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In the United States, public education for students with disabilities is regulated at the federal level by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The act defines special education as “specially designed instruction, [available] at no cost to parents, to meet the unique needs of a child with a disability.” This instruction can be delivered in a traditional classroom setting, or in a hospital, institution, or the student’s home.
Under IDEA, the term learning disability indicates a deficiency in at least one of the basic mental processes governing the student’s understanding and use of language or his or her ability to perform mathematical calculations. Students with demonstrated difficulties with listening, thinking, speaking, reading, writing, or spelling are also considered to have a learning disability under IDEA legislation if the difficulties are the result of a condition such as a developmental aphasia, perceptual disability, dyslexia, brain injury, or minimal brain dysfunction. These students, as well as students with diagnosed developmental delays and speech and language impairments, are guaranteed access to special education through IDEA. IDEA also mandates that students with other disabilities, including autism spectrum disorder (ASD), behavioral or emotional disabilities, and visual and hearing impairments, receive access to special education services.