In order for a child to qualify for special education, they must be adversely affected by one of 13 categories.

Is your child eligible for special education?

In 1975, Congress passed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) which ensures that all children with disabilities have access to a free, special education which suits their individual needs. IDEA outlines the process of evaluation, review and special education eligibility requirements mandated for use in all schools. In order to achieve special education eligibility, the children must first officially qualify as having special needs. In order to qualify, a child must be “adversely affected” by a disability in one of the predetermined 13 established under IDEA. If a child is suspected of having a disability, their school or parents may request an evaluation.

Though living with any disabilities can be difficult for any child, in order to receive special education eligibility, sufficient proof that the disability is adversely affecting the child must be established. In other words, suspicion of a disability alone is not enough. Special education eligibility is a very complex, multi-faceted system that covers a wide range of disabilities but in order to assure equal opportunity for all, it is vital that parents are educated about the qualifications and process.

IDEA defines 13 categories of disability and if a child has one or multiple which adversely affect them, they qualify for special needs.

These 13 categories include:

1. Specific learning disability (SLD): A type of disability that impacts a child’s ability to do schoolwork. Some of the most common SLDs include dyslexia and dysgraphia.

2. Other health impairment: This disability can include disorders such as ADD and ADHD — they are defined as disabilities which affect attentiveness or energy levels.

3. Autism spectrum disorder (ASD): Autism is a disability which involves social skills and ability to communicate. As indicated in the name of the disorder, there are a wide range of symptoms and severity of autism spectrum disorder as it presents very differently in individuals.

4. Emotional disturbance: These disabilities include a variety of mental illnesses such as anxiety, depression and schizophrenia.

5. Speech or language impairment: This type of disability affects a child’s ability to speak and pronounce words. One of the most well known disorders within this category is stuttering.

6. Visual impairment: When children have difficulty seeing that cannot be corrected with glasses or other eye accessories, then they have this type of disability. Blindness is included within this category

7. Deafness: This is when a child cannot hear all or most sounds.

8. Hearing impairment: This type of disability is when children have severe difficulty hearing but they are not fully deaf. The condition often improves or worsens over time.

9. Deaf-blindness: This disability is defined by severe difficulty with both hearing and seeing.

10. Orthopedic impairment: Children who have severe difficulties with mobility and lack of ability with their bodies. A common example is muscular dystrophy.

11. Intellectual disability: These are characterized by below-average mental capabilities and translate to other areas of life including social skills, self awareness and communication abilities. A common example is down syndrome.

12. Traumatic brain injury: These are brain issues as a result of some kind of accident.

13. Multiple disabilities: This includes children with multiple disabilities defined above.

The eligibility categories for special education cover an extremely wide spectrum of challenges and disabilities that children may live with. Since many disabilities are impossible to see with the naked eye, it is incredibly important that students experiencing classroom difficulties undergo a personalized and comphrensive assessment to identify their needs and increase their opportunities for academic success.

The special education evaluation process is a key step in securing proper care and education for students with disabilities. IDEA outlines the steps of evaluation within Part B of the law. In order to begin the special education evaluation process, a child’s parent or their school must request the evaluation be completed. Oftentimes, parents are the first to recognize their child may be struggling and if they reach out to an educational professional about the matter, it is mandated that the child be evaluated and the school do so at no cost.

If the school notices the child’s struggles first, they can ask the parents for permission to complete an evaluation. In this case, the parents must provide informed written consent to follow through. An important caveat is that the school must first provide the parents with a written notice as to why they believe an evaluation is necessary and what the process will entail. The parents can then make a decision if they would like to move forward. If written consent from parents is secured, the school has 60 days to perform an evaluation.

In terms of the evaluation itself, the special education evaluation process outlined by IDEA mandates that each child who is evaluated should receive a complete, individual assessment of their intellectual and functional abilities. These tests are designed to assess a child’s overall health, vision/hearing, emotional stability, intellectual ability, motor skills, and communication ability. A variety of supplemental information should be gathered as well including but not limited to their parent’s perspective, test scores and social tendencies.

After gathering all relevant and important information about the child, it is time to review the data to determine if the child does in fact qualify for special education. In this phase, professionals can determine whether the existing data is enough to qualify the child for special needs or if additional information is needed. If the existing information is enough to qualify the child, the school must notify parents of the determination and reasoning for it. At this point, parents may demand the school to assess their child to further understand the nature of their status and academic needs. This is a key step because if the parents do not request an assessment, the school will not have to complete one. If an assessment is requested, they can be used to discover more about the child’s disability and their needs that must be met.

So how do you know if your child qualifies?

A group of qualified professionals & the child’s parent determines whether the child is a child with a disability by drawing upon information from sources, including aptitude & achievement tests, parent input, & teacher recommendations, as well as information about the child’s physical condition, social or cultural background, & adaptive behavior. If a determination is made that a child has a disability and needs special education & related services, an IEP must be developed for the child.
*U.S. Department of Education.

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