chin up blog

History of Special Education

Education is not a privilege, rather a human right. This becomes even more pertinent when talking about individuals with special needs. The aim is to provide quality education without discrimination on grounds of different abilities.

The term “special education” refers to individualized programs designed to address the needs of students with disabilities. The intent is to enable individuals with special needs to reach their fullest potential.

History of Special Education globally:

While it is not entirely clear where the true origins of Special Education lie, efforts to educate children with special needs (emotional, physical or learning) can be traced as far back as the 14th century.

1578 - Pedro Ponce de Léon (Spain) created the first documented experience about education of deaf children  

1760 - Abbé Charles Michel de l’Epée (Paris) created the “Institut pour sourds” (Institute for deaf)

1829 - Louis Braille invented “Braille script” for the visually impaired

1894 – Morgan, a general practitioner in Sussex, England, published the first case of what is now known as Dyslexia in the British Medical Journal

1922 - The Council for Exceptional Children was founded, championing the right to education for all children, regardless of their disabilities. Today, it is one of the largest special education advocacy groups in the world

1943 - Dr. Leo Lanner, an Austrian-American psychiatrist of John Hopkins University, was the first to classify the Autism Spectrum Disorder

1973 - Rehabilitation Act required accommodations for disabled students in schools


1990 - Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was passed

2002 - No Child Left Behind Act was passed


Evolution of Special Education in India:

The early origins of special education in India started with Christian missionaries and nongovernmental agencies serving the visually, hearing, and cognitively impaired. After independence from Great Britain in 1947, the Indian government became more involved in providing educational, rehabilitation, and social services.

Initiatives aimed at change:

India has initiated many programs for special needs; the government and private sector have both made efforts in this regard.

Government Initiatives:

Persons with Disability Act (1995) – ensured that people with special needs received equal opportunities at education, employment, vocational training and rehabilitation.

Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) - the goal is to make education of children aged 6–14 a fundamental right.

Right to Education (RTE, 2010) - grants children aged 6–14 the right to free and compulsory education. An Amendment in 2012 makes explicit provisions for disabled children

National Education Policy (1986 and latest revision, 2020) – strongly advocates an inclusive outlook with special emphasis on training teachers to cater to varying learning needs.

Private Initiatives:

Several companies and NGOs have taken steps for improving the life of those with special needs. Funded by corporate donors or as CSR initiatives, they aim to provide them with jobs, education and improved accessibility. Some of these include Pankh, Association of People with Disability and several other privately funded organisations.

During more recent times, systematic efforts took place in providing educational and vocational opportunities to individuals with disabilities in India. Starting with Christian missionaries in the 1880s, the charity model became part of the special schools they established (Alur, 2002). For instance, formal educational institutions were established for the blind in 1887, for the deaf in 1888, and for mentally deficient in 1934 (Misra, 2000). After these early establishments in the late 19th century or early 20th century, a growth was seen in the establishment of these institutions in the latter half of the 20th century.


Special Education and the benefits of individual instructions in a specialised school:

Personalized learning and individualized instruction are crucial elements of student-centric teaching that fosters real progress and achievement. This is a significant departure from the way classrooms have been structured in the past as a ‘one size fits all’, presenting several benefits:

Close learning gaps

In any classroom, often significant learning gaps exist between individuals; individual instruction can deliver material at an optimal pace that caters to each student’s interests and abilities, enabling them to reach their highest level of achievement.

Also read: How Therapeutic Intervention Helps Students With Special Needs

Build confidence in students

One of the main reasons students continue to struggle is that they lose confidence in themselves and their intellectual capabilities. Individual instruction can help students gain self-confidence, with lessons tailored to their specific abilities. Students build comprehension, and self-assurance that they have the skills they need to succeed.

Greater engagement for teachers and students

An individualized learning approach is a more engaging experience for both teachers and students. With a smaller student teacher ratio, educators can actively interact with students in their classrooms. They can assess where they are academically, and how their individual learning plan can be tweaked to achieve maximum results.

Students work at their own pace

One of the greatest strengths of individualized instruction is that students can work at their own pace.

To sum it up: 

While Special Education has traversed a long, relentless journey, it is dynamic and evolving to suit the ever changing needs of today’s learners and tomorrow’s citizens.


Aisha Bharmal

Head of Junior School

The Aditya Birla Integrated School

related posts