Back to school time can be a very exciting time for parents and children alike! But school doesn’t always mean smooth sailing. Some kids really struggle in school, and many parents at the start of the school year are asking themselves “how can I help?”

Many kids qualify for extra help and support in school called “special education.” Special education services are important to consider for your child. It isn’t the only choice to consider and a parent should review the pros and cons, but it can be a comprehensive way to provide critically needed support.

What is special education?

Special education refers to a range of services that are tailored to meet the needs of students with disabilities. Special education is provided because of IDEA, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. This law specifically declares that eligible children with disabilities have the right to receive special support in school.

Special education for one student may look very different than special education services for another student. Kids who qualify get an Individualized Education Program (IEP), which is a legal document that lays out the instruction, support, and services a child needs (and should receive) for a better school and learning experience.

Who is eligible for special education?

Children who meet IDEA’s definition of a “child with disability” in combination with state and local policies. IDEA includes and defines 13 disability categories: autism, deaf-blindness, deafness, hearing impairment, emotional disturbance, intellectual disability, multiple disabilities, orthopedic impairment, other health impairment, specific learning disability, speech or language impairment, traumatic brain injury, and visual impairment (including blindness). You can read more on IDEA definitions:

Many neurodiverse children could be eligible for special education under the categories within IDEA. It’s important to caveat that there are many thoughtful and relevant critiques of special education. But in this article today, we’re focusing on what is available currently in terms of special education and personalized support for struggling students.

Although state and local areas must follow IDEA’s definitions, they can add details about children’s eligibility and the decision-making process. This can make eligibility complicated. We recommend reading through this comprehensive education services and eligibility guide: from the Center for Parent Information and Resources.

How do I find out if my child is eligible?

You can request that your child’s school evaluate them. If there is a director of special education, then get in touch with them. If there is not, then reach out to the principal of the school. Describe your concerns and request an evaluation under IDEA to see if your child is struggling with school because of a disability (or multiple disabilities). However, the school does not have to evaluate if they do not think your child has a disability.

You can also talk with your child’s pediatrician. Ask them if your child has special needs that has impacted development. Talk over your concerns and ask what next steps would be. Having information from your child’s doctor can be very important when communicating and making the case to the school for evaluation.

Involving both the school and your child’s healthcare team is important for getting your kid the help they need to thrive.

The evaluation process includes reviewing information about your child and their educational experience so far and collecting more information if necessary. This might include tests and interviews, information from healthcare professionals, pertinent medical history, and you and your child’s ideas about their school needs.

What happens after evaluation?

If your child is found eligible for special education, then a meeting must be help within 30 days to develop the IEP. The IEP is developed by you (the parents), teachers, a representative of the school system, and any expert invited by you or the school who has special expertise about your child. The IEP really is the source of truth for special education.

After the IEP is developed, the school needs parental consent to implement the IEP. The school must then implement the IEP, and they must schedule an annual IEP to review progress and make any needed revisions to the IEP. Your child must be reevaluated at least every three years (unless the team agrees that reevaluation is not necessary). The reevaluations determine whether your child still continues to meet the definition of “child with disability” and what your child’s educational needs are.

Special education evaluation and IEP creation are very important processes and can make a huge difference for your child and their learning experience. There are multiple resources available to help. These are resources intended for a wide audience—finding state specific or local district resources is also very important. You can find many resources online specific to your area or you can reach out to experts to help you find those resources.

Your EAP might also be a valuable resource when trying to learn more about special education eligibility and evaluation. At Uprise Health, we provide our members with legal support. A legal expert can help parents understand special education, the IEP process, and overall case management. We also provide general support for finding resources local to our members. Contact us to learn more about how we support parents with our EAP services.

Additional Resources