Pennsylvania's Special Education Programs for
Children with Special Needs.

Pennsylvania has long been at the forefront of educating children with special needs. State regulations guarding the educational rights of children with exceptionalities have long exceeded the minimums set by the federal government.

As far back as the early 1960's Pennsylvania's State System of Higher Learning Colleges had departments specifically tailored to training special education teachers. Following this tradition, in 1991 the state made a radical departure from the types of programs offered to children and youth with exceptionalities. Gone were Learning Disabled, Mentally Retarded, and Behavior Disordered classrooms. Instead the system changed to one in which the exceptionality was de-emphasized and the supports needed were stressed. We now have support classes in which a child gets the support he or she needs to learn, regardless of his or her label.

Support Classes

School districts in Pennsylvania, either directly or through various other education agencies including the state's 29 Intermediate Units, provide special education services which may be required by children with special needs.

Types of programs and services are:

  1. Academic Support
    bulletGifted Support for exceptional students identified as mentally gifted. The focus is to provide instruction beyond the regular curriculum.
    bulletLearning Support for exceptional students whose primary identified need is academic learning.
  2. Life Skills Support
    For exceptional students where the focus is primarily on the needs of students for independent living as well as general daily living skills.
  3. Emotional Support
    For exceptional students whose primary identified need is for emotional support. The focus is primarily on behavior management.
  4. Sensory Support
    bulletDeaf or Hearing Impaired for exceptional students who are deaf or hearing impaired.
    bulletBlind or Visually Impaired for exceptional students who are blind or visually impaired.
  5. Speech & Language Support
    For exceptional students who are speech and language impaired.
  6. Physical Support
    For exceptional students where the program is modified primarily to meet the need of the physically disabled student.
  7. Autistic Support
    For exceptional students who are autistic. The focus is primarily to develop daily living skills.
  8. Multihandicapped Support
    For exceptional students who are multihandicapped. The focus is on daily living skills, self-help, and independent living.


Kindergarten screening activities include a review of informal social and health history, developmental areas, functional vision and hearing, and speech and language. Kindergarten screenings are typically held in the Spring before the child's first year of enrollment and done at the local school district. Further screenings are conducted through Instructional Support Teams in each school throughout the year for any student who may be in need of special education services.

Parents who wish to request screening and evaluation for their child may do so by contacting the principal or counselor in their child's school building. It is recommended that you do so in writing, keeping a copy for your records.


If you believe your child may be in need of special education services, a multidisciplinary evaluation (MDE) will be conducted by a multidisciplinary team (MDT). The team is composed of the parents, person's familiar with the child's development, persons knowledgeable in such areas of suspected exceptionality, persons trained in the appropriate evaluations, and if possible, person's familiar with the child's cultural background. All information gathered through the screening and/or evaluation process is considered confidential under Section 438 of the General Education Provisions Act.

Questions regarding services for children with special needs should be addressed to the local school district's Supervisor of Special Education.

Preschool Children with Special Needs

Parents who have questions regarding their child's seeing, hearing, learning, talking, moving about, manipulating objects, understanding, showing emotions, getting along with others, playing with toys, taking care of himself/herself should contact their local Intermediate Unit which can be found under "schools" in the phone book. (Pennsylvania's Intermediate Units are Educational Service Agencies which provide services to the school districts within their geographical areas). The Intermediate Unit can provide information on preschool programs, screening, evaluation, therapy, parent involvement, and referral to community agencies for parents of children with special needs at no cost to the parent.

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