Special Education

Special education is a very important topic that hits close to home. It is crucial that kids get the resources they need to learn and grow. But, not everyone learns in the same way. Many traditional classrooms offer a “one size fits all” approach that do not benefit those students with learning struggles or alternative education needs. In the United States, we have federal laws that protect and require qualifying students with disabilities to recieve appropriate special education services tailored to the student’s particular needs. It is my passion to educate, inform and advocate for other students and families pursuing access to special education in classrooms across the country.

*Disclaimer: This site is not intended as legal advice. Please consult your attorney for legal consultations related to special education. **Affiliate Disclaimer: This page may include affiliate links where I get paid a commission for some recommendations. However, I only bring you resources that I have personally tried or researched, and firmly stand by them.


Special Education Recommendations


Special Education Laws

There are three specific laws that govern special or medical needs in our schools. These include the following, listed below:

  1. Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
  2. Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Section 504
  3. Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990


Established in 1975, IDEA dictates how special education services are carried out in the public school system. Keep in mind that this law does not cover private schools. Some important tenants of IDEA law:

  • Every child has a right to education in the “least restrictive environment” (LRE). This means children with disabilities should have as much time and exposure as possible learning alongside their peers without disabilities. To the extent possible, it is crucial that they have access to general education/mainstream settings. For a great understanding on why this is important and so beneficial, give this article a read: Popsugar Article
  • Guarantees free appropriate public education (FAPE) to all children.
  • Establishes early intervention to preschool age children with disabilities as well as services for transition years.
  • Provides accountability standards to measure achievement by students with disabilities.

While IDEA covers most of the goals and procedures for carrying out special education services, the other two laws address anti-discrimination and civil rights protections for students with disabilities. Each of these two laws are overseen and enforced by the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR). The Rehabilitative Act only addresses those schools receiving federal dollars, while the ADA addresses all students, regardless of federal funding. For further information on these laws, you can visit the US Department of Education’s website here: DOE Website

You might wonder who is eligible for special education under IDEA. There are 13 different categories of disabilities that qualify. These include the following: autism, deaf/blindness, deafness, emotional disturbance, hearing impairment, intellectual disability, multiple disabilities, orthopedic impairment, other health impairments (can include ADHD), specific learning disabilities (includes dyslexia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia, etc.), speech or language impairment, traumatic brain injury, and visual impairment (including blindness). However, keep in mind that the disability alone is not enough to warrant eligibility. The child must also demonstrate a need for special education in order to make progress in school. For example, if a student is diagnosed with ADHD, but continues to make good grades and significant progress in school, there might be dispute over the need for extra school support. Therefore, the student may not qualify for IDEA. Some common key terms you might hear in the special education setting include:

Individualized Education Program (IEP):

A legally binding document that spells out a student’s learning goals and the support/services the school will provide to meet them.

504 Plan:

A plan for how the school will provide accommodations that will ensure access to a learning environment that ensures the success of a qualifying student with a disability.


The supports offered to a student to allow them access to general education. Examples can include preferential seating or receiving extra time to take standardized tests.


Adjustments to the student’s workload, such as shortened assignments or lower reading levels than their non-disabled peers.

Self-Contained Classroom:

A classroom taught by a special education teacher not considered a “mainstream” class. It usually consists of a lower ratio of students to teachers, which can offer more one-on-one instruction.

Inclusion Classroom:

A classroom with a mix of students both with and without a disability. It is taught both by teachers with special education and general education backgounds. Different types of learning supports are incorporated for different styles of learning.

For a fantastic description from Understood on the differences between an IEP and a 504 plan, click here: IEP vs. 504 Plan


Special Education Resources

Getting the help our kids need in the schools can be overwhelming and exhausting. Be on the lookout here in the future for helpful printouts and checklists you can use in developing and overseeing your IEPs/504 Plans. This section is a work in progress. My goal is to provide you with the tools and resources you need to effectively advocate for your children. In the meantime, here are some of my favorite sites for tips and resources to help parents navigate the school system. Additionally, provided below are some other handy printouts and PDFs available for download from other sites.


ADHD Information Graphic

Special Education Blog Posts



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