Children With Special Needs

In This Section

Notes from the Backpack Podcast

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In Focus: Children With Special Needs 

  • Special education is a set of services, rather than a specific place for children to go. Children with special needs have rights to services in school under federal and state laws.

  • Special education includes services for gifted and talented children.

  • 5 million public school children, or 13% of children enrolled in public schools, received special education services during the 2013–14 school year.[1]

  • In 2011–12, state-level data indicate that between 3% and 18% of children with disabilities had repeated one or more grades since starting kindergarten.[2]

Key Strategies for Inclusion

  • Be an advocate. Stay informed about federal policies, IEP (individualized education program) guidelines, and other educational rights and responsibilities. Help parents communicate effectively with school staff and local agencies.

  • Help students and families manage transitions: from preschool to kindergarten, from elementary school to middle school, and to high school and postsecondary opportunities.

  • Be informed about school criteria and resources to support successful educational progress for children with special needs.

  • Create partnerships with community support services and programs.

PTA Resources

  • The National PTA Special Education Toolkit: Plans, information and resources for families of children with special needs (The Resources section includes a collection of tools for families, how to find special education services in each state, and a list of national organizations for further help.)

  • From Pre-K to Graduation: Guidelines to assist with successful transitions throughout a student’s school career, including preparation for after graduation

  • Understanding Federal Policy: An overview of federal disability and special needs policies, including the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act

  • A Parent’s Dictionary: Key terms to know when getting started in special education

  • Acronyms: The most common acronyms used in special education and disability policies and programs

  • PTA Advocacy Toolkit: Helps child advocates speak up for children’s health and well-being

  • Webinars: “Caring for Every Child's Mental Health: The Signs, Strategies, and Services Families and Schools Need” and “The Ins and Outs of Special Education: Help for Families of Children with Special Needs”

Other Resources

  • PACER Center provides assistance to individual families, workshops, materials for parents and professionals, and leadership in securing a free and appropriate public education for all children.
  • The Center for Parent Information and Resources hosts many of the resources developed by the former National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities.

  • The Council for Exceptional Children seeks to improve special education policy and practice, and offers resources for families.

  • National Center for Learning Disabilities works to improve the lives of children and adults with learning and attention issues by empowering children and parents, transforming schools and advocating for equal rights and opportunities.

Resources for Gifted and Talented Children and Youth

[1] National Center for Education Statistics. (2015). The condition of education 2016. Retrieved from

[2] Kids Count Data Center: