Special Education FAQ


The rules or guidelines for special education in the United States and its territories are outlined in a federal law known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), formerly known as the Education of the Handicapped Act (EHA). Each state or territory develops its own policies for carrying out this Act. (You can read more about this law later in this document.) You’ll need to find out what the early intervention or special education guidelines are in your state and area.


The Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Section 504, prohibits discrimination against handicapped people.  This law outlines procedures for providing services to students who have physical or mental impairments. Federal regulations under Section 504 are very similar to those under IDEA. The primary difference between the two federal statutes is that  Section 504 requires reasonable accommodation to ensure non discrimination, while IDEA provides a sortof Affirmative Action for students who qualify under the Act. Regulation under the Section 504:

1.A district must identify and locate qualified handicapped students residing in the school district  and notify the student’s parents/ guardians of the opportunity for the student to receive a free and appropriate public education

2. Evaluate any student who, because of a handicap, needs, or is believed to need, accommodation in the regular education classroom setting, or requires related aids and services. Examples of related aids and services are speech or occupational therapy, classroom aides, or technological devices.

3. Have a 504 Coordinator. Procedures require that a program be created and periodically reviewed for qualified individuals and that parents need to be notified of any such program. Following the evaluation, the school district must utilize a multidisciplinary team  or  persons  knowledgeable about  the  student  to determine the appropriate placement and to develop an educational plan which is designed to meet the needs of the disabled student.  Procedural safeguards are afforded to all 504 students. Examples of 504 students could be students with  ADD, etc. All IDEA students are 504 students, but all 504 students are not necessarily IDEA students. The 504 plan is legally binding.


  Special Education Programs and Services  


A federal law known as Public Law (P.L.)102-119 guarantees certain  rights 
to young children  (ages birth to 5)  with special needs.  This law is the most 
recent amendment to  Public Law (P.L.)  94-142, The  Education  For  All Handicapped Children’s  Act, now called the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA). 


Q: What are special education programs? 
A: Special education programs are specially designed programs in public schools offered at no cost to families of children with disabilities. Today, under P.L.102-119, all schools must offer special educational services to eligible 3-21 year old individuals with disabilities.

Q: What should I do if I think my preschool child needs special education? 
A: If you think your preschooler needs special educational services you will first need to find out if he/she are eligible for a special education program. Establishing eligibility through an Evaluation is the first step.

Q: Who do I contact first for help?
A: The best place to start is your local public elementary school.(In most cases, this would be the school that other children who live near you attend.) Call and ask to speak to the principal or to someone in charge of special education at the school.

Q: What is an Evaluation?
A: Evaluation means the procedures used to determine whether a child has a disability and the extend of the special education and related services the child needs. In regards to your child, this information may come from:

– Your child’s medical history;
– Developmental tests given to your child;
– Observations and feedback from all members of the Assessment Team,
including parents;
– Any other relevant observations, records, and/or reports about your child.

Q: Who conducts my child’s evaluation? 
A: Your child’s evaluation will be conducted by a multidisciplinary team .  Who is involved will depend on the guidelines in your state or school district. Ask your school contact person what the policy is for getting an evaluation for your child.

Q: Will I have to pay for an evaluation or any services my child may be eligible for? 
A: Special education services are offered to all eligible 3-21 year old individuals at no cost to parents. The assessment and evaluation process is considered a part of these services.

Q: I still have a lot of questions. How can I find out more about special education programs and services?
A: See the section entitled Information About IDEA to learn more about one of the most important special education laws.


Information About Individuals with Disabilities Education Act- IDEA Specific laws have been passed by the U.S.Congress instructing states to provide educational services for children and youth with disabilities. Public Law 94-142, the Education For All Handicapped Children Act(EHA), was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Ford in 1975. This law is well known; it required states to fully educate all children with disabilities.It has been amended several times. In 1986, the EHA was amended  through P.L.99-457 to, among other things, lower the age at which children can receive special services to three years. It also established the Handicapped Infants and Toddlers Program (Part “H”), for children in need of help from birth to their third  birthday.The amendments of 1990 and 1991 brought about more changes, among which was a change in the name. Consolidating the various laws into the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, IDEA.
The entire IDEA can be downloaded from the U.S. Department of Education  site.

Information About Programs for Children Ages 3-21Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, IDEA,  requires all states and territories, to provide a public school education to children with disabilities from ages 3 to 21, regardless how severe their disabilities are. There are several basic rights that this law provides children with disabilities and their parents:

– The right to a “free appropriate public education” at public expense (in some cases, this may include placing a child in a private school);

– The right to an educational placement that is based on an assessment and evaluation of each child’s own special needs;

– The right of children with disabilities to receive teaching or instruction that is designed to meet their needs, these needs must be identified, outlined and included in an Individualized Education Program  (IEP) for each child, with a clear, detailed description, of the specific services the child will receive;

– The right to a full range of educational services that may include related services. These may include counseling, special transportation, speech/ language, occupational or physical therapy;

– The right of parents  (or guardians)  to be included in making decisions about their child’s educational needs and to approve the educational plans or their child;

– The  right  of  parents (or guardians) to appeal any decisions made about the identification,  evaluation,  and  placement of the child through a due process procedure.

