Everything you need to know about Specially Designed Instruction (SDI)

When a child is eligible to receive special education because of their disability, their school supports them through a host of services to help them stay on par with other students of the same grade level. And SDI is one way of providing that support. Specially Designed Instruction or SDI is a part of special education.

Not many parents in the country are aware of what SDI is. So, if you are someone who wants to gather knowledge on this subject, we have got you covered. In this elaborate write-up, we have compiled information about SDI to help you understand what it is, who can benefit from it, how it is brought into practice, and many other details.

Specially Designed Instruction (SDI): What is it?

When an educator uses special instructions, strategies, and methods to teach a student with a disability or learning disorder, the student is said to be receiving specially designed instruction. 


Using SDI, teachers can assist special education students even in a general education classroom. The instructions are highly individualized and designed to help the student meet educational standards like any other student.

One may ask – what is the need for SDI? It is necessary to ensure that special education students, too, progress from one grade to the next successfully. Without it, we may find these students struggling to understand concepts that their friends grasp quickly. SDI helps instill confidence in students who would probably fall behind without this kind of educational support.

Who is eligible to receive SDI and why?

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) ensures that all students with disabilities get equal opportunities and free public education through special education programs. When a parent approaches a school to ask for special assistance for their child, the school conducts an evaluation to see if the child is eligible for special education. Once the child is considered eligible, they qualify to receive SDI. 

However, you must not forget that a child will receive SDI only if they have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). If a child only qualifies for a 504 Plan that ensures access to suitable accommodations to improve their academic performance, in that case, they do not receive SDI or related therapies.

After understanding who all can benefit from SDI, let’s look at the reasons “why” some students receive it.

  • To meet the unique needs that arise due to their disability.
  • To address learning and behavioral gaps and help students meet their academic standards.
  • To ensure all students receive free and good public education irrespective of their abilities.
  • To make all educational programs and activities accessible to everyone.
  • To support students with disabilities to aim for graduation and have a promising future.

On what basis is SDI selected for students with IEP?

It’s a big task for special education teachers to identify which SDI will be the best to meet a student’s unique needs. So the teachers try to answer a few questions before deciding which SDI will work best for a child. These questions include-

 SDI monitored
  • What are the student’s academic goals and objectives according to his IEP?
  • What are the student’s learning preferences?
  • What assessment data are available pertaining to the student?
  • Which SDI and strategies are more likely to help the student achieve the goals and objectives mentioned in their IEP?
  • Is the selected SDI good enough to address all the student needs?
  • Will the child need SDI daily? 
  • How is it going to benefit the student?

Who designs SDI?

SDI is designed with a collaborative approach between qualified special education teachers, general education teachers, and related service providers like occupational therapists, speech therapists, etc. 

As these people have genuine credentials, competencies, and specialized training in specific areas of education, they are responsible for designing, implementing, and assessing the effectiveness of special instructions for a student.

Who can provide SDI to students?

It is obvious for a parent to worry about whether their child is receiving the required academic support in school or not. However, parents must rest assured that their child is well cared for in school. The IEP team, which parents are also a part of, decides who will be responsible for providing SDI to the student.

Primarily, special education teachers, along with related service providers, provide SDI in a learning environment. Other people who work in collaboration to provide special instructions to a child include general education teachers, para educators, and therapy assistants. However, they must be supervised by special education teachers as they are the predominant providers of SDI.

How is SDI delivered?

Educators ensure that SDI is delivered in a highly structured manner so that the student can benefit from it. Once brought into practice, it is monitored periodically to see if it is really helping the student or not. SDI is mainly delivered by bringing about changes in the content, methodology, and delivery of instruction. Some ways of delivering SDI include – 

  • Changing the complexity of the task – for example, modeling or chunking.
  • Changing the time allotted to complete the task – example includes extended time to complete a task.
  • Changing the size of the task – like giving shortened writing tasks to reduce difficulty.
  • Changing the learning environment – for instance, minimal distractions, smaller groups, etc.

When and where is SDI implemented?

 SDI implemented

There are no specific guidelines regarding when teachers must deliver SDI to students. The decision entirely depends on the individual needs of a child. For example, some children require SDI almost daily for the maximum part of the day. Whereas, for some students, it is required periodically. So, the IEP team decides when SDI must be delivered to maximize the benefit to the student.

SDI is also not restricted to special education classrooms. They are used even in a general education setting or any place where school-related activities take place.

How is the delivery of SDI confirmed?

Special education administrators are responsible for verifying SDI in the school setting. To ensure the implementation of SDI as per individual IEPs – 

  • Special education administrators walk through the classroom and therapy space to make their observations. 
  • Logs and in-treatment notes of services like occupational therapy and speech therapy also serve as proof of SDI delivery.
  • Datasheets and IEP progress reports indicate the child’s progress as a result of proper implementation of SDI.

How is the effectiveness of SDI monitored?

Monitoring the effectiveness of SDI is as important as its proper implementation. The IEP team members periodically monitor the effectiveness of SDI used to support a particular student. There are some ways through which the members of the team figure out the effectiveness of SDI. Some of them are-

  • Analyzing student assessment data
  • Comparing the student’s growth to their IEP goals and grade-level standards. 
  • Analyzing the teacher’s and service provider’s progress monitoring data.
  • Evaluating other data sources like benchmark assessments, outcome assessments, common formative assessments, etc. 

How are parents informed about their child’s SDI progress?

Like any other parent, parents with children requiring special education look forward to learning about their child’s academic and behavioral progress. To answer questions regarding their child’s progress, teachers communicate periodically through report cards as often as mentioned in their IEP. 

The information is shared in a simple language so that parents can comprehend it easily. The child’s performance is described using descriptions supported by relevant data and teachers are discouraged to use vague language, for example, “satisfactory progress” to describe the child’s results.

Is it possible to change SDI?

Every year the IEP team, including the teachers, parents, counselors, and other related members, meets to review the child’s Individualized Education Plan. This meeting is carried out to analyze the child’s progress. This is when the team can bring changes to the specialized instruction depending on the child’s previous year’s progress, and the extent of SDI required in the current academic year.  

Wrapping up,

Specially Designed Instructions help eliminate the barrier a child faces due to his or her disability. It is a way of giving additional support based on their learning needs so that they too can match the grade-level expectations and build a bright future for themselves. 

We know that going through the IEP process and figuring out the best SDI for your child can be overwhelming at first. But with the right knowledge, parents can smoothly glide through the entire process and work in unison with the other IEP team members to support their child’s academic growth.

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