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ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education

The Centre for Communicative and Cognitive Disabilities

Internet Resources for Special Children (IRSC)
Guide to resources for children with learning disabilities, developmental disorders and serious illnesses or disabilities

Special education newsletter, articles and resources for educating students with disabilities

Internet Special Education Resources

Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP)

Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services
OSERS: Publications and Products

National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities
National information center that provides information on disabilities and disability related issues.
Children and youth, birth to age 22, are the focus.


General Information on IDEA

Special Education Law
An overview of special education laws, IEP, and your child's special education rights.

Special education laws give children with disabilities and their parents important rights. Specifically, the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) gives families of special education children the right to:

· have their child assessed or tested to determine special education eligibility and needs

· inspect and review school records relating to their child

· attend an annual "individualized education program" (IEP) meeting and develop a written IEP plan with representatives of the local school district, and

· resolve disputes with the school district through an impartial administrative and legal process.


Eligibility Under IDEA

Every school district is legally required to identify, locate, and evaluate children with disabilities (20 U.S.C. §1412(a)(3)). After the evaluation, the district may provide the child with specific programs and services to address special needs.

IDEA defines "children with disabilities" as individuals between the ages of three and 22 with one or more of the following conditions:

· mental retardation

· hearing impairment (including deafness)

· speech or language impairment

· visual impairment (including blindness)

· serious emotional disturbance

· orthopedic impairment

· autism

· traumatic brain injury

· specific learning disability, or

· other health impairment
(20 U.S.C. §1401(3); 34 C.F.R. §300.8).

For your child to qualify for special education under IDEA, it is not enough to have one of these disabilities. There must also be evidence that the disability adversely affects your child's educational performance.

Once a child is found eligible for special education, subsequent evaluations take place at least every three years. If you are not satisfied with the initial evaluation or you feel your child's disability or special education needs have changed, your child is entitled to more frequent assessments, and even outside or independent assessments (20 U.S.C. §1414; 34 C.F.R. §§300.301-306).


Individualized Education Program (IEP)

Under IDEA, special education develops and implements an individualized education program, or IEP, that meets your child's unique needs. The acronym IEP refers to several related things:

· an initial meeting where the school district determines whether or not your child is eligible for special education

· a yearly meeting where you and school representatives develop your child's educational plan, and

· a detailed written description of your child's educational program.

Every written IEP document must include the same information, although forms will vary from one school district to another.

· Current educational status -- a description of your child's current "academic achievement and functional performance" in school.

· Goals and objectives -- "measurable annual goals" designed to meet your child's specific educational needs.

· Instructional setting or placement -- a determination of the situation and services needed to provide your child with an appropriate education.

· Transition services -- considerations of the vocational and placement needs for a child who is 16 or older.

· Due process -- your right to take any dispute you have with your child's school district to a neutral third party for resolution. (Parents of children who are not in special education do not have this right.)

· Preparing for the IEP Meeting


If you're a parent to one of the six million children with disabilities in the U.S., you're undoubtedly well aware of the individualized education program (IEP) meeting. Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), parents of a special ed child meet at least once a year with representatives of the local school district to prepare their child's IEP -- a detailed, written description of the child's educational program. (For a general overview of special education and the IEP process, read the article Special Education Law.)

For many parents, the annual IEP meeting is a difficult and stressful encounter. You may have trouble making your child's case for services because you feel intimidated by school administrators and experts. There may be obstacles beyond your control, such as a teacher shortage, insufficient funds, or undesirable program options. While the process can seem overwhelming to a parent, it doesn't need to be this way.


Do Your Homework

You don't need to be a special education expert or a lawyer to be an effective advocate for your child in the IEP process. What you must do is be prepared and plan ahead. Every parent -- whether it's their first or their tenth IEP -- will benefit from taking the following steps well in advance of the IEP meeting.

Obtain a copy of your school district's IEP form. Become familiar with the sections you will be filling out at the IEP meeting. These typically include:

· Program or class -- the appropriate learning environment for your child, such as a regular classroom for all or part of the school day, a special class for children with learning disabilities, or a private school for deaf children.

