Eligibility for an IEP is contingent upon (1) the child having an identified disability under one of the eligibility categories in federal and state laws, and (2) the child requiring, by reason of that disability, special education and related services. See 34 C.F.R. section 300.8(a)(1). "Special education means specially designed instruction, at no cost to the parents, to meet the unique needs of a child with a disability, including (i) instruction conducted in the classroom, in the home, in hospitals and institutions, and in other settings; and (ii) instruction in physical education." See 20 U.S.C. section 1401(29); 34 C.F.R. section 300.39(a)(1). Furthermore, special education can include related services, such as speech-language pathology, if that service is considered special education rather than a related service under state standards. See 34 C.F.R. section 300.39(a)(2).
What is "specially designed instruction?"
The IDEIA defines specially designed instruction as "adapting, as appropriate to the needs of an eligible child, the content, methodology, or delivery of instruction, (i) to address the unique needs of the child that result from the child's disability; and (ii) to ensure access of the child to the general curriculum, so that the child can meet the educational standards within the jurisdiction of hte public agency that apply to all children." 34 C.F.R. section 300.39(b)(3).
Through the IEP process, Districts need to consider whether adaptations are needed in the content (i.e. what is being taught), or the methodology or delivery of instruction (i.e. how it is being taught) in order for the specific child's needs to be addressed and in order for that child to have access to general education curriculum. The IEP team should also consider whether the child needs "additional specialized instruction or related services" in order to make progress towards general education curriculum. See Letter to Anonymous, OSEP 2008.
"Specially designed" means designed with the specific child in mind. Specially designed instruction can include alternative methods of teaching the same curriculum to children with disabilities as to non-disabled students. It can include modified or adapted textbooks.
Under the IDEIA, special education (including specially designed instruction) should be "based on peer reviewed research to the extent practicable." 34 C.F.R. section 300.320(a)(4). In certain cases, specially designed instruction can also include specialized instructional programs, like intensive reading programs, ABA or other methodologies, etc., if these specific instructional programs are required to meet the child's unique needs and ensure access to the general curriculum.