that the child can meet the educational standards within the jurisdiction of the public agency that apply to all children.”

The way in which this support is provided will depend upon the individual child receiving services, and can take any form that’s deemed appropriate to provide the child with what they need to succeed in their educational journey.

Why is it important to provide all children with access to the same educational opportunities? Let’s explore the reasons special educational programs are vital to promote the learning of all students.

Why is special education important?

Special educational services are essential to ensure all children have access to the full, robust, inclusive educational experience that is their right.

Children with learning differences and disabilities, with developmental conditions impacting their mental and physical functioning, and with any kind of difference in ability that impacts their ability to fully engage with their educational experience without support like their same-aged peers depend upon special education services to support and uplift their ability to receive the education they deserve.

Special education services are a vital component of a full educational experience for children with conditions like—

Special education services are all about ensuring access for all children. They remove the obstacles that might otherwise prevent a student from being able to receive a full educational experience.

With the modern inclusive model, they also normalize and destigmatize children with disabilities or differences, by including them as much as possible in the regular classroom setting.

Plus, inclusion allows children with learning differences to interact and share their unique perspectives and approaches to learning. This enriches the entire learning environment, by showing students there are many ways to learn, grow, and develop.

After all, a box of crayons with only one color makes for a pretty dull picture.

Next, let’s explore what a child needs in order to qualify for special education services.

What qualifies a child for special education services?

As we mentioned earlier, special education services are guaranteed for children in need, based on the provisions laid out under IDEA.

But how is this need determined?

According to IDEA, a child qualifies for special education service provision if they meet one of 13 eligibility categories laid out in the act (several of which we touched on above).

In addition, a child aged three to 21 years must require special education services in order to fully access the general educational curriculum.

If these criteria are met, a child meets the eligibility requirements for special educational services in order to assess and reduce any barriers that may stand in their way of their learning experience.

Ok, but how does a child qualify for special education services?

Eligibility for special education is determined in a few different ways.

Sometimes, a school identifies a child they believe may be in need of these support services. In other cases, a child’s family may recognize a need and request an evaluation of their child to assess their qualification for special education services.

If a family requests an evaluation and the school agrees to perform one, it will be conducted at no cost to the family. The evaluation is conducted by an interdisciplinary team of educational professionals, typically including skilled therapists and the school psychologist.

If a thorough evaluation establishes a child is appropriate for special education services, an individualized plan to provide necessary services will be created.

This plan is known as an Individualized Education Program, or IEP. This is a legal document that outlines the plan to provide specific, appropriate services for a child in need of educational supports.

If you think your child may require special education services, The Loop is here to guide and assist you with navigating the process. Our educational advocacy and consultancy services means you’ll always have professionals in your corner to fight for what your child needs to succeed.

Plus, because The Loop is an official Chicago Public Schools vendor, we can even help schools develop and submit the necessary IEP paperwork and provide your child with the support services recommended if they qualify!

Talk about a load off your mind!

We understand how stressful and emotional it can be, trying to understand and advocate for your child’s educational needs. That’s why our expert team of therapists and learning specialists are always ready to support you in whatever ways you need so your child can thrive.

And, we’ll be sure to always keep you in the loop of your child’s progress when they work with us. Because we truly believe it takes a village, and we’re proud to be your trusted neighbor in customized educational support services.

The Loop is here to support all your child’s special educational needs. We offer top-quality speech, language, behavioral, and occupational therapy services. And, we’re proud to provide an array of signature educational support services, including—learning remediation, educational consultancy and advocacy, and executive function coaching.

Want to stay in the loop? Catch up with us on social media @theLoopSLL, visit our website regularly for informative blog posts, or shoot us an email at

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