by Cara Batema
Once you learn your child might require some special education services, it’s easy to fall into the abyss that obtaining assistance can be. Fortunately, special provisions exist for children who are hyperactive or have anxiety, but a lot of responsibility falls on you as a parent to put those benefits in place. First, you’ll need this general overview to get the ball rolling on advocating for your child’s educational rights.
What Is the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act?
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, referred to as IDEA, was last updated by Congress in 2004 and gives states federal money to provide educational services for students with disabilities. According to the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD), more than six million children in the United States receive special education services. While IDEA is a federal law, each state has its own rules for the implementation of IDEA. It is essential to familiarize yourself with the basics of IDEA as well as the regulations specific to your state.
The Purpose of IDEA
The two critical tenets of IDEA are to create free appropriate public education (FAPE) for students with disabilities and to give parents input in their child’s education. Services under these categories include a thorough evaluation and providing a document detailing an individualized education plan, or IEP. An IEP is goal-oriented. This document summarizes your child’s current educational performance and outlines goals and objectives for improving your child’s progress, as well as listing specific services your child will receive. IDEA also encourages the least restrictive environment (LRE) possible for your child, which might include allowances such as classroom modifications or supplemental aids, so your child can spend as much time in a mainstream classroom as possible.
Who Qualifies for Services Under IDEA?
It is possible that your child does not qualify for services under IDEA. The law mandates that a child must have an issue that falls under one (or more) of 13 disability categories. Anxiety is covered under the “emotional disturbance” category, and attention and hyperactivity issues fall under the “other health impairment” umbrella. Simply having a disability doesn’t qualify your child for services under IDEA. Your child must have the issue and need special education to make progress in school as a result of that disability. If your child does not meet these criteria, it is still possible to receive some help via Section 504, which is a civil rights law that requires schools to adapt instructional methods and provide related services for children whose disability impairs their learning but who do not require special education.
IDEA strongly promotes parent participation. As a parent of a child with emotional or behavioral issues, it is your duty to advocate for them. If you suspect your child could benefit from special education services, you can write a letter requesting an evaluation. Your child’s school might find that, for various reasons, your child doesn’t qualify for services. You have the right to obtain an independent educational evaluation, or IEE, which allows you to have your child evaluated by a professional outside of the school district. Alternatively, your child’s school might determine that your child could benefit from special education services, and in this case, you have the right as a parent to be notified if the school wants to evaluate your child. Children who are anxious might be too nervous to ask for help themselves. If you notice your child struggling in school, you can speak up and ask for services. As guardian of your child’s educational rights, you also have the right to review your child’s educational records, so you can monitor their progress and ensure your child receives the services they need from the school.
Designing an IEP
You are the first member of your child’s IEP team. Other members include your child’s mainstream classroom teacher, a special education teacher, a school district representative, and anyone with special knowledge of your child, such as a therapist or tutor, whom you or the school invite. The name IEP includes the term individualized because it is truly a document and plan that is tailored to your child and their needs. The plan should include overarching goals and actionable steps toward reaching them.
In 2004, short-term objectives were removed from the IEP, so the plan now includes only annual goals that should be specific and measurable. For example, it’s not enough to say your child will “improve test scores.” First, the IEP should state where your child is now; for example, it might note that your child currently scores a reading comprehension accuracy of 50 to 60 percent, because they rush through their reading. But when reminded to slow down their comprehension increases. Next, outline a need. In the above example, a need could be increasing self-regulation skills and learning to remember to slow down. Finally, a goal statement features the use of numbers, so progress is quantifiable and can be measured. To complete the above example, your child’s goal statement might read as follows: “Upon being given a reading passage, answer five comprehension questions with 80 percent accuracy 4 out of 5 times.” The goal is specific, and it’s also quantified so your child’s progress toward it can be measured.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act may be new territory for you and your child, so unfamiliarity may cause some anxiety in both of you. This introduction to the benefits it can provide for your child and the steps you can take toward getting services such as an IEP in place may help. These services could improve your child’s learning and life skills so don’t be shy to ask for help if you feel that your child needs it.
Cara Batema is a musician, teacher, and writer who specializes in early childhood, special needs, and psychology. Since 2010, Batema has been an active writer in the fields of education, parenting, science, and health.