Identifying the 5 W’s of Special Education

When people ask teachers of special needs children what they do for a living, their answer may depend on what happened at school that particular day. Special education is indeed a complex field with job duties as diverse as the populations educators serve; however, everything these professionals do boils down to providing for the needs of disabled children.

Here are answers to the big five questions about what your clients do for a living to give a clearer picture of special education.


If you think you don’t know anyone with special needs, then think again. There are 11.2 million children in the U.S. with physical, developmental, behavioral, sensory, or other health disabilities, and almost one in four households with children contain at least one special needs child. Here are the most common disabilities they have:

  • Allergies
  • Asthma
  • Attention deficit disorder
  • Developmental delay
  • Anxiety

Examples of less common challenges include medical problems such as brain injuries, Down syndrome, heart abnormalities, and cystic fibrosis.


Disabled children need the same chances to succeed that their non-disabled peers receive without question. Making the school environment equitable for all children means giving special needs children the treatments they require while allowing most to remain in the same classrooms with differently-abled peers. Examples of treatments they require include the following:

  • Medications
  • Psychological therapy
  • Differentiated goals
  • Physical therapy
  • Additional services


The earlier that caregivers identify children’s special needs, the greater chances of success they have in treating or accommodating them. Parents should educate themselves about developmental milestones to ensure their children are reaching them. For example, at 3 months, children should cry in different ways, depending on the situation. At 6 months, they should make repeated vowel sounds; at 12 months they should try to imitate words; and at 2 years old they should speak in short sentences.


An early diagnosis is the most important first step in helping a child with special needs. Facilities that evaluate children for disabilities include the following:

  • Family medical practices
  • Psychiatric offices
  • Schools
  • Neurological and other specialized care units
  • Social services offices

While only specialists can officially diagnose disabilities, concerned adults at home, school, or religious organizations are often the first to raise a flag that something is not quite right with a child’s behavior or health.


The fact that fewer people are asking why educators provide accommodations for disabled students speaks to the public’s growing awareness that a nation founded on the principle that everyone is created equal should not make exceptions for disabilities. Unfortunately, people from older generations often do not understand why your clients willingly face the risks that they do. For these, it is sometimes necessary to explain the reasons that special education is necessary.

About PGUI

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