2024 Special Education Outlook: Challenges and Opportunities
Special education is constantly changing as students’ needs evolve. It’s important for school districts to stay informed about special education trends, policy changes, and other topics that can impact their ability to provide students with an equitable education. This year will present opportunities to better serve students as well as challenges that can negatively impact special education if not handled properly.
Here are 4 special education topics to follow this year:
1. Assistive Technology
According to the Assistive Technology Industry Association, assistive technology is “any item, piece of equipment, software program, or product system that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of persons with disabilities.”
Assistive technology will become increasingly important in 2024 as the neurodivergent population continues to grow. Assistive technology that caters to specific visual, sensory, motor, or communication needs are incredibly useful for autistic students who need additional support in those areas. Assistive technology can also remove communication barriers that sometimes exist between educators and students. Simple technology such as noise-canceling headphones and screen readers can greatly improve an autistic students’ comfort level, performance, and behavior. Not only does assistive technology increase accessibility, but it also fosters independence and promotes inclusivity.
2. Social-Emotional Learning (SEL)
According to CASEL, twenty-seven states have adopted SEL standards, and that number is expected to grow this year as states continue to see the value in SEL. Most SEL programs cover CASEL competencies such as self-management, self-awareness, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. States and/or districts that have SEL programs are seeing an improvement in students’ academic performance and overall well-being. Part of SEL’s appeal also comes from its ease of implementation. Districts can implement SEL as a standalone curriculum, or integrate it into an existing academic curriculum.
While SEL is important for all students, it’s extremely valuable for autistic students. SEL can help autistic students overcome common challenges related to relationships, perspective-taking, and emotional regulation. That’s why it’s important to choose SEL resources that keep students engaged and eager to learn. Our evidence-based, online SEL game Ava and its accompanying curriculum gives students the opportunity to learn and practice valuable SEL skills in a safe, engaging environment.
3. Policy Changes
The upcoming presidential election will undoubtedly impact special education, but it’s too soon to know exactly how. One of the most important topics surrounds eliminating the Department of Education, which includes the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services. Funding, regulations, and policies surrounding education will change depending on who wins the election.
4. Special Education Teacher Shortages
The nationwide teacher shortage is improving in all but one area – special education. During the 2023-2024 school year, 42 states reported special education vacancies. Special education teacher shortages existed long before the pandemic, but the shortage coupled with learning gaps left from the pandemic continue to be major challenges for districts. While district leaders must continue seeking ways to fill vacancies, they must also explore innovative ways to maintain high quality special education programs within the current landscape. Without qualified special education teachers, special education students will not receive the support they are legally entitled to.
If we’ve learned anything over the last four years, it’s to be proactive and prepare for multiple scenarios. The world is changing rapidly, and school districts must change with it to meet students’’ diverse needs.