10 Basic Steps of Special Education

Many children struggle with learning and developmental disabilities. Parents often recognize problems early in their children's lives, but occasionally, problems are not recognizable until their children enroll in school. Children struggle with various learning problems, including difficulty retaining information, dyslexia, and other reading problems. Many children struggle with behavioral problems.

It's essential to diagnose a child's behavioral problem or disability before he or she can receive the necessary help. If a child is diagnosed with a disability, all public schools have special education programs to assist disabled students.

Parents should be aware of the process followed to diagnose special needs or at-risk children with learning disabilities. The following information details the 10 major steps followed when determining whether a child has a learning disability:

Step 1. Child is identified as possibly needing special education and related services.
Children are usually referred to professionals for review and diagnosis after being referred by a parent or teacher. Another method used to determine special needs children is the Child Find program. This program is used by educators in every state.

Child Find. A law passed by the federal government in 2004 known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act mandates that all state public schools evaluate students demonstrating signs of potential disabilities. If a child is diagnosed with a disability, school districts must provide adequate special education assistance. Many educators rely on the Child Find program to locate at-risk children.

Referral or request for evaluation. Teachers often refer children to school counselors or psychologists to be evaluated for possible disabilities. When this happens, parents must be notified to give their consent. Concerned parents can also refer their children directly to professionals.

After parents grant their consent to an evaluation of their child, the law requires that evaluations be concluded within 2 months after parents agree to the decision. However, this timeframe can differ in individual states.

Step 2. Child is evaluated.
The evaluation stage is very important and is intended to determine whether children:

  • Have a disability that would necessitate assistance through a special education program
  • Have any needs requiring special education instruction
  • Require any type of special education assistance

The first session between a counselor or psychologist and child demonstrating symptoms indicative of a disability is often intended to determine whether the child has a problem requiring further assessment. Many facets of the child's life will be evaluated. If it's determined the child needs assistance, then recommendations for special education programs will be provided by the counselor or psychologist.

Parents uncomfortable or in disagreement with their children's diagnosis can request an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE). School districts often cover the costs of these evaluations.

Step 3. Eligibility is decided.
After a child is evaluated, parents and other professionals review results to decide whether the child requires special education assistance. Parents can always seek a re-evaluation if the results are not conclusive.

Step 4. Child is found eligible for services.
When children are diagnosed with disabilities, they can enroll in a special education program. Within a month of a diagnosis, educators must prepare an Individual Education Program (IEP) to aid children diagnosed with disabilities.

Step 5. IEP meeting is scheduled.
Schools are responsible for setting up and administering IEPs. It's also their responsibility to:

  • Contact parents and notify them in advance of an IEP planning session, so they can be present
  • Schedule an IEP planning session at a time and location convenient for parents
  • Notify parents of educators and other professionals who will be present at the meeting, including professionals specializing in the type of disability afflicting the child

Step 6. IEP meeting is held and the IEP is written.
IEP meetings are held to discuss a child's educational needs and outline an IEP. In most meetings, parents and their children attend and participate. Whenever a group outside the school makes determinations for a child's IEP, parents are invited to their meetings. After IEPs are developed, parents must agree to any special services their children receive. Children receive assistance immediately after IEPs are finalized and parents agree to them.

Parents disagreeing with IEPs can always discuss the issues they have with educators and others involved in the process. When compromises cannot be reached, parents can request mediation.

Step 7. After the IEP is written, services are provided.
Once IEPs are finalized and signed off on by parents, schools follow the plans as outlined in an IEP. Teachers and special education specialists can refer to the IEP whenever they have questions about a child's needs. They can also find information about alterations made to a child's plan in an IEP.

Step 8. Progress is measured and reported to parents.
Educators and special education specialists closely monitor students and document any progress made by students. Parents receive constant updates about the progress made by their children. Progress reports are usually given to parents on the same intervals as grade reports for other children enrolled in the school.

Step 9. IEP is reviewed.
IEPs are reviewed by educators annually or whenever parents request a review. When it's required, educators and parents can make alterations to IEPs. Parents are permitted to make recommendations for IEP modifications and appeal any disagreements they have with plan revisions and discuss possible compromises with educators. Parents can also request more testing, review by an independent committee, and seek additional alterations whenever they disagree with an IEP. If necessary, parents can submit a complaint with the appropriate government agencies. These agencies are administered at the state level.

Step 10. Child is reevaluated.
Special education students must be re-examined every 3 years, in what is known as a "triennial." Re-evaluations are conducted to determine whether students still require special education services, but in many cases, children are re-examined if their problems worsen or they require additional assistance.

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