I thought that when discussing education, the term "special needs" referred to individuals with severe mental disability, such as having a very low IQ.
However, this question on academia.SE talks about a special needs student studying at university, and the Wikipedia article on special needs gives a more broad definition (such as including non-insurmountable physical disabilities), as does oxforddictionaries.com.
By contrast, this answer on English.SE talks about "special", "special education", and (from the question) "special needs" referring to severe mental and learning disabilities.
What does "special needs" mean? Does its meaning differ between when it's used by the general public and when it's used by people in the education sector?