The type and level of disabilities recognized as needing special cares in the compulsory education expanded through the years after WWII.
- Since 1923, each prefecture has had at least one special school for children with visual and hearing impairments.
- Since 1948, children with visual or hearing impairments have the right to have compulsory education. In 1948, special classes for children with mild physical or mental disabilities were added in regular elementary and middle schools.
- In 1957, new special schools for children with orthopedic disabilities, intellectual disabilities and health impairment were established.
- Since 1979, all children with physical and mental disabilities have the right to have compulsory education.
- In 1993, the resource rooms were added in regular schools. Children with disabilities, such as speech and language disorders, emotional disturbance, and autism received individual instruction based on their specific needs there for a few hours a week.
- Since 2006, children with developmental disabilities (Learning Disability, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and High-Functioning Autism) have either been included in special needs classes or been able to utilize resource rooms in regular schools.
- Prior to 2007, special schools tended to care for a single type of disability. In 2007, special schools caring for different types of disabilities were combined to form a special needs school to better serve students with multiple disabilities. Since 2007, the individualized education program has to be made for each child with a disability by law.
- Since 2011, the local governments have been required to place children with disabilities in the regular classroom as much as possible if their parents request the arrangement.
The percentage of students in special needs education in elementary and middle schools increased from 1.0% in 1993 to 2.0% in 2007 and to 3.6% in 2015. In 2015, of 362,000 disabled students,
- 19% attended special schools.
- 57% attended special needs classes in regular schools.
- 25% had special needs services in resource rooms in regular schools.
The average size of the special education classes is three students.
The majority of students from special needs classes in regular middle schools attend high school department of special needs schools.