How to qualify for services

Who qualifies for special education services?

  • Children with any kind of disability that affects how they learn in school.

  • This can be a physical or learning disability, a developmental delay, or autism.

  • This can include issues in any of these areas — physical, learning, social, behavioral, medical, communication, or developmental.

  • Massachusetts residents between the ages of 3 and 22

How do you know if your child qualifies?

  • Look at the "Eligibility Requirements" box below to see if these apply to your child.

  • They will get an evaluation from the school system to find out for sure. We'll tell you about that soon!

Click on the boxes below to learn more:

To qualify for special education services in Massachusetts, all of the following criteria must be met: 1. The student must have one of the following disabilities: Autism, Developmental Delay, Intellectual Delay, Sensory (deafness, bliness, or both), neurological, emotional, communication or speech, physical, spcific learning, health. 2. The student is not making effective progress in school. 3. The lack of progress is a result of the student's disability. 4. The student needs specially designed instruction in order to make effective progress in school (IEP). If the student just needs accomodations in order to folow the general curriculum, they do not qualify but can get help from a 504 plan.

To see the definitions of each type of disability, click here: Disability Definitions. (It will open in a new tab or window on your screen.)

The evaluation and eligibility meeting will help decide if your child meets these criteria. If so, they'll qualify for special education services. Depending on what kind of support they need, the school will work with you to create either an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or a 504 Plan.

We will tell you more about these!

Sources: MA DESE, Federation for Children with Special Needs

Sometimes called DD for short...

It is any condition that limits someone's ability to take care of themselves, starts when they are young and will probably affect them for their whole life.

It can be physical (like being blind) or intellectual. Intellectual or cognitive refers to how someone's mind works. If you have trouble thinking, learning and communicating in a typical way, these are cognitive or intellectual limitations.

Many people withAutism Spectrum Disorders fit into this category.

Developmental Disability: for persons who are five years of age or older, a severe, chronic disability that:

  1. is attributable to a mental or physical impairment resulting from Intellectual Disability, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Smith-Magenis Syndrome or Prader-Willi Syndrome
  2. is manifested before the individual attains 22 years of age
  3. is likely to continue indefinitely
  4. results in substantial functional limitations

Source: Mass. DDS

Autism is also calledAutism Spectrum Disorder, or ASD. This name reflects that there is a wide spectrum- or range- of how severely a child may be affected, and in what ways. It can be very different in different kids.

Autism has to do with brain growth and development. It can affect people's social interactionscommunication, and behaviors.

People with autism often have trouble relating to people in ways that we consider typical. They may have issues like these:

  • trouble expressing themselves or reading the expressions of other people

  • repetitive physical behaviors

  • sensitivity to things like noise or textures of clothing

  • needing to have a very structured routine, and can get upset easily

Autism does not limit how smart kids are! Children with autism can be very smart and talented, sometimes in very specific and impressive ways.

Autism can look very different from one child to the next. Some kids have trouble with things like challenging behaviors, communicating verbally, and forming social relationships. Each child will have their own strengths and challengesAutism can look very different from one child to the next. Some kids have trouble with things like challenging behaviors, communicating verbally, and forming social relationships. Each child will have their own strengths and challenges.

Sources: Interactive Autism Network, Autism Speaks

This is the exact wording from Massachusetts' official definitions of special education terms:

Disability shall mean one or more of the following impairments:

(a) Autism- A developmental disability significantly affecting verbal and nonverbal communication and social interaction. The term shall have the meaning given it in federal law at 34 CFR §300.8(c)(1).

(b) Developmental Delay- The learning capacity of a young child (3-9 years old) is significantly limited, impaired, or delayed and is exhibited by difficulties in one or more of the following areas: receptive and/or expressive language; cognitive abilities; physical functioning; social, emotional, or adaptive functioning; and/or self-help skills.

