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Is my child eligible for special education?

posted Apr 2, 2011, 8:18 AM by Diane Willcutts   [ updated Apr 30, 2011, 6:59 PM ]
There are two pieces to this.  

In English: 

1.  The child has a qualifying disability (e.g., ADHD, autism, dyslexia, bipolar disorder, intellectual disabilities, speech/language impairment, lots of others) AND

2.  Because of the disability, the child needs special education.

In legalese:

(3) Child With A Disability. 

(A) In General. The term ‘child with a disability’ means a child–

(i) with mental retardation, hearing impairments (including deafness), speech or language impairments, visual impairments (including blindness), serious emotional disturbance (referred to in this title as ‘emotional disturbance’), orthopedic impairments, autism, traumatic brain injury, other health impairments, or specific learning disabilities; and

(ii) who, by reason thereof, needs special education and related services.
--From 20 U. S. C.1401(3)--in the "definitions" section of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).  

How does this affect my child?

Having a diagnosis of a disability is not enough to qualify a child for special education.  In order to be found eligible, the child needs to have a disability and require special education.  Note that "special education" includes more than just academics; special education may also be needed to address social/pragmatic skills, organization, behavior, and more.  

Additional references:

Section 1401 of IDEA (federal law) contains lots of useful information, including definitions of special education, related services, specific disabilities, and more.  The text of IDEA is here.  If you prefer a more reader-friendly version of IDEA that includes analysis by an attorney, you can buy this at Wrightslaw, here.  More information about eligibility and child find is available by download, here.