Special Education FAQs

Why is my child struggling in school?

When children are struggling in school, it is important to find out why. It may be that a disability is affecting your child’s learning and educational performance. If so, your child may be eligible for special education and related services. As a first step, the school may need to try sufficient interventions in the regular education classroom and modify instructional practices before referring your child for a special education evaluation.

What is special education?

Special education is instruction that is designed to meet the unique needs of children who have disabilities. Special education and related services are provided in public schools, at no cost to parents, and can include special instruction in the classroom, at home, or in other settings. This definition comes from the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which is a federal law that gives eligible children with disabilities the right to receive special services and assistance in school that is designed to:

  • meet his or her unique needs (that result from having a disability); and
  • help him or her learn the information and skills that other children are learning in the general education curriculum.

Who is eligible for special education?

Children with disabilities are eligible for special education and related services when they meet IDEA’s definition of a “child with a disability.” IDEA’s definition of a “child with a disability” lists 13 different disability categories under which a child may be found eligible for special education and related services. States and school districts must follow IDEA’s definitions, but they also may add details to guide decision making about children’s eligibility. That’s why it’s important to know what your state and local policies are. Click here to learn more about Article 7, Indiana’s special education law. 

How do I know if my child is eligible?

You can ask the school to evaluate your child. Call or write your child’s teacher or principal, describe your concerns in regards to your child’s learning and educational performance, and request a special education evaluation. The school may also be concerned about how your child is learning and developing, and if the school thinks that your child may have a disability, then it must evaluate your child at no cost to you. The school must ask for your permission and receive your written consent before it may evaluate your child. Once you provide that consent, the evaluation must be conducted within 50 school days. 

However, the school does not have to evaluate your child just because you have asked. The school may not think your child has a disability or needs special education. In this case, the school may refuse to evaluate your child. It must let you know this decision in writing, as well as why it has refused. 

How is my child’s eligibility for special education decided?

The decision about your child’s eligibility for services is based on whether your child has a disability that fits into one of IDEA’s 13 disability categories. This decision will be made when the evaluation has been completed, and the results are available.

Parents are part of the team that decides a child’s eligibility for special education. This team will look at all of the information gathered during the evaluation and decide if your child meets the definition of a “child with a disability.” If so, your child will be eligible for special education and related services. If your child is found eligible, you and the school will work together to design an individualized education program (IEP) for your child. The IEP is a written document that describes the educational program designed to meet a child’s individual needs. 

What happens if my child is not eligible for special education?

If the eligibility team decides that your child is not eligible for special education, you must receive written explanation as to why your child has been found “not eligible.” Under IDEA, you must also be given information about what you can do if you disagree with this decision.

Read the information provided to you by the school system. Make sure it includes information about how to appeal the decision. If that information is not in the materials you are given, ask the school for it. IDEA includes many different mechanisms for resolving disagreements, including mediation. The school is required to tell you what those mechanisms are and how to use them.

What if I have additional questions?

Spencer Psychology offers special education consultation services for parents. During a consultation, we can advise and assist you with the following:

  • Understanding your parental rights under the law
  • Answering your questions regarding state regulations for special education
  • Answering your questions regarding the special education evaluation process
  • Reviewing your child’s IEP or 504 Plan
  • Preparing for your child’s case conference, or other related school meetings

Helpful Links

Understood.org – Understanding Special Education

NASP – Special Education: A Basic Guide for Parents

Insource – Special Education Parent Support in Indiana