Education Options in Public Schools for Kids with Cerebral Palsy

A child with even a mild form of cerebral palsy (CP) can have physical limitations that can pose some challenges in their day-to-day lives. However, although their disability may also be accompanied by other conditions that affect how well they learn, most kids with CP go to school through special education programs. Most of these programs are offered through local public schools and have a wide array of options for kids with special needs.

Special Education Programs in U.S. Public Schools

Public-funded special education programs have existed in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and other U.S. territories since the late 1960s. Federal laws, including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) have been established to ensure that children with disabilities receive free education that fits their individual needs and ability to learn.

Although each public school district adjusts its special education department to meet its own local standards and budgets, kids with CP are entitled to participate in educational programs from age 3 till they either graduate from high school or reach their 21st birthday under Part B of the IDEA 2004 law  Per the U.S. Department of Education, preschool children under the age of 3 are eligible for special education programs under IDEA 2004’s Part C.

Generally, special education programs for disabled children begin at the preschool level, usually during their toddler stage of development. Most special education teachers prefer to start the process of getting kids with CP ready to enter the school system at an earlier age than non-disabled kids. This helps disabled kids have time to get used to being in a classroom environment with their peers. Additionally, this gives teachers and administrators time to figure out how to meet the needs of each child and to identify possible problems such as learning disabilities or behavioral issues ahead of time.

Special education programs have had the same basic goals even before the ADA and IDEA 2004 laws were passed: to give kids with disabilities free education and the skills they will need in order to lead normal and independent lives, at least as much as possible.  In order to meet these goals, special education departments have a wide array of options and programs, including:

Mainstreaming

This option is used for kids with CP and other physical disabilities who can participate in regular classes with their non-disabled peers. In some cases, younger students start school in a special education class and are mainstreamed once teachers determine that they can handle the stresses and academic demands of regular classes. In other cases, children with CP are mainstreamed sooner. In most cases, special ed students also receive individual physical and occupational therapy even if they are fully mainstreamed.

Special Education Classrooms for Severe Issues

This option is available for children with more severe types of CP, especially those that have learning or behavioral problems. Other students who may need specialized education in self-contained departments include children with learning disabilities, vision problems, those who are deaf or hearing impaired, and kids with multiple disabilities.

Reverse Mainstreaming

This option is available for disabled students who are mostly mainstreamed but need help in some areas of academics. In reverse mainstreaming, a student attends a special education class and receives one-on-one tutoring in specific subjects (such as math or English) for at least one class per school day.       

Home-bound Schooling Programs

Home-bound schooling in an option for disabled students who are temporarily unable to attend school because they are sick or recovering from surgery. In home-bound schooling, a teacher or educational specialist visits the student at home or in the hospital to keep the child’s academic progress from slipping behind. In most cases, home-bound schooling lasts only a few weeks at most, although in some cases it can be a long-term option. Keep in mind that home-bound schooling for special needs children is not the same as homeschooling programs in which parents teach their children at home.

Although the quality of special education programs varies widely from district to district because of the disparity in local funding, kids with CP and other disabilities at least have these options. With laws such as IDEA 2004 and No Child Left  Behind, special ed programs offer children with disabilities a chance to receive education, self-esteem, and skills that will help them lead active and more independent lives.