· Goals and objectives -- the general academic, linguistic, social, vocational, cognitive, self-help, and other goals you have for your child; for example, reading or math skills, healthy peer relationships, or independent living skills. Consider the specific steps your child will have to take to reach these goals.

· Related services -- the developmental, corrective, and other supportive services necessary to facilitate your child's placement in a regular class or to allow your child to benefit from special education. Examples include a one-to-one aide in the classroom, speech therapy, or transportation to and from school.

· Transition services -- any supportive services addressing the vocational and advanced placement needs of children ages 16 and older. (In some states these services may begin earlier, at age 14.)

· Other educational components -- anything else your child needs to succeed, such as particular curricula and teaching methods.

Become an expert about your child's educational performance and needs.
Keep in regular contact with your child's teacher and other school representatives, and gather opinions from professionals who know your child. Get a copy of everything in your child's school file, including assessments, testing data, and written teacher comments. Figure out what each item means and think about whether you can use it to demonstrate your child's need for a particular program, service or methodology.

Develop your child's ideal IEP.
While IDEA says that you and the school district must develop the IEP together, it is still a good idea for you to put together a clearly expressed blueprint of the educational program and services you want beforehand. This will not only help you learn your material, but will also get you to think about how to prove that your child really needs the educational help you're asking for.

Gather all available information -- and develop new material -- that supports your position and your child's ideal IEP.
This may be a statement from your child's teacher, an independent assessment of your child (an evaluation by someone outside the school district), or a statement from your child's pediatrician or other professional.

Find out who will attend the IEP meeting on behalf of the school district.
If you can, try to find out what position these folks will take at the meeting. Usually your child's teacher, the school administrator responsible for special education, and specialists, such as a school psychologist, attend the IEP meeting. Be especially clear about the position of your child's teacher-- the teacher is potentially the best ally or worst enemy you have in the IEP process. Either way, because the teacher has had lots of contact with your child, he or she will probably be the most convincing member of the IEP team.

Invite appropriate allies to speak at the IEP meeting on your child's behalf.
This may be your child's physician, an independent assessor who's evaluated your child, or a specialist who supports the program, service, or other IEP component you want for your child. If key people can't attend (or it's too costly for them to do so), have them prepare a written statement for you to read at the meeting.

Organize your materials.
Put all your papers and documents in a three-ring binder, with clearly labeled sections you can easily access at the meeting.


Know Your Rights and Options

Understand your child's legal rights to special education.
Your school district is required by IDEA to give you copies of special education statutes, regulations, and policies. Read these carefully, keeping in mind that under the law, parents are equal decision makers -- just as important as everyone else at the IEP meeting.

Determine your options.
Gather information about various programs within your school district (as well as those outside of it) that may be appropriate for your child. Talk to your child's teacher, the school assessor, the district special education administrator, and other parents. Visit as many of these programs as you can before the IEP meeting.


Going to the Meeting

Mastering these tasks requires you to be organized, to ask questions, and to make use of resources that are widely available. Parents' groups and disability organizations can help tremendously in the process. If you plan, organize, and persevere, you will help your child. You may not make the IEP meeting perfect, or even pleasant, but your child will benefit from your efforts.


Special Education Law: 2005 Changes

In 2005, Congress made important modifications to IDEA. While most special education rights and procedures remain the same under this new law, there have also been numerous and significant changes. For instance, the new law affects:

· teacher qualifications

· teaching methods

· transition services

· how a school may identify a child with a learning disability, and

· the content, development, review, and revision of IEPs.

In August 2006, the Department of Education issued regulations interpreting the revised IDEA. The new regulations went into effect on October 14, 2006.

These regulations add requirements and rules that go well beyond the scope of the actual law. If you have a child in special education, it is important that you understand how the regulations affect your child's rights. You can download and read the text of the regulations on the website of the Department's Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) at www.ed.gov/about/offices/list/osers. Or, contact your state department of education, your school district, or local support groups to find out how these changes will affect special education in your community