The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was passed in 1975 to ensure that children with disabilities have access to a free, appropriate public education. Amended many times since then, the law regulates special education services both for school-age children as well as for babies and toddlers. Early intervention, sometimes called Part C of the IDEA, helps babies and toddlers with special needs develop the new and basic skills that typically develop in the first three years. Early intervention programs also provide family-directed services that help the parents learn about their child’s needs and how to enhance his or her development. Early intervention or Part C services are available in every state and territory of the United States. To access early intervention services in your area, contact your local early intervention office for a free evaluation of your child. If you are not sure how to contact the early intervention office, ask your pediatrician for help.
The IDEA also regulates special education services for school-age children, including preschoolers. One of these regulations mandates that every child who is enrolled in a special education program, or is mainstreamed but has a learning disability, must have an Individualized Education Program (IEP). Each child’s IEP is developed by the parent(s) and a team of educational professionals and spells out the specifics of the child’s special education services, including annual learning goals, the provisions the school must make in an effort to achieve these goals, and the reasoning behind the chosen plan. This legally binding and enforceable document allows the parent(s) to obtain the quality of education, care, and attention their child deserves. The parent(s) and education team must review a child’s IEP at least once a year to determine if the goals set for that year were achieved and if they should be revised. It is up to the parent(s) to ensure that their child’s IEP is sufficiently comprehensive, adequately outlined, and executed in full.
When preparing for the IEP creation process, be organized and keep all of your child’s records together. Take good notes of every phone call, meeting, and conversation, and keep them all together in one bound notebook. This includes the dates and times of phone calls, the name of the person with whom you are speaking, the reason for the call, and any solutions offered or arrangements agreed upon.
Creating the IEP may be the easier part of this journey. Difficulties often lie in its full execution and enforcement. If you have a justified problem with the IEP and/or its execution, there are five steps you can pursue to resolve it:
- State your concerns to your child’s education team and seek a resolution with them. Ideally, this will resolve the issue, and there will be no need to take additional steps.
- Contact your school district’s special education director to explain your situation and lack of success with the first step.
- Continue up the chain of authority by contacting your county’s special education office.
- Contact your state’s special education office.
- Obtain an advocate to represent you in the matter. This should be a last resort, after the other avenues have been exhausted.
To research and learn more about special education law, education law, and advocacy for children with disabilities, visit Wright’s Law. This online resource will provide parents and caretakers with accurate and reliable information on these educational topics. Another good site to refer to is the Center for Parent Information & Resources. Funded by the Office of Special Education Programs at the U.S. Department of Education, this site is a central source of information for parents of children with special needs.
(For a full list of resources for special needs children, click here.)
By Danica R. Vassigh
The author wishes to acknowledge contributing writers and researchers Molly Pannell and Lauren Sumners.