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Guide to School Support Services Available for Students with Special Needs

By Edited Apr 3, 2016 1 0

Children with special education needs often need related services to be incorporated into their education. In the United States this is called an Individualized Education Program (or "IEP") and its equivalent in Canada and the United Kingdom is referred to as an Individual Education Plan. These services are provided to help the child in the learning environment.

An IEP is a plan developed by the members of a child's special education team which includes parents, teachers, therapists, administrators and anyone else who plays a role in a child's education. 

Kindergarten classroom
Credit: woodleywonderworks via Flickr/CC by 2.0 with Attribution

Services are set up in public schools so all children can receive an equal and free education

For the IEP, in order to obtain related services, parents and guardians (or other designated party) have to prove services are necessary for a child's education. If the service can't be linked to helping your child attain an appropriate education, it will be more difficult to obtain a service and you may have to hire a therapist or other service provider privately (sometimes health insurance plans will cover this expense, check with yours to see).

Schools must provide related services through special education if it can be demonstrated how the service will help facilitate learning and how if the support service is not received it would hurt the child's ability to learn and receive an appropriate education.

Here are some examples of support services which can be incorporated into a child's IEP:

Testing Modifications

Some children cannot, or have difficulty, taking a test under the traditional circumstances and may need accommodations. Examples could be:

  • A different testing environment
  • Enlarged copies of tests if visual impairment is present
  • Additional verbal directions
  • Extensions on testing time

In some situations, it is good to have testing modifications in place "just in case" even if your child doesn't end up using them consistently.  Sometimes kids vary dramatically with the type of day they are having and this safety net ensures they can be in the right setting at the time of testing.


Some students may require one or more therapies. For instance some children benefit from physical, speech, occupational or cognitive therapy. This depends on their individual needs or specific classification, but therapy is often a very pivotal service that supports a child's ability to learn. This one often needs to be demonstrated as not all services are as easy to receive - the therapy needs to be linked to how it would impact learning if not provided.

Basic Skills or Resource Room

For many children with special needs it is often beneficial to have time during the school day to get extra help on specific subjects or to have an environment where they can gain learning strategies. In this case a basic skills class or a resource room period may be an appropriate support service.


If a student has emotional needs or other problems which are directly impacting their ability to learn or the quality of their work, a counseling service added into their educational program. Counselors can provide support, an ear, give strategies and be able to help mitigate some of the learning issues in a variety of ways.

Team-Taught Classes

Today's educational philosophies are built upon a foundation of inclusion, meaning children with special education or service needs are placed in the least restrictive environment to get education. In some cases a student benefits from a team-taught environment where a teacher and a special education teacher work together in the same classroom. This way the student remains in a mainstream classroom with the extra support needed in class. Many schools structure this in such a way where a special education student is present to support several children in the same classroom.

Adaptive Equipment or Adapted Environment

If a child has a visual or hearing impairment or another physical need, including allergies or asthma, these can also be included as a support service. Examples are technology assistance, alternative transportation, adaptive physical education, ramps or elevator access, or other accommodation.

Teacher Aides

With some disabilities a student may need one-on-one attention during the school day for safety reasons, to support learning, or both. In these cases it may be necessary for a child to be assigned to a teacher aide who will work directly with them in the education environment.

As support services are considered, another facet to think about when developing the child's educational plan, is how often the child will be pulled out of class. Fortunately, some services can be given right in the classroom so there is less time missed in the class lessons and the child is not isolated from his or her class. When selecting services this approach should be considered, in many cases it is an optimal way to integrate services during the day.

Children working in classroom
Credit: woodleywonderworks via Flickr/CC by 2.0 with Attribution

While support services may be necessary, the optimal balance is to include the services without negatively affecting learning in the classroom. Sometimes it is impossible to offer certain services in the classroom, so this is another aspect to consider. Too much "pull" time from the classroom can also impact a child's learning. Additionally, another concern is a child's opportunity to interact with other students, too much time away from peers could negatively affect socialization. Socialization is important to every child's development and growth so you want to try and ensure a good balance without negatively impacting learning needs.

Additional Tips

Not all services may be perceived as necessary when it comes down to sitting with the Committee on Special Education to develop the annual plan. If a service is rejected, this doesn't necessarily mean your child should do without the service, what it means is the disability or need doesn't impact learning. Although, sometimes a service is needed and you have to be assertive in order for your child to receive it. After all, you know your child and are his or her best advocate.

[ Related Reading: Preparing for Your Child's IEP Meeting ]

In the United States, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 protects individuals from discrimination due to a disability. There is a subsection of this U.S. law that protects students. 1 While the IEP is for students who have special education needs, Section 504 protects students who have no special education needs in terms of curriculum, but may need modifications or accommodations in order to gain equal access to their education.

Most needs for services usually do affect learning in some shape or form and as a parent, with a bit of effort, you can often illustrate how the service relates to learning. The key to developing a successful plan with ensuring your child gets the necessary services is to be an active member of the team and choose the services most important that you are willing to go to bat for so your child can receive the most critical of services or adaptations.



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  1. "Free Appropriate Public Education for Students With Disabilities: Requirements Under Section 504 of The Rehabilitation Act of 1973." U.S. Dept. of Education. 28/05/2015 <Web >

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