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Students with special needs are assessed to determine their specific strengths and weaknesses. Placement, resources, and goals are determined on the basis of the student's needs. Modifications to the regular program may include changes in curriculum, supplementary aides or equipment, and the provision of specialized physical adaptations that allow students to participate in the educational environment to the fullest extent possible. Students may need this help to access subject matter, to physically gain access to the school, or to meet their emotional needs. For example, if the assessment determines that the student cannot write by hand because of a physical disability, then the school might provide a computer for typing assignments, or allow the student to answer questions orally instead. If the school determines that the student is severely distracted by the normal activities in a large, busy classroom, then the student might be placed in a smaller classroom.
The education of students with developmental disorders, who require more time to learn the same material, frequently requires changes to the curriculum. Successful special education programs for students with development disorders focus on "only what is necessary for them to know and what they are capable of learning," so that all of the child's time is spent learning high-priority skills, and so that the child is not inappropriately frustrated by advanced subjects that are beyond their capabilities. By contrast, most students with a specific learning difficulty primarily need changes to the method of instruction, rather than to the skills and information being taught.
Support can be provided for short periods or long term, and the kinds of support may change over time. For example, a child that required a one-on-one instructional aide for safety reasons while very young might outgrow this need when older.