Students with disabilities are protected under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA, 2004), which governs how states and public agencies provide early intervention, special education and related services to more than 6.5 million eligible toddlers, children, and youth with disabilities in the United States.
The following categories of exceptionalities are included in IDEA:
• Autism Spectrum Disorder
• Deafness and Hearing Impairment
• Visual Impairment
• Emotional Behavior Disability
• Intellectual Disabilities, covering students who are educable mentally handicapped, trainable mentally handicapped, or profoundly mentally handicapped
• Orthopedic Impairment
• Speech and Language Impairment
• Specific Learning Disability
• Other Health Impairments, which typically include Attention Deficit Disorders
• Traumatic Brain Injuries
• Developmental Delays (ages 3–6)
Related service eligibilities include occupational therapy and physical therapy.
Exceptional Student Education specializes in educating students with special needs in a variety of settings, including general education classrooms, resource classrooms, self-contained classrooms, separate day schools, residential schools, hospitals, homes, and other noneducational settings. Students may receive ESE services full-time, during a fraction of the school day, or may have instructional accommodations and modifications within the regular classroom setting.
The gifted program operates within ESE but is not classified as a program for students with disabilities. The state of Florida has defined a gifted student as one who has general intellectual function at a very high level, demonstrates behavioral and intellectual characteristics of a “gifted learner,” and demonstrates a need for a specialized program. Gifted students are not protected under the IDEA; however, they are served through programs and services designed to meet their unique cognitive, social, and emotional needs. These services may include pullout programs, differentiated instruction in general education classrooms, advanced curricular options, consultative services, or a combined approach.
The process to determine eligibility for the gifted program requires a formal evaluation by a school psychologist. The psychologist will determine whether the student possesses the majority of characteristics of a gifted student, exhibits superior intellectual development, and demonstrates a need for special instruction. If the student is eligible, an educational plan is developed and implemented.