What are special needs (exceptionalities) in education?

Children with special needs require teaching interventions that differ from the average population in order to learn, to optimally develop skills, and to reach their full potential. Many types of special needs exist, and in education these are referred to as “exceptionalities”.

An “exceptional” student is a student who has significant behavioural, communication, intellectual (including gifted), physical, or multiple needs such that he or she is considered to need a special education program.

The Ontario Education Act identifies the following five categories of exceptionalities:

  1. Behaviour
  2. Communication
  3. Intellectual
  4. Physical
  5. Multiple

What is a special education program?

Special Education Services are the people, facilities, technologies, equipment, and other resources your child’s school will need to put together and then carry out the IEP. The people that may be involved with planning and implementing your child’s program are your child’s teacher(s), the school Special Education Resource Teacher(s) (SERT), the Principal and board support staff.

How are exceptionalities recognized (identified)?

Schools refer to the formal recognition of exceptionalities as “Identification”. You may know that your child has special needs before entering school. You are asked to tell the school so procedures can be started to support and “identify” your child. Sometimes teachers are the ones who recognize or suspect that your child might have special needs. In these cases, specialized assessments may be offered after consulting with you. Sometimes exceptionalities will become apparent later in schooling. Regardless of when or how your child’s special needs are recognized, you should discuss your child’s needs and identification procedures with the school.

IPRC Process

An IPRC is an Identification, Placement, and Review Committee. All school boards in Ontario have these committees. The committee is made up of at least three people: (i) The committee “chair” must be the school Principal, or a supervisory officer; (ii) The other two members are either special education resource teachers or regular teachers appointed by the Chair of the IPRC.

This committee makes the formal decision about whether a student is exceptional and whether they require a special education program. Parents (and students who are 16 years of age or older) are invited to attend and encouraged to participate during the IPRC meetings. You may agree with and consent to your child’s identification and placement, request further discussion, or disagree with the IPRC and appeal the decision

What is the role of the IPRC?

  • First, the IPRC decides whether or not your child should be identified as exceptional. A lot of information is considered and discussed when making this decision: e.g. assessments, parent and teacher observations.
  • Second, if your child is exceptional, the committee has to identify the area(s) of exceptionality, according to the definitions of exceptionalities provided by the Ministry of Education.
  • Third, the IPRC considers the strengths and needs of your child in order to determine the appropriate special education “placement” for your child. A placement defines where the special education program will be delivered and the reason for the placement if other than a regular class.

After the initial IPRC meeting, you are invited by the school to review your child’s identification and placement annually as the needs of your child may change.

Placement Options

In making its placement decision, the IPRC may consider a range of options, such as:

  • A regular class with indirect support. The student is placed in a regular class for the entire day, and the teacher receives specialized consultative services.
  • A regular class with resource assistance. *The student is placed in the regular class for most or all of the day and receives specialized instruction, individually or in a small group, within the regular classroom from a qualified special education teacher.
  • A regular class with withdrawal assistance. The student is placed in the regular class and receives instruction outside of the classroom for less than 50 percent of the school day, from a qualified special education teacher.
  • A special education class with partial integration. The student is placed by the IPRC in a special education class where the student-teacher ratio conforms to the standards in O. Reg. 298, section 31, for at least 50 percent of the school day, but is integrated with a regular class for at least one instructional period daily.
  • A special education class full time. The student is placed by the IPRC in a special education class, where the student-teacher ratio conforms to the standards in O. Reg. 298, section 31, for the entire school day.

What is an IEP?

An IEP is an Individual Education Plan that is designed to address the learning strengths and needs of your child. An IEP must be developed for every student identified as exceptional. An IEP may also be developed for a student who is not formally identified but who requires special education programs or services. The details of how IEPs are developed and implemented are given in the Ministry’s Special Education in Ontario, Kindergarten to Grade 12: Policy and Resource Guide, 2017.

An IEP must be developed and completed within 30 school days of your child’s placement by the IPRC and the Principal must ensure that you receive a copy. An IEP must be developed in consultation with you and where your child is 16 years of age or older and it must include:

  • a description of the student’s strengths and needs and specific educational expectations;
  • an outline of the special education program and services that will be received;
  • a statement about the methods by which your child’s progress will be reviewed;
  • a transition plan that includes the specific goals, actions required, person(s) responsible for actions, and timelines for each education transition where the student requires support.

An IEP is not an outline of everything the your child will be learning in any given term, but it is a written plan describing the special education program and/or services required and may include recommendations made by the IPRC.

The IEP is a working document that identifies learning expectations which may be accommodated, modified or include alternative learning goals in a particular subject or course. Only expectations that differ from the regular expectations for your child’s grade will be listed. Specific teaching and assessment methods will only be listed if they differ from what the teacher is doing for the rest of the students.