(c) Intellectual Impairment- The permanent capacity for performing cognitive tasks, functions, or problem solving is significantly limited or impaired and is exhibited by more than one of the following: a slower rate of learning; disorganized patterns of learning; difficulty with adaptive behavior; and/or difficulty understanding abstract concepts. Such term shall include students with mental retardation.

(d) Sensory Impairment- The term shall include the following:

  1. Hearing Impairment or Deaf- The capacity to hear, with amplification, is limited, impaired, or absent and results in one or more of the following: reduced performance in hearing acuity tasks; difficulty with oral communication; and/or difficulty in understanding auditorally-presented information in the education environment. The term includes students who are deaf and students who are hard-of-hearing.

  2. Vision Impairment or Blind- The capacity to see, after correction, is limited, impaired, or absent and results in one or more of the following: reduced performance in visual acuity tasks; difficulty with written communication; and/or difficulty with understanding information presented visually in the education environment. The term includes students who are blind and students with limited vision.

  3. Deafblind- Concomitant hearing and visual impairments, the combination of which causes severe communication and other developmental and educational needs.

(e) Neurological Impairment- The capacity of the nervous system is limited or impaired with difficulties exhibited in one or more of the following areas: the use of memory, the control and use of cognitive functioning, sensory and motor skills, speech, language, organizational skills, information processing, affect, social skills, or basic life functions. The term includes students who have received a traumatic brain injury.

(f) Emotional Impairment- As defined under federal law at 34 CFR §300.8(c)(4), the student exhibits one or more of the following characteristics over a long period of time and to a marked degree that adversely affects educational performance: an inability to learn that cannot be explained by intellectual, sensory, or health factors; an inability to build or maintain satisfactory interpersonal relationships with peers and teachers; inappropriate types of behavior or feelings under normal circumstances; a general pervasive mood of unhappiness or depression; or a tendency to develop physical symptoms or fears associated with personal or school problems. The determination of disability shall not be made solely because the student's behavior violates the school's discipline code, because the student is involved with a state court or social service agency, or because the student is socially maladjusted, unless the Team determines that the student has a serious emotional disturbance.

(g) Communication Impairment- The capacity to use expressive and/or receptive language is significantly limited, impaired, or delayed and is exhibited by difficulties in one or more of the following areas: speech, such as articulation and/or voice; conveying, understanding, or using spoken, written, or symbolic language. The term may include a student with impaired articulation, stuttering, language impairment, or voice impairment if such impairment adversely affects the student's educational performance.

(h) Physical Impairment- The physical capacity to move, coordinate actions, or perform physical activities is significantly limited, impaired, or delayed and is exhibited by difficulties in one or more of the following areas: physical and motor tasks; independent movement; performing basic life functions. The term shall include severe orthopedic impairments or impairments caused by congenital anomaly, cerebral palsy, amputations, and fractures, if such impairment adversely affects a student's educational performance.

(i) Health Impairment- A chronic or acute health problem such that the physiological capacity to function is significantly limited or impaired and results in one or more of the following: limited strength, vitality, or alertness including a heightened alertness to environmental stimuli resulting in limited alertness with respect to the educational environment. The term shall include health impairments due to asthma, attention deficit disorder or attention deficit with hyperactivity disorder, diabetes, epilepsy, a heart condition, hemophilia, lead poisoning, leukemia, nephritis, rheumatic fever, and sickle cell anemia, if such health impairment adversely affects a student's educational performance.

(j) Specific Learning Disability- The term means a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, that may manifest itself in an imperfect ability to listen, think speak, read, write, spell, or to do mathematical calculations. Use of the term shall meet all federal requirements given in federal law at 34 CFR §§300.8(c)(10) and 300.309.

Source: Mass Department of Elementary and Secondary Education,

Special Education regulation603 CMR 28.00 (Click on it to open the web page with all the official definitions.)

Every child has the right to a free public education that meets their unique needs. Its the law.

 

Sources: MA DOE, Federation for Children with Special Needs, Autism Speaks

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