The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), formerly known as the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, is a piece of legislation ensuring that children and youth with disabilities receive support and care to help them thrive in a school system designed for neurotypical individuals.

If you have a child or children with disabilities, knowing the basics of IDEA is a must. While it’s a very extensive topic, we have distilled the most important features and key takeaways below.

The Pillars of IDEA

IDEA is a complex piece of legislation within United States special education law. If you have a child with a disability who is either approaching school age or already enrolled, it is important to know how this may be of benefit to you.

There are six main pillars to IDEA, each with its own purpose to help students with disabilities and their families navigate the educational system.

Individualized Education Program (IEP)

This provision requires educators, other professionals, and most importantly you, to develop a learning plan that gives your child the best chance at success.

Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE)

This provision mandates that services needed by your child are offered, when part of the public school system, support and resources that are free of charge.

Least Restrictive Environment (LRE)

As the name suggests, this provision maintains that the support given to your child is done in the least disruptive manner possible, thus cultivating a normal school experience.

Appropriate Evaluation

Since receiving support though IDEA rests on an evaluation process (more on that later), Appropriate Evaluation ensures that the evaluation process is detailed and varied. This safeguards against one test being the deciding factor of whether your child receives aid.

Parent and Teacher Participation

You know your child best and are often their more powerful advocate. As such, IDEA ensures that parents and teachers both have a say in the education and support of their special needs students.

Procedural Safeguards

This provision allows parents the right to remain involved in their child’s education and have a final say in the course of action ultimately taken. Of the safeguards, parents are to remain educated about recommendations for their child  in understandable terms, receive written notice of changes in their child’s IEP, have informed consent, retain the right to request independent assessments, and even retain the right to dispute decisions made all the way through litigation if needed.

Who Qualifies?

Just because your child has a formal diagnosis does not mean they qualify for protections under IDEA. Unfortunately, iDEA only covers 13 categories of disability listed below:

  • Autism 
  • Speech of Language Disturbance
  • Emotional Disturbances
  • Hearing Impairments 
  • Deafness
  • Deaf-Blindness
  • Visual Impairment
  • Intellectual Disabilities
  • Specific learning disabilities (includes dyslexia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia, and other learning differences)
  • Orthopedic Impairment
  • Traumatic Brain Injury
  • Other Health Impairments (such as ADHD)
  • Co-occuring Disabilities

This is not the only level of qualification, however, In addition to falling under one of the above categories, you must be able to prove that the child needs special education to progress in school as a direct result of having a disability.

Without meeting this need-based requirement, services will likely be denied.

Getting Services

If you believe your child qualifies for support, there are a few steps you will need to take along with the school system in order to begin the final process of receiving aid.

First, you need to speak to your school about an evaluation if they have not already suggested one. This process allows them to assess your child for their presenting disabilities while also determining the type of support your child needs.

Your education team will then discuss their findings and develop an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for your child. This document will outline support needs and goals for your child that your school will help you meet.

Disability-Informed Legal Aid

As a lawyer, my passion is helping use law to create better outcomes for those who have family members with special needs.

For many families who have a special needs child, dealing with the Department of Education isn’t enough. Depending on the care needs and severity of the disability, your child may well need longer-term planning so they are never left unexpectedly without support. This is where I can help the most.

If you have any questions or want to discuss the ways you can secure your child’s future, Make an appointment with me.