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MedEd Connections Resource Guide: Blind and Visually Impaired (B/VI)

What Exactly Is Special Education and Specially Designed Instruction?

Special education refers to supports and services provided in the least restrictive environment (LRE) to students who need specialized supports and services to access their education. Special education provides access and supports engagement with education and school experiences.

Specially designed instruction, as defined by the Individuals with Disability Education Improvement Act (IDEA 2004), is when the content, methodology, or instruction delivered in a public education setting is adapted to meet the unique needs of a child with a disability, so that he or she may have access to the general curriculum and academic standards. Simply stated, your child’s teachers will implement specific teaching strategies including specialized supports to help your child access learning opportunities in school.

If your school-aged child is eligible for special education, then your child will receive an individualized education program (IEP). An IEP is a legal document that outlines what educational services and supports your child will receive. Updated annually, IEPs include:

  • A statement of present levels of academic achievement and functional performance,
  • Measurable annual academic and functional goals,
  • Special education and related services, and
  • Accommodations and modifications necessary to measure a student’s true academic achievement and functional performance.

The goals for your child should be ambitious, yet achievable within a school year.

The IEP team is comprised of family members and school personnel providing services to meet your child’s educational needs. This includes a school district representative who has the power to commit resources for the student, a general educator working with your child, intervention specialist, a school psychologist, and a parent or guardian. Depending on your child’s needs, the IEP team may also include an educational audiologist, a teacher of students with visual impairments (TVI), an occupational therapist (OT), physical therapist (PT), speech-language pathologist (SLP), literacy specialist, parent mentor, or an agency representative. Regardless of your child’s vision status, a TVI will be significantly beneficial to your child.

You may invite anyone to your child’s IEP meetings, including a fellow family member, a trusted friend, or an additional professional. You can look in the “Professional Team Members” section of this MedEd Connections Resource Guide for ideas. You may find it helpful to ask a friend or family member to come to meetings for the purpose of note-taking. By doing so, you will have a written record capturing what happened in the IEP, and it can be used for future IEP planning. You should be provided a draft copy of your child’s IEP prior to the IEP meeting for your review. After the IEP meeting is completed, you will be given a copy of your child’s signed IEP.

IEP teams are critical personnel with whom to share relevant medical information, such as audiological information and eye reports, which can impact the planning process and ultimately lead to a more thorough and detailed education plan that sets your child up for success. You can request an IEP meeting with the school team more frequently than once a year, if needed.

If your child does not qualify for special education services, he or she may qualify for a 504 plan, which falls under Section 504 of the Federal Rehabilitation Act. A 504 Plan is considered a general education plan for access rather than a special education service. Updated annually, 504 plans involve fewer official procedures than an IEP. Such plans are typically for students who do not need specialized instruction but benefit from accommodations or have accessibility needs.