Key documents: Elementary Education Statute, Law on the Education for Educable Feebleminded, 1962 Curriculum for Compulsory Education, Special School Act, School Regulation Act, Swedish Constitution, Education Act (1985), Primary School Regulation, Law regulating Support and Service to Persons with Certain Functional Disabilities, 1994 Elementary School Curriculum, Act on Discrimination against Children, Discrimination Act, and the Education Act (2010).

Characteristics: Special education services have existed in the Swedish education system since before the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. They also recognised and classified autism as a condition on par with developmental disorders as early as 1985 and later differentiated it from intellectual disabilities in 2010. Additionally, the Swedish system is structured in its approach towards special education needs. According to the mapped legislation, special education needs should first be addressed in mainstream classrooms to the best of the teacher’s abilities. Only when it is no longer feasible to keep a child with special education needs in a mainstream classroom, can a transferral to special education be considered. Also, since the municipalities are in charge of their respective primary and secondary schools, the financing of special needs support in these schools is state-governed.


  • Compulsory education in Sweden was already implemented before the implementation of the UDHR in 1948 [1]. In fact, compulsory education was already implemented in the 19th century for all children between the age of 7 and 9.
  • The 1913 addition to the Elementary Education Statute of 1897 was made prescribing that some kind of “helpful teaching” (forerunner to special education) should be offered to children with “weak intelligence” or “unintelligent” children [1].  
  • In 1945, education for “educable feebleminded children” became mandatory through the Law on the education for educable feebleminded, which was formally adopted in 1944 [1]. 
  • In 1962, the next step towards reaching the goal of offering “one-school-for-all” was taken by adopting the 1962 Curriculum for Compulsory Education [2]. This curriculum explicitly stated that the school should support children in their development towards free, independent, and harmonious people, taking the child’s individuality, qualifications, and capabilities into account.
  • The Special School Act, which was ratified in 1965 [3] specifically acknowledged developmentally delayed children as a group that required special education needs services in Article 3.  
  •  Subsequently, the importance of addressing special education needs in mainstream schools was formulated in Article 13b of the School Regulation Act [4], where it says that special education needs of pedagogical nature should be addressed adequately. This Article also covers the potential need for additional or specialised equipment in order to adequately fulfil specific special education needs.  
  • The introduction of the Swedish Constitution in 1974 brought two major changes to education [5]. Specifically, it is stated in Article 2 that the personal, economic, and cultural well-being of the individual needs to be the primary objective of public activity, while Article 21 declares that all children covered by compulsory schooling are entitled to free education at public schools. In the wording of these articles, no distinction is made between children with or without special education needs.  
  • The Education Act, approved in 1985, laid the foundation for the entire Swedish education system [6]. Firstly, Chapter 1, Article 2 stipulates that every child shall have equal access to education, regardless of their gender, geographical location, social, and economic conditions. Secondly, Article 5 reiterated that children who are unable to attend public education as a result of their intellectual or learning disability, will be allowed to attend compulsory schools for pupils with learning disabilities. Thirdly, it was stated in Article 16 that laws regarding intellectual and learning disabilities in children also apply among others to people with autism. 
  • Article 3 of Chapter 3 focuses on the admission to school and clearly states that children in general shall be admitted to regular primary and secondary school. However, it also reiterates that children who are unable to meet the standard goals as a result of their intellectual disability will be admitted to schools for pupils with learning disabilities. This exception includes children with autism, as stated earlier in Chapter 1 Article 16, all laws for intellectually disabled, apply for autism and atypical autism. 
  • Chapter 6, Article 1 elaborates on schools for the intellectually disabled. Here, it is stated that the education in schools for the learning disabled is aimed to give developmentally delayed children and adolescents education as equivalent to elementary schools and upper secondary school as possible, taking the conditions of each student into account. Furthermore, Article 3 explains that this iteration of schools for children with intellectual and learning disabilities includes elementary education and secondary education.  
  • The Primary School Regulation, ratified in 1988, covered the special support measures in Chapter 5 [7]. Article 1 of this chapter reiterates the necessity to provide special support measures for children that experience difficulty in schoolwork.  
  • Next, Article 14 explains that special education should be provided for pupils in need of special support. These special educational efforts should primarily be provided within the regular class to which the student belongs, which further enhances the access to education for children with disabilities.  
  • Article 15 also elaborates on the groups that special classes can be arranged for, namely 1) children with significant physical conditions; 2) children with pronounced social and emotional disorders; and 3) children with other prominent difficulties with schoolwork.  
  • Finally, it stipulates in Article 18 that special education shall resemble the education the child cannot participate in as much as possible (e.g. primary or secondary education).  
  • The Law regulating Support and Service to Persons with Certain Functional Disabilities in 1993 resulted in measures being taken to better support people with autism (among others) overall, according to Article 1 [8].  
  • The implementation of the 1994 Elementary School Curriculum [9] came with the explicit statement that every student’s rights were to be met in school based on their conditions and needs. 
  • Further levelling of educational opportunities for children came with the introduction of the Act on Discrimination against Children in 2006 [10]. Here, it was stated in Article 1 that children cannot be discriminated against on the basis of disability among others, while Article 2 stipulated that this Act applied to all forms and levels of education, as well as other activities covered by the 1985 Education Act. 
  • In 2008, the Act on Discrimination against Children was replaced by the Discrimination Act [11]. This new law expanded the scope from children to everyone in the Sweden.  
  • The current Education Act, which was ratified in 2010, held major changes in the perception of autism [12]. Chapter 29, article 8 drew a differentiation between intellectual disability and autism, which was a major contrast to the 1985 Education Act that deemed these two conditions similar.  
  • Special education needs were covered in several other parts of this legislation as well. Firstly, Chapter 1, Article 4 states that education has to take into consideration the students different needs. The students should be given the support and stimulus so that they can develop as far as possible. An effort needs to be made to balance differences in the children and pupils' prerequisites to take advantage of the education.  
  • Secondly, Chapter 3, Article 3 addresses children who, as a result of disability, find it difficult to meet the various knowledge requirements that are expected. According to this Article, they need to be given support aimed to reduce the consequences of disability as far as possible. 

