In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Special Education

  • Introduction
  • Policy Context
  • Journals
  • International Perspectives
  • Introductory texts
  • Reference Works/Handbooks
  • Classification/Categorization/Labeling
  • Disability Categories/Types of Special Educational Need
  • Literacy
  • Phases/Placement/Groupings
  • Families/Parents
  • Teacher Education

Childhood Studies Special Education
Lani Florian, Lena Bahou
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 July 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 July 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791231-0168


Special education is a form of educational provision intended to provide students with disabilities or difficulties in learning with something that is “additional to” or “different from” that which is ordinarily available to others of similar age. The field is broad, covering many questions about the nature of special educational needs, how they might be assessed and addressed, where, and how such provision should be made over the different phases of education, including pre- and post-school, in both formal and informal settings. Additionally, the terminology used to discuss issues of special education varies across regions and national contexts, which can make searching the literature a complex endeavor. Research in special education is located in many different disciplinary perspectives that collectively provide a rich tapestry of ideas that form the field’s knowledge base. This bibliography provides an introduction to some of the key literature in the field. It is comprehensive but not exhaustive. It includes some of the seminal articles that have influenced the field, articles that cover important topics of interest, and research reviews that provide up-to-date information on key areas of concern; it is a gateway to other important sources of information and references. Those using this resource are encouraged to follow up on the work of the authors cited in this article and to undertake additional searches for more detailed information about the topics. In addition, because certain difficulties in learning and problems with behavior are context specific, ideas and approaches used in one country may not be exported readily to a different context. Therefore, readers are encouraged to read broadly to get a sense of these contested concepts and diverse approaches that typify the field and to explore how these concepts and approaches vary from country to country.

Policy Context

In many countries, special education is conceived as a parallel or separate system of education, different from or additional to that which is provided for the majority of children. However, debates about the most appropriate educational responses to disability and other difficulties in learning have led to notions of inclusive education in which all children are considered to be part of one education system. In the international community, concern for the education of students with disabilities has been linked with the Education for All movement, now commonly referred to as Education 2030. Although the policy documents, goals, and targets associated with the early EFA efforts did not call attention specifically to the education of students with disabilities, a concurrent international effort—coordinated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and launched at the 1994 World Conference on Special Needs Education in Salamanca, Spain—linked the education of students with disabilities to the EFA agenda by recognizing that all children should be educated within an inclusive education system. Subsequently, the conceptualization of inclusive education was broadened beyond the education of students with disabilities to encompass anyone who might be excluded from, or have limited access to, the general educational system within a country. At the same time, the rights of children with disabilities to have access to and participate in a country’s general education system became firmly established as part of the EFA agenda; this was affirmed with the adoption of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2006. These are significant developments because the legislative framework in some countries specifically excludes or restricts access for children with disabilities to the general education system even where education is compulsory and free. Consequently, the processes of inclusive education are seen to be of particular relevance and importance in creating educational opportunities for students with disabilities.

  • Education 2030: Incheon Declaration and Framework for Action in Portuguese, 2015

    World Forum on Education commitment to education for all, the Incheon Declaration and Framework for Action supports United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), specifically SDG 4 Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.

  • Education for All. 1990.

    Launched in 1990, the Education for All (EFA) is a global initiative to provide basic education for all children, youths, and adults. Superseded in 2015 by Education 2030.

  • Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. 1975.

    Landmark US legislation (formerly P.L. 94–142) passed in 1975 guaranteed a free and appropriate education to children with disabilities and served as a model for legislative developments in other countries. The legislation covers thirteen categories of disability and specifies due process and individualized educational program planning procedures that must be followed.

  • Salamanca Statement and Framework for Action. Salamanca, Spain: World Conference on Special Needs Education, 1994.

    The 1994 World Conference on Special Needs Education, held in Salamanca, Spain, adopted the guiding principle that regular schools should accommodate all children, regardless of their physical, intellectual, social, emotional, linguistic, or other conditions.

  • Special Educational Needs: Report of the Committee of Enquiry into the Education of Handicapped Children and Young People. London: HMSO, 1978.

    The Warnock Report is a historical and influential report published in the United Kingdom, which has had influence in many countries of the English-speaking world. It proposed that distinct categories of handicap in education were unhelpful and endorsed the concept of special educational needs (SEN).

  • UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. 1989.

    A 1989 international human rights treaty that recognizes the human rights of children. The Convention obliges states to protect and ensure the civil, educational, political, health, economic, social, and cultural rights of all children.

  • UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. 2006.

    Adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 2006, the Convention affirms the human rights of persons with disabilities. Article 24 specifies that states shall ensure an inclusive education system.

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