If a child needs help in order to learn, they can get support services that will help them to succeed.
Children from age 3-21 should get these services if they qualify.
How does it work?
To qualify, a child must have a disability that affects their learning.
Kids can get services starting at age 3, even before they start kindergarten.
If your child needs specially designed instruction in order to make progress in school, you will work with a school team to decide on a plan of services.
The plan will be described in an Individualized Education Program, or IEP — a legal document the school is required to follow.
Your child might work with a learning specialist inside the regular class, outside the regular class, a combination of both, or possibly in a special class.
When should I start the process?
- Anytime after your child is 2!
- When you first notice that they may be behind in their development (after age 2).
- The process can take a while. You can start sending the school your child's reports and paperwork soon after they turn 2. That way, they can be ready to start services on their 3rd birthday.
- Even kids as old as high school age can start the process if they develop or suspect a learning disability, or another kind of disability.
If your child just needs some adjustments, or changes in the way they work in the classroom, they will get what we call Accommodations. These will be described in a 504 Plan. (This is not technically "Special Education".)
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How is an IEP different from a 504?
A 504 plan involves adjusting the regular class conditions, but an IEP describes specialized instruction or services.
An IEP provides more support. It allows the student to work directly with a special educator or therapist. Therapies like speech, OT or ABA would come under an IEP.
There are different criteria to qualify for an IEP. A student must have a disability that affects their progress in school, and they must need specialized instruction in order to make effective progress.
An IEP is a legal document that guarantees services according to the federal law, IDEA: The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. A 504 plan offers Accommodations (rather than services) to comply with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.
Sources: Federation for Children with Special Needs, IDEA