6 Trends in Special Education


Between 2018 and 2019, there were approximately 7.1 million children with special education needs in the U.S. public school systems each year, or 14%  of all students. Because the 1975 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act requires that every student receive a free and equitable education, teachers must be diligent and stay up to date on the best practices for providing the special education services.

Here are six important trends in special education:


1. Inclusive Classrooms


As recently as the 1990’s, it was not uncommon for special education students to be removed from the general classroom for a substantial portion of the day, and entirely separate schools were recommended for some. Educators today take a more integrated approach to teaching and learning, using methods for students of varying ability levels in more inclusive classrooms. Plus, most separate, or “pull-out” instruction, is done in shorter chunks of time, as are sessions with occupational, speech or behavioral therapists.


2. Student Collaboration


While younger students need significant guidance by instructors and other professionals, as children age, they are more capable of communicating their needs. This presents an opportunity for them to be instrumental in setting goals, creating solutions and measuring outcomes. Not only can student-led planning lead to a truly personalized approach, it gives them real-world practice for when they are adults advocating for their own needs.


3. Early Intervention


The 14% of children receiving services is an almost 1% increase compared to the numbers in 2011. Why the change? Some believe that early intervention programs identify children who need services and deliver those services much earlier than before, even prior to formal school enrollment. As a result, it is no longer uncommon for newborns to receive special education services, like hearing intervention, for example. Now, early identification and intervention is the new norm for special needs.


4. Acknowledgment of 2E Children


Some children present as twice exceptional or “2E,” displaying challenges in one area of development and above-average gifts in another. While these children can be a joy to teach, they do not fit squarely into grade-level content plans and often qualify for both gifted and special education programs. They may also require extra testing time to ensure they receive appropriate services each year. For teachers, this means creating more challenging work in some areas and providing more support in others.


5. Technology


The use of apps, individual or 1:1 computers and tablets is proving beneficial for the special education community. Today’s special education students use these tools for everything from dictation of text, closed captioning of audio apps or even real-time feedback on their reading and writing. With teachers often stretched to the limit, these advances go a long way toward including more students in daily lessons and provide a productive way to spend downtime between more challenging tasks.


6. Parental Involvement


Teachers may be the very first person to communicate to a family or to affirm their suspicions that a child has unique or unmet needs. While some parents may be in denial of the news, many welcome the opportunity to know more about their child’s specific challenges and what the school is doing to assist in overcoming them.


When parents know that something is amiss, the information a teacher provides can help fill in the gaps, offering answers for a long-time mystery. Educators should communicate with parents early and often, bring them into the planning process and keep them updated on progress as well as changes. Parental involvement is not just helpful; it is a necessary part of maintaining consistency between programming at school and nurturing at home.


These trends are not necessarily new, but the approaches taken to implement them in the classroom are evolving. One way to ensure that you are on the cutting edge of special education advancements is to continue your own education through a master’s degree program.


Learn more about Florida Gulf Coast University’s Master of Education in Special Education online program.




Individuals with Disabilities Education Act


National Center for Education Statistics: Students with Disabilities


The Advocate: Current Trends in Special Education

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