Maryland School 
 Psychologists' Association

What is Special Education?

Special education is governed by federal law under theIndividuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA 2004) Public Law [108-446]. It is defined as "specially designed instruction, at no cost to parents, to meet the unique needs of a child with a disability." Special education provides additional services, supports and programs, for students with special needs. Sometimes these are provided in specialized placements or environments; depending on the needs of the child. The vast majority of students in Special Education receive services in their home school and with non-disabled peers. The range of special education support will vary based on need. There are many guidelines governing Special Education and the website for your local school system is a good resource for parents.

What is a 'disability'?

The term a "child with a disability" refers to a child, who has been identified with one of the state- and federally-recognized disabilities, who needs special education services. In general, this means that, as a result of the disability, the child is having a great deal of difficulty in the regular education program and even with general education interventions and supports requires something more specific for that child to learn.

The disability categories are:

  1. Intellectual Disability
  2. Hearing Impairment (including deafness)
  3. Speech and/or Language Impairment
  4. Visual Impairment
  5. Emotional Disability
  6. Orthopedic Impairment
  7. Autism
  8. Deaf/Blindness
  9. Traumatic Brain Injury
  10. Other Health Impairment
  11. Specific Learning Disability
  12. Developmental Delay
  13. Multiple Disabilities

What do I do if I suspect my child has a disability?

Contact your child's teacher or school administrator.  There are a number of school-based programs designed to assist children that are struggling in school.  Educators are trained to work with children with a wide variety of learning needs.  There are also school-based teams of professionals that meet to help design, implement, and monitor specific interventions to assist struggling students.  Most children respond well to these general education interventions.  Parents are important members of our teams, and we want you to be a part of your child's learning and progress.  You can request a team meeting to discuss your child's needs.

If your child is still not making good progress, the team may decide to seek evaluations to help determine the presence of a disability. These evaluations can only be conducted with the informed consent of the parents and are provided at no cost to the family. Once evaluations have been completed, the school team discusses the results with you, the parent, and determines whether or not your child meets the eligibility criteria for one of the federally-defined educational disabilities.

If s/he does, then goals are developed and services are recommended to meet your child's needs in order to help address the needs identified through the evaluations.

What is an intervention?

Your child's teacher gathers a great deal of data on your child's academic levels and progress towards grade level expectations. Sometimes this is done through unit or theme assessments which target information that was specifically taught, while other times it is done periodically throughout the year (e.g., in reading) to measure incremental progress. When a student is not making progress on a set of skills, his/her teacher may choose to recommend the student for an intervention to target the skills on which the student is struggling. These general education interventions are developed for children, based on the data that has been taken; the data helps the teacher and other school personnel know the child's area of need so that the most appropriate evidence-based intervention can be put in place to help address the problem.

Interventions are generally given for six to eight weeks. Along the way and at the end of the intervention period, data is taken to measure progress. Some students make great progress and exit the intervention group. Other students, who perhaps have made progress but not as much as his/her teacher would have liked, may stay in for some additional practice. A few students may continue to struggle to make progress. For these few students, separate, more individualized interventions may be developed to see if their rate of progress can be improved. When a student has not responded well to such specific, targeted interventions, the team may wish to discuss whether or not evaluations are needed to help determine the presence of a disability.

Vision: All students will thrive in school, at home, and throughout their lives.

Mission: MSPA promotes and advocates for best practices in school psychology to improve learning, behavior, and mental health for all students, families, and schools.

Direct website related questions to Direct other questions to the appropriate board member at Executive Board or Officers.

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