Your Guide to the Special Education Identification Process – Step 3

Step 3: Eligibility is decided.

The next step is to decide if your child is eligible for special education and related services. This decision will be based on the results of your child’s evaluation and the policies in your area about eligibility for these special services.

It’s important that your child’s evaluation results be explained to you in a way that’s easy to understand. In other words, it’s not enough to talk about your child’s scores on tests. What do the scores mean? Is your child doing as well as other children his or her age? What does your child do well? Where is your child having trouble? What is causing the trouble?

If you don’t understand something in your child’s evaluation results, be sure to speak up and ask questions. This is your child. You know your child very well. Do the results make sense, considering what you know about your child? Share your special insights. Your knowledge of your child is important.

Based on your child’s evaluation results, a group of people will decide if your child is eligible for special education and related services. This is often called a “Child Study Team Meeting” or just a “Team Meeting.” Under the IDEA, you have the right to be part of any group that decides your child’s eligibility for special education and related services. This decision is based in part on IDEA’s definition of a “child with a disability.”

You should know that:

  • The IDEA lists 13 different disability categories (listed in the sidebar) under which a child may be eligible for services. (To learn more about these disabilities, contact NICHCY and ask for the Disability Fact Sheets.)
  • The disability must affect the child’s educational performance.
  • A child may not be identified as having a disability just because he or she speaks a language other than English and does not speak or understand English well.
  • A child may not be identified as having a disability just because he or she has not had enough instruction in math or reading.

IDEA’s Categories of Disability

  • Autism
  • Deaf-blindness
  • Deafness
  • Hearing impairment
  • Mental retardation
  • Multiple disabilities
  • Orthopedic impairment
  • Other health impairment (i.e., having limited strength, vitality, or alertness that affects a child’s educational performance)
  • Serious emotional disturbance
  • Specific learning disability
  • Speech or language impairment
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Visual impairment, including blindness

As a parent, you have the right to receive a copy of the evaluation report on your child. You also have the right to receive a copy of the paperwork about your child’s eligibility for special education and related services.

If your child is eligible for special education and related services (such as speech therapy), then you and the school will meet and talk about your child’s special educational needs (see Step 5). Within 30 calendar days after a child is determined eligible, the IEP team must meet to write an IEP for the child.

If your child is not eligible for special education and related services, the school must tell you so in writing. You must also receive information about what to do if you disagree with this decision. If this information is not in the materials the school gives you, ask for it. You have the right to ask for a hearing to challenge the eligibility decision. Also ask how the school will help your child if he or she will not be getting special education services.

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