Children and young adults between the ages of 3 and 21 whose disabilities are severe enough to negatively affect learning are entitled to special education services at no cost to parents, and these services are federally mandated in all states.
In most states, it is the responsibility of local school districts to identify, evaluate, and then classify children with disabilities as eligible for special education and related services, with oversight provided by the state’s Department of Education or its equivalent governmental office.
State regulations set the timelines and the methods required to accomplish this, as well as the administrative procedures needed to resolve any disputes that may arise.
Federal law requires that each child must receive a program that meets his or her unique, individual needs. School districts must annually develop a written Individualized Education Program (IEP) that outlines the services to be provided with measurable goals. For some children, the IEP might involve classroom modification, individual instruction, or therapy.
Other children might require placement in a specialized class or placement in a private school that specializes in serving children with a particular type of disability. Private schools can provide services