[1] Nordström S. Hjälpskolan och särskolan i Sverige t.o.m. 1921 [The School for the Backward and Severely Mentally Retarded in Sweden up to 1921]. Vol. 119, Årsböcker i svensk undervisningshistoria. Stockholm: 1968. Available from: http://www.tam-arkiv.se/share/proxy/alfresco-noauth/tam/content/workspace/SpacesStore/b9ef3ccf-f549-444a-a3d7-2f9dea8055e0/download/ASU_119.pdf
[2] Swedish Ministry of Education. Curriculum for Compulsory Education. 1962.
[3] Swedish Ministry of Education. Special School Regulation. 1965. Available from: https://beta.lagrummet.se/rinfo/publ/sfs/1965:478/konsolidering/1994-07-01
[4] Swedish Ministry of Education. School Regulation Act. Sweden; 1971. Available from: https://beta.lagrummet.se/rinfo/publ/sfs/1971:235/konsolidering/1990-07-01
[5] Sveriges Riksdag. The Constitution of Sweden. 1974. Available from: http://www.equalrightstrust.org/ertdocumentbank/CONSTITUTION OF SWEDEN.pdf
[6] Swedish Ministry of Education. Education Act. 1985. Available from: http://rkrattsbaser.gov.se/sfst?bet=1985:1100
[7] Swedish Ministry of Education. Primary School Regulation. 1988. Available from: https://beta.lagrummet.se/rinfo/publ/sfs/1988:655/konsolidering/1994-07-01
[8] Swedish Ministry of Social Affairs. Law regulating Support and Service to Persons with Certain Functional Disabilities. 1993. Available from: https://beta.lagrummet.se/rinfo/publ/sfs/1993:387/konsolidering/2017-07-01
[9] Swedish Ministry of Education. Elementary School Curriculum. 1994.
[10] Swedish Ministry of Education. Act on Discrimination against Children. 2006. Available from: http://rkrattsbaser.gov.se/sfst?bet=2006:67
[11] Swedish Ministry of Culture. Discrimination Act. 2008. Available from: https://beta.lagrummet.se/rinfo/publ/sfs/2008:567/konsolidering/2017-07-01
[12] Swedish Ministry of Education. Education Act. 2010. Available from: https://beta.lagrummet.se/rinfo/publ/sfs/2010:800/konsolidering/2017-11-01