This Is What You Need to Know for Your Child to Receive Special Education Services


There’s no other relationship in which one is responsible over another being’s health, safety and development from birth on.

Our feelings of vulnerability may be compounded when we have a child who is different in some way — perhaps they have a visible or invisible difference, they struggle with mental illness, they are just wired a little differently, they are sorting out their identity, they are picked on by their peers… the list goes on.

Depending on the moment, when our children struggle, we may find ourselves feeling guilt, anxiety, shame, anger at ourselves, our partners or spouses or even our children for struggling in ways we feel we cannot fully understand or know how to address.

But as uncomfortable and sometimes scary as this vulnerability makes parents feel, it’s also that instinctual, unconditional love and deep knowledge of our individual children that makes parents uniquely qualified to be our children’s best advocates. And as they grow up, model for them how to advocate for themselves.

So what does being your child’s advocate look like when you are concerned your child may have a developmental delay and could benefit from special education and related services?

1. Seek an assessment through your state’s services or a private evaluation if you are concerned that your child might have a developmental delay or a disability.

Children from birth to 2 years old are eligible for screenings, evaluations, service coordination and an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) at no cost to the family through Early Intervention Program for Infants and Toddlers With Disabilities, or Part C of the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Services address functional and developmental needs of children and are provided in the natural environment of your child. (For more information, visit resources provided by your state or a nonprofit like Zero to Three, whose mission is to ensure all babies and toddlers have a strong start in life and offers a range of online parent resources for infants and toddlers.

Section 619 of Part B of the IDEA is the preschool program that provides special education services for children first identified with disabilities between ages 3 and 5. These services are provided at no costs to parents and are often provided in your child’s preschool classroom. For more information, a great resource is “How Section 619 Can Help Your Preschooler.” Note: eligibility for services may be different for children enrolled in an independent school.

Children in K-12 enrolled within the local public school system may be eligible for services documented in an Individualized Education Program (IEP) under Part B of IDEA or a 504 plans under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 or the ADA, The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. Visit the IDEA website for more information. For a resource on private schools and special education visit, “6 Things to Know About Private Schools and Special Education.” and, “Evaluating Kids Who Attend Private Schools: Who Pays the Bill.”

2. Educate yourself about your child’s specific challenges or disabilities.

3. For school aged children, collaborate with and form a good working relationship with your child’s teachers and school.

4. Ensure that your child is receiving appropriate services.

5. Understand what is required under the law. What are your rights as a parent and your child’s educational rights? If you need additional help, consult an educational advocate or special education attorney.

6. Connect with leading organizations that support and assist parents in advocating for their children in education.

The Parent Readiness and Empowerment Program of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights (PREP), offers free video tutorials, webinars and guides to help parents practice their advocacy skills on topics including navigating your school system, special education, English language learners, school discipline, bullying, harassment and discrimination as well as specific guides on education law.

PREP also offers low-income parents in California, New York and Mississippi the opportunity to chat for free via phone or video with pro bono attorneys to discuss advocacy tips, resources and legal information specific to your child’s educational issues on all of the above topics. You can make an appointment here.

The Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA) provides money for each state to have at least one Parent Training and Information Center. PTIs offer parents of children from birth to age 22, who have all types of disabilities, free workshops, support and information on how to make the most of their child’s education, including specific disabilities and issues, parental and child rights under the law, educational specialists, legal assistance and other local, state and national resources. A state-by-state listing of Parent Centers can be found here.

The Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates Inc., helps parents to work more effectively with school personnel to plan and obtain effective educational programs for their children with disabilities as well as locate advocates, attorneys and related professionals.

A version of this story originally appeared on Mom’s Rising.

Getty image by UberImages


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