The ABCs of Advocacy for Children With Special Needs

By — NYU Child Study Center
Updated on Jul 9, 2010

Parents, teachers and children working together as partners will enable children with special needs to access the appropriate services. This article aims to advance knowledge of the procedures and principles of the law and its recent changes and presents advocacy strategies to insure that all children receive a free, appropriate education.

Know the Federal Law

The IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) passed in 1997 insures that all children with disabilities receive a free, appropriate public education. The law provides for:

  • An appropriate evaluation by the school district
  • An Individual Education Plan to be implemented in the least restrictive environment
  • Parent participation in decision making due process safeguards.

IDEA update

In 2004 Congress renewed the IDEA by passing IDEA04 , to take effect by July 2005. A main goal of the new law is to reduce paperwork requirements, thereby enabling special education teachers to spend more time with students. States have been directed to minimize the number of rules and regulations they require of local school districts and to identify any state-imposed rule, regulation or policy that is not required by federal regulations.

The first step for parents: If you suspect your child has a disability, you should

  • Meet with teacher and/or principal and discuss ways to assist the child
  • Request in writing from the appropriate committee listed below that your child be evaluated to determine what services would be appropriate. Be sure to keep copies of all of your correspondence and notes from all meetings and phone calls.

EI: Early Intervention (birth to age 3)
CPSE: Committee on Preschool Special Education (3ס years old)
CSE: Committee on Special Education (5–21 years of age)

Setting the process in motion

  1. Individual evaluations are provided by districts free of charge
  2. Written consent from parents is needed.
  3. Evaluation results help determine if your child has a specific learning disability or other classified weakness so that special education services or programs can be provided.

What does a comprehensive evaluation consist of?

  1. Developmental history—birth, medical, family, social
  2. Classroom observation
  3. Other assessments—language, occupational therapy, physical therapy
  4. Psychological evaluation—intellectual functioning, memory, planning, organization, attention, visual vs. auditory skills, emotional functioning
  5. Educational evaluation – all academic areas, process-oriented measures that review underlying skills and abilities that may affect functional school performance

Note: IDEA04 no longer requires the district to substantiate a discrepancy between IQ and achievement as part of the learning disability identification process. Schools are encouraged to use approaches that use targeted, instructionally-relevant approaches that will assist children early and possibly avoid the need for special education.

Next steps–putting the evaluation results in place

Results of the evaluation must be provided to parents via a meeting with the evaluators, a written report that documents the test results and test scores, and a meeting with the Committee at which time all the scores and tests are explained and classification and necessary services are recommended.

Note: IDEA04 encourages the use of alternative ways of meeting, such as conference calls. The new law allows changes to the IEP without the need for the entire IEP team to reconvene for a formal meeting.

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