Special Needs Education in Canada

In depth information about the provisions for children with special needs: details on education, benefits, carer's allowances and getting about in Canada...

Canada has a very inclusive approach to children with special needs and disabilities in terms of their rights to equality in all aspects of Canadian life, including education and healthcare. Every child with special needs, whether emotional, behavioural, visual, intellectual, language, speech or hearing, has a right to free public education. However, despite pledges by the federal government to support those with disabilities and special needs, the majority of funding is allocated at a provincial or local level.

Schooling for Children with Special Needs

By law, all state schools in Canada must have a special education programme. However, this is not possible in all schools and parents may have to enrol their children in private special needs schools. This can be difficult for some parents due to the cost, although some provinces/territories provide 100 percent funding in order for children to attend these schools.

Special needs schools are available for children with physical, mental, behavioural and communication disorders, as well as for gifted children.

Registering a Child as Having Special Needs in a School

The exact process of registering a child as having special needs depends on the provincial regulations and policies. Most provinces and territories have an Education Act which details their special needs educational policy. School boards usually provide a programme that integrates children with special needs into mainstream schools, along with a tailored individual educational programme. It is therefore necessary to inform the school board about the child's special needs requirements upon registration.

Staff are also trained to identify any special educational requirements which will then be dealt with appropriately. Schools often apply directly to the relevant educational authority for funding for a child with special educational needs.

Provincial/territorial Programmes and Benefits

The majority of support and services available for children with special needs or a disability is managed by provincial or territorial governments. Although the responsibility for the provision of special needs education is managed locally, there are many similarities in approach between provinces.

Some examples of provincial support and assistance for children with special needs are outlined below.


In Ontario there is a large amount of support available. For example, the "Assistance for Children with Severe Disabilities Programme" awards parents up to C$470 a month for help with medical costs, clothes, drugs, necessary equipment for the child and so on. The amount depends on parental income and the type of disability.

There are also programmes in place to provide rehabilitation assistance, respite care and special assistance at home; as well as some dealing with specific disabilities such as autism.

The majority of children with special needs attend mainstream school where possible. These children are offered different classes or a modified programme which is specially designed by school boards.

British Columbia

In British Columbia the Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD) is responsible for programmes and services for children with special needs. Family support includes respite services, parental support, child and youth worker assistance, behavioural support programmes, rehabilitation services and early childhood intervention schemes.

There are nearly 59,000 children with special needs enrolled in B.C public schools. They are assisted by classroom assistants, modified programmes and Individual Education Plans (IEPs) designed to cater to their needs.

There is also 100 percent funding available for children with special needs to attend special independent schools.


Most students with special needs are placed in mainstream schools where they are given extra assistance with a special education programme.

Funding is available directly to schools to assist with children with special education needs.

Alberta offers a Family Support for Children with Disabilities (FSCD) programme, where funding for services such as respite care, rehabilitation, counselling, home support and medical support is offered.

Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia has a Supported Child Care for Children with Special Needs programme. This provides funding to full and part-time childcare centres which offer care and specific programmes tailored to meet the requirements of the children. The Early Intervention Programme (EIP) also offers support and services to those children who are identified as having special needs.

Nova Scotia's educational plan offers an Individualized Programme Plan (IPP) for those children who are considered to have special educational needs. This also provides the opportunity for eligible students to attend special private schools where necessary.


Individualised Education Plans (IEP) are established for children with special needs, who are very often integrated into mainstream schools. To enrol in an IEP, parents and students meet with the teachers, the principal and a guidance counsellor before registering with a school. Students with disabilities are entitled to attend school up to the age of 21 years.

In Quebec a special needs education allowance is available for parents of children with major disabilities.

Universal Benefits

Child Disability Benefit (CDB) is a tax free benefit available to parents looking after a severely disabled child under the age of 18. It is calculated according to income and can total as much as $2,694 a year.

Applications for benefit can be made online at the Canada Revenue Agency website or in person at a local Ministry or Department of Social Services. Benefits are also available to severely disabled people over 18 years old.

Special Needs Associations in Canada

Many of the associations listed below provide contact details for local support groups.