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Least Restrictive Environment for Children With Special Needs Explained

April 07, 2012 | Comments: 0 | Views: 174

I'll be honest, the first time I heard the phrase "least restrictive environment," it put me off. As the parent of a child with special needs, that's saying something, because I've heard a lot of terminology that most people haven't. For some reason it reminded me of institutions and wheelchair accessibility. I have since come to find out that this is not the case at all. There's a lot of misunderstandings about the concept of least restrictive environment, and hopefully we can dispel some of them right here.

Most likely, you'll come across the idea of least restrictive environment with regards to an individualized education program (IEP). They really do go together, and in fact without each other, I don't think either would be able to stand on its own. Let's take a look at some basic concepts that apply to both.

Everyone has the right to an education. Some children have special needs that must be taken in to consideration - perhaps a disability or delay such as autism or cerebral palsy - that affect their ability to function in some aspect of a classroom environment. These special needs require additional help to level the playing field, and they have a right to receive services to help them learn with the other children who do not have special needs.

Schools must educate children with special needs together with the students that have no issues as much as possible. The children who have no special needs can be thought of as having "no restrictions," and at the complete opposite of that would be children whose disability or delays are so severe that they require institutional assistance. This would be considered the "most restrictive" environment. So the goal is to get the child with special needs the assistance required to be with the other students as much as is possible and is appropriate with regards to their situation.

As I found out, sometimes this does involve mobility and assistive devices - particularly if you're dealing with a disability such as cerebral palsy. In fact, in some cases, that's all that's required, really - make sure the child can get around unimpeded, maybe needs a special chair that helps them maintain posture, etc. Pretty straight forward, right?

It's also the same for children with learning disabilities, but no physical mobility issues. For example, it's possible to have a delay in math but not reading comprehension. In this case it may be best to have the student do fewer problems in the allotted time, or use a calculator. Whatever is the best way to keep the student on the same page as the rest of the class without separating them or excluding them is considered the least restrictive environment.

Now, there may be some situations where it's in the special needs child's best interest to be in an environment with other special education students. Most often, these are situations where a teacher in a "regular" classroom can't best serve the child's needs, and this is dependent upon the severity of the child's delay or diagnosis. Here's where we start talking about goals and situations as outlined in individualized education programs (IEPs).

In order for these special classroom considerations to take place, odds are that you'll have an IEP meeting to discuss your child. Prior to this meeting, the child will have been evaluated, especially if they're not coming from a 0-3 program, where the delay or diagnosis is already known and documented. At the meeting, you'll sit down and discuss what the best goals are for your child based on the evaluation, and what some achievable goals are for them with regard to their special needs. The idea is to give them the tools and assistance they need to meet these goals in the least restrictive environment. That is, with the other kids as much as possible, but there may be times when it's not. For example, if the child who is on the autism spectrum gets over stimulated by lights and sound after a certain amount of time, it may be in their best interest to go to another room with less noise and softer lighting to "recharge" for a little bit before rejoining the class.

So as you can see, least restrictive environment is really a beneficial thing, regardless of how intimidating it can sound at first. It prevents exclusion and separations of children with special needs from students who do not have special needs. It provides an appropriate level of assistance and special education guidelines, as specified in the student's IEP. It also provides an overall goal - to remove assistance once goals are met and assistance is no longer required, moving the student closer and closer to the "no restrictions" environment. Overall, it's really a very practical approach to special ed that just has an unfortunate name. I know that my child is much happier and responds much better to being in a regular classroom as much as possible, so it makes sense and it works.

Remember, everyone has a right to an education, and children with special needs are no different. Special education is still education. The concept of least restrictive environment, working together with the IEP goals outlined in the individualized education plan, will put your child on a clearly defined path to the education that they deserve.

If you enjoyed this article and would like to read more like it, please visit, a wonderful on-line resource for parents of children with autism, ADHD, cerebral palsy, learning disabilities, and other special needs. While there may be some differences in the specifics of each of our children, there are many more similarities in our experiences as parents, and this is a place to share, get support, and help your child achieve the success that every child should enjoy and deserves. Visit today and get your free IEP Meeting Checklist!

Source: EzineArticles
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