Special education used to be a place—sometimes a separate school, more often a classroom down the hall where students labeled as such disappeared for hours at a time, out of sight and out of mind for the typical classroom teacher. That’s still sometimes the case, but increasingly, special education is front and center in the regular education classroom, and the population of students with individualized education plans has shifted away from those considered learning disabled.
Fewer students have been diagnosed with learning disabilities, but more students are being diagnosed with autism. “You’re not sending a child somewhere when you provide special ed. You’re providing them a service,” says Mary Watson, director of the Exceptional Child Division in the North Carolina Department of Education. “Special education is not a place; special education is individualized instruction with supports and services.”