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IDEA, The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, is America’s special education law. It provides rights and protections to children with disabilities and to family leaders. 

What is the purpose of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)?

IDEA covers kids from birth until high school graduation or age 21, whichever comes first.

States are required to provide early intervention services for children up to age 3, and special education for older children in all public schools, including charter schools. 

I think my child may have a disability. Does IDEA have provisions about getting my child evaluated? 

Yes! IDEA requires that an evaluation must be conducted at no cost to the family. 

You can ask your child’s doctor for a referral to the early intervention program in your area.

Sometimes, child care providers can help families navigate this process from the initial screening. Since they spend much time with children, they are often the ones who recommend that the child be taken in for an evaluation. Early intervention services are often delivered at the child care center or family child care home.

Once your child is over two and a half, the school district should be part of evaluating your child to see if they require services. This is done through regular child find events and/or can be requested from the school district.

What happens if the evaluation determins my chid is eligible for IDEA services? Do I have to pay to get my child evaluated?

Under IDEA, states and schools are required to look for, find and evaluate children with disabilities at no cost to families. This is called “Child Find,” and refers to all children over 2 and a half including  those who attend public schools or child care programs, and children are homeschooled and in private programs.  

Child Find requires states and schools to find children who need services. Communities may do initial screenings in early childhood programs, libraries, health clinics, schools and other community organizations. 

What are the evaluatons like - will my child be forced to take a lot of tests? 

How many tests and what type depends on the concerns you have for your child. 

The people doing these evaluations are experienced working with young children and pace the timing of the evaluation based on your child’s age and individual needs. 

They also ask family members to provide insights about your child’s development. 

What kind of services are available for children ages birth to 3 under IDEA?

Early intervention services, for children ages birth to age 3, are services at home or in the community. 

  • Different types of specialists work with kids and their families depending on which skills are delayed. 

  • Early intervention focuses on skills in these areas:

  • Physical skills (reaching, crawling, walking, drawing, building)

  • Cognitive skills (thinking, learning, solving problems)

  • Communication skills (talking, listening, understanding others)

  • Self-help or adaptive skills (eating, dressing)

  • Social or emotional skills (playing, interacting with others)

I've heard of Part B and Part C of IDEA, what do these mean? 

Children age 3 and older are covered under Part B of IDEA. A child is deemed eligible if he or she requires special education and related services. Preference is given to services in the child’s community or home.

Under Part B, children with a disability are provided with a “Free Appropriate Public Education” (FAPE) that is tailored to their individual needs. Local educational agencies must offer special education and related services to children who qualify.

Part C of IDEA covers children under age 3. Part C also says that services must be provided in the child’s “natural environment.” 

There are a lot of acronyms! What does IFSP mean? What does IEP mean?  

IFSP =  Individual Family Service Plan for IDEA Part C

 IEP = Individual Education Plan for Part B.

These are the plans for the specific services your child will receive if the evaluation determines your child is eligible for IDEA services. 

If my child attend a family based child care center, can they still access evaluations and services?

YES! While most services are delivered in homes for the youngest and in school settings for 3-5s there are many times where services can be delivered in childcare centers. 

What happens if I do not agree with the recommendations after the evaluations? What rights do parents and legal guardians have in terms of IDEA?

Family leaders have a say in the decisions schools and early intervention providers make about the services and educational plans designed for their children. They can participate in meetings about their children, and even be the one to call a meeting. 

If you disagree with the evaluation conducted by the school district, you have the right to request an independent educational evaluation at no cost to you. 

If you disagree with proposed changes to your child’s plan there’s a “stay put” rule. That means your child’s current IEP stays in place until you and the school come to an agreement on the best course of action for your child. 

I have heard my child's developmental specialist talk about the "least restrictive environment"- what does that mean?

Least restrictive environment (LRE) means children with disabilities should spend as much time as possible with peers who don’t receive special education.  

Where can I get more information about IDEA and the process of getting my child evaluated? 

If you’re a parent who is navigating the special education process and needs more information or support, here are some information to help you get started.

Sometimes I feel like I don't know how to support my child - parenting a child with disabilities comes with a lot of joy and challenges. How can I get support from parents who understand what it's like? 

There are a number of national and local groups for families of children who experience disabilities. You can learn more:

What are the supports for child care providers - how can they learn about supporting my child's growth and development? Are they required to have special training on working with children with disabilities? 

Yes! Every state is required to provide training on serving children with special needs as part of the Child Care Development Block Grant, and state Departments of Education also provide training.

The national Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center is also a great resource for providers, schools and state administrators. 

I want to learn more! Where can I get more information? 

Here are some additional resources: 


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