Finally, IDEA requires that children with disabilities be educated in the “Least Restrictive Environment” (LRE),  that is, in a setting with children who have no disabilities, or as near to such setting as possible, with special help and modifications provided to those who need it.

Information About Programs for Very Young ChildrenUnder the IDEA, early intervention services are to be made available to infants and toddlers with disabilities, ages birth through two years. Services are not the same in all areas. To find out what is available where you live, call the Early Learning Program Administrator in your school system. Congress made funds available to help states and territories plan a comprehensive service system to provide the following services:

– Early intervention services to infants and toddlers (ages birth through 2 years) with disabilities. If a state chooses to, it can also serve infants and toddlers at risk of developing disabilities;

– Special education programs and related services to preschoolers(ages 3 through 5 years) who have disabilities; Services for children 3  years of age and older are provided  by  the  state Department of  Education,  however,  programs for children under age 3 are provided by different agencies in different states. Sometimes the Department of Education will handle all these programs; in other states it may be the Health Department or another agency.

The term “infants and toddlers with disabilities” in the law refers to children (ages birth through 2 years) who need early intervention services in any of the following areas:

  • Physical
  • Cognitive
  • Communicational
  • Social or emotional
  • Adaptive development

Early intervention services must be provided by people who are qualified to work with infants and toddlers who have disabilities, or who are at risk of developing disabilities. Any services provided must be written into an Individual Family Service Plan (IFSP) that is reviewed every 6 months.

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Glossary of Terms Used in Special Education 

adaptive development: 
          development of the child in comparison to other children the same age.
          This might include the child’s ability to dress himself, feed himself, toilet
          training, how he/she plays with other children, how he/she plays alone,
          understanding dangers in crossing the street, how he/she behaves if
          mother leaves the room, etc. 
         someone who takes action to help someone else (as in “educational
         advocate”); also, to take action on someone’s behalf. 
         a change, revision, or addition made to a law. 
         a written request for a change in a decision; also, to make such a
          able to meet a need; suitable or fitting; in special education, it usually 
          means the most normal situation possible. 
a collecting and bringing together of information about a child’s needs, which may include social, psychological, and educational evaluations used to determine services; a process using observation, testing, and 
test analysis to determine an individual’s strengths and weaknesses in order to plan his or her educational services. 
assessment team:
a team of people from different backgrounds who observe and test a child to determine his or her strengths and weaknesses. 
at risk:
a term used with children who have, or could have, problems with their development that may affect later learning. 
Child Find:
a service directed by each state’s Department of Education or lead agency for identifying and diagnosing unserved children with disabilities; while Child Find looks for all unserved children, it makes a special effort to identify children from birth to six years old. 
a term that describes the process people use for remembering, reasoning, understanding, and using judgment; in special education terms, a cognitive disability refers to difficulty in learning. 
comprehensive service system:
refers to a list of 14 areas each participating state is to provide under early intervention  services. These 14  points range from  definition  of 
developmentally delayed, to guidelines for identification, assessment, 
and  provision  of early  intervention  services for the child and family, and include timelines and quality control. 
advice or help given by someone qualified to give such advice or help (often psychological counseling). 
having to do with the steps or stages in growth and development before the age of 18 years. 
developmental history:
the developmental progress of a child (ages birth to 18 years) in such skills as sitting, walking, talking, or learning. 
developmental tests:
 standardized tests that measure a child’s development as it compares to the development of all other children at that age. 
the result of any physical or mental condition that affects or prevents one’s ability to develop, achieve, and/or function in an educational setting at a normal rate. 
due process (procedure):
action that protects a person’s rights; in special education, this applies to action taken to protect the educational rights of students with disabilities. 
early interventionist:
someone who specializes in early childhood development, usually having a Master’s degree or Ph.D. in an area related to the development of infants, toddlers, and preschoolers.
early intervention services or programs:
programs or services designed to identify and treat a developmental problem as early as possible, before age 3 (services for 3-5 year olds are referred to as preschool services). 
 able to qualify. 
(as applied to children from birth through two years of age) the procedures used to determine if a child is eligible for early intervention services;  ( as applied to preschool and school aged children )  the procedures used to determine whether a child has a disability and the nature and extent of the special education and related services the child needs. 
free appropriate public education (often referred to as FAPE):
one of the key requirements of IDEA, which requires that an 
education program be provided for all school aged children 
(regardless of  disability) without cost  to  families;  the exact  requirements of “appropriate” are not defined, but other references within the law imply the most “normal” setting available.
the process of locating and identifying children needing special services. 
Individualized Education Program (IEP):
a written education plan for a school aged child with disabilities developed 
by a team of professionals (teachers, therapists, etc.) and the child’s parents; it is reviewed and updated yearly and describes how the child is presently doing, what the child’s learning needs are, and what services the child will need; (For children ages birth through 2 years, the IFSP is used.) 
Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP):
a written statement for an infant or toddler (ages birth through 2 years old) developed by a team of people who have worked with the child and the family; the IFSP must describe the child’s development levels; family information; major outcomes expected to be achieved for the child and family; the services the child will be receiving; when and where the child 
will receive these services; and the steps to be taken to support the transition of the child to another program;  the  IFSP  will also list the name of the service coordinator assigned to the child and his/her family. 
lead agency:
the agency (office) within a state or territory in charge of overseeing and coordinating service systems for children ages birth through 2. 
Least Restrictive Environment (LRE):
an educational setting or program that provides a student with disabilities with the chance to work and learn to the best of his or her ability; it also provides the student as much contact as possible with children without disabilities, while meeting all of the child’s learning needs and physical requirements. 
a team approach involving specialists in more than one discipline, such as a team made up of a physical therapist, a speech and language
pathologist, a child development specialist, an occupational therapist, 
or other specialists as needed. 
occupational therapy:
a therapy or treatment provided by an occupational therapist that helps individual developmental or physical skills that will aid in daily living; it focuses on sensory integration, on coordination of movement, and on fine motor and self-help skills, such as dressing, eating with a fork and spoon, etc. 
parent training and information programs:
programs that provide information to parents of children with special needs about acquiring services, working with schools and educators to ensure the most effective educational placement for their child, understanding the methods of testing and evaluating a child with special needs, and making informed decisions about their child’s special needs. 
physical therapy:
treatment of (physical) disabilities given by a trained physical therapist 
(under doctor’s orders) that includes the use of massage, exercise, etc. 
to help the person improve the use of bones, muscles, joints, and nerves. 
the classroom, program, service, and/or therapy that is selected for a student with special needs. 
rules and regulations; as related to early intervention and special education programs, the rules that a state or local school system has for providing services for and educating its students with special needs. 
private agency:
 a non-public agency which may be receiving public funds to provide services for some children. 
private therapist:
any professional (therapist, tutor, psychologist, etc.) not connected with the public school system or with a public agency. 
in special education, a service, placement, and/or therapy designed to help a child with special needs. 
a specialist in the field of psychology, usually having a Master’s degree or Ph.D. in psychology. 
public agency:
an agency, office, or organization that is supported by public funds and 
serves the community at large. 
Public Law (P.L.) 94-142:
a law passed in 1975 requiring that public schools provide a “free appropriate public education” to school aged children ages 3-21 (exact ages depend on your state’s mandate), regardless of disabling condition; also called the Education For All Handicapped Children Act, with recent amendments now called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). 
Public Law (P.L.) 102-119:
passed in 1991, this is an amendment to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which requires states and territories to provide a “free appropriate public education” to all children ages 3-21; and provides funds for states and territories to plan a comprehensive service system for infants and toddlers (ages birth through 2 years) with disabilities. 
related services:
transportation and developmental, corrective, and other support services that a child with disabilities requires in order to benefit from education; examples of related services include: audiology and speech  therapy, psychological services, physical and occupational therapy, recreation, counseling services, interpreters for the hearing impaired, and medical services for diagnostic and evaluation purposes. 
service coordinator:
 someone who acts as a coordinator of an infant’s or toddler’s services, working in partnership with the family and providers of special programs; service coordinators may be employed by the early intervention agency. 
services/service delivery:
the services (therapies, instruction, treatment) given to a child with special needs. 
special education:
see special education programs and services. 
special education coordinator:
the person in charge of special education programs at the school, district, or state level. 
special education programs/services:
programs, services, or specially designed instruction (offered at no cost to families) for children over 3 years old with special needs who are found eligible for such services; these include special learning methods or materials in the regular classroom, and special classes and programs if the learning or physical problems indicate this type of program. 
special needs:
(as in “special needs” child) – a term to describe a child who has disabilities or who is at risk of developing disabilities and who, therefore, requires special services or treatment in order to progress. 
speech/language therapy:
a planned program to improve and/or correct communication problems.

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Parent’s Record Keeping

As you contact different people and organizations, it’s a good idea to keep records of the contacts and the information provided. As time goes by, you will need to add other information to your file, such as:- Letters and notes (from professionals, service providers, etc.);
– Medical records and reports;
– Results of tests and evaluations;
– Notes from meetings about your child;
– Therapists’ reports;
– IFSP and IEP records;
– Your child’s developmental history, including personal notes or diaries on your child’s development;
– Records of shots and vaccination;
– Family medical histories.

Make sure you get copies of all written information about your child(records, reports, etc.). This will help you become an effective coordinator of services and a better advocate for your child. Remember, as time goes by, you’ll have more information to keep track of, it’s a good idea to get organized early on.

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