School Age Children
School-age children with disabilities are entitled to receive special education services, at no cost to the family, through the public school system beginning on the day of the child’s 3rd birthday and ending at the age of 22. Understanding how special education works, and what your rights are, is important during your child’s school years.
Special Education Eligibility, Instruction and Services, Resources
A child must be referred for an initial evaluation and found eligible for services before special education services can be provided. No matter what age your child is, or what grade he or she is in, if you have concerns that your child is behind his or her peers, or know that your child has a disability, request that your child be evaluated for special education services.
A request for a special education evaluation should be made in writing to the school. Schools have up to 50 instructional days to complete the evaluation, but they often do this much faster. If you disagree with the results of the evaluation, you have the right to appeal these results and ask for an independent educational evaluation at the school’s expense.
A child is eligible for special education if he or she has one or more of the following disabilities:
- Autism Spectrum Disorder
- Cognitive Disability
- Developmental Delay
- Emotional Disability
- Hearing Impairment
- Language or Speech Impairment
- Learning Disability
- Multiple Disabilities
- Other Health Impairment
- Orthopedic Impairment
- Traumatic Brain Injury
- Visual Impairment
Instruction and Services
Special education refers to individualized educational and related services for children with disabilities. To determine what educational and related services a child will receive, a case conference committee will develop an Individualized Education Program (IEP).
A case conference committee is a group of people, including school personnel and parents, who decides if a student is eligible for special education and what special education and related services will be provided to an eligible student, based on his or her needs.
An Individualized Education Program (IEP) is a written document developed by the case conference committee that describes accommodations, modifications, special education and related services that will be provided to the student. The IEP must be reviewed and updated by the case conference committee every 12 months.
Services that may be included in an IEP include:
- Educational instruction that is adapted to meet the child’s needs.
- “Related services” such as speech, physical, and occupational.
- A Behavior Intervention Plan designed to decrease behaviors and allow a student better educational access.
- Other services a child might need to benefit from public education.
All special education services must be provided in the least restrictive environment (LRE). LRE means educating a child with disabilities alongside children who do not have disabilities, for all or part of the school day, or as much as possible.
In addition to learning about special education, be sure to explore our Supports & Services page to find links to learn about other state and federal programs that can provide services and supports to your child and family.
Planning ahead for the time your child will leave school is also important It is never too early start planning for the future. Visit Future Planning to find helpful resources, including information on guardianship and creating a special needs trust such as The Arc Master Trust.
Perhaps the best thing you can do for yourself and your child is to connect with other families. Visit Helpful Resources & Links to find local, state, and national organizations, including The Arc, that can offer you information, support and friendship; as well as other resources.