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Special Education Law and Student Needs

Updated on February 25, 2012

We are All Special in Our Own Way


Special Education Law and It's Early Roots

Copyright 2008, Jennifer Tyler

Special education is a relatively new concept in the field of education. In fact special education dates back to the 1970's when professionals only started to notice that there were students who required a different approach to education. Prior to the 1970's students with special needs were denied services in schools and many times were looked down upon. At that time, students with special needs were not generally permitted to be educated in schools with the general population. As a result, parents generally undertook responsibility for educating students with special needs. However, a turning point in special education occurred in the late 1960's and early 1970's when parents began to realize that schools were discriminating against their children because they had a disability. The concept of special education started to evolve to a whole new level with the introduction of Public Law (PL) 94-142 (Heward, 2003). This meant that schools could no longer deny students with disabilities a proper education. Since its induction, PL 94-142 has been re-authorized various times to fit the changes in society.

After the induction of PL 94-142 students with disabilities began to receive services thatwere needed in order for them to succeed in school. The federal government insisted uponensuring that students with disabilities were given the same opportunities as those without disabilities. As a result of this change, people with disabilities were no longer denied their rights. Schools are now required by law to provide the least restrictive education possible to students. Simply put, this means that a student should be given the opportunity to interact and participate in education as a student without a disability would. Furthermore, educators and other students have also begun to encompass the notion of having students with disabilities in the classroom.


Heward, W.L. (2003). Exceptional children: an introduction to special education (7th ed). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill.

My Perspective As a Teacher

In my opinion I feel that special education will take a unique turn for the better. My experiences in special education have exposed me to many different principles and theories that drive special education and the way we educate students. One theory that I must say I agree with is a theory proposed by Howard Gardner and his multiple intelligences. According to this theory, students exhibit different abilities and are unique in their strengths. As a special educator we are adept at seeing that special education students have always been classified as being unique. Consequently, Gardner’s theory not only takes the special education student into account, but accounts for the differences that we all exhibit. As a result, I believe that one day all students will be considered special education and educators will inherently need to develop goals for every student they are responsible for. Special education does not imply that someone has a disability; it simply means that everyone is different and those differences need to be catered to. This would mean that all students would be educated in the same classroom and labels would not be assigned to students. Instead, students would all have goals which are based upon individual strengths.

My first experience with special needs individuals was with my brother whom was born prematurely weighing only 1 pound at birth. Although I was only three when he was born, I grew up with the knowledge that he was different from others. At birth, my parents were told that he was most likely going to be mentally retarded. As we grew up together I came to the realization that he did not learn and process things as I had. At about the age of three it was apparent that he had difficulties. It was then that my brother’s disabilities were apparent, as my parents could not seem to potty train him. My brother would always mess his pants and in turn this frustrated my parents. For several years this continued to occur and eventually lead to the dissolution of my parents marriage. My brother’s first encounter with school was in the public school in kindergarten in 1983. His first days there were marked by behavior problems and difficulties with the changes that had taken place. He was shortly kicked out of this school and referred to another agency. He was sent to a separate place from where I went to school. It was at this school where he was in a classroom with other special needs students, yet separated from the general population. This continued to be his placement until he graduated from high school with a special education diploma.

First let me start by saying that today my brother does not appear to be inhibited by his mental abilities. It is my opinion that what had taken place back then was due to several factors, including limited knowledge on my parents part and an intolerance for special needs children. However, I am happy to report that today my brother is functioning very well in society and works as an electrician.

My overall opinion of people with disabilities has evolved over the course of my lifetime. My first experience began when I was a mere three year old child who was not quite capable of understanding what special needs were. As I grew up I became to realize that there were people who did things differently than I did and this is the starting point of me becoming a protective older sister. When it was obvious to me that my brother was different I was inclined to act as his protector. Not realizing at that time that he needed more than just protection from me and the world. What he needed was encouragement and support. Consequently, this is where I started believing that special needs did not equate to inability. What it meant was that people all learn in a different way and society needs to account for these differences. Today, I believe that this is the cornerstone of understanding how we need to approach special education and those with special needs. In my classroom experiences this is one of the principles that I submit to. I encourage my students to be different and cater to their strengths not their weaknesses as we are inclined to do in special education. I want to ensure that my students do not see themselves as being needy, but that they develop their strengths to the best of their ability. It is my belief that my exposure to my brother’s needs has shaped my beliefs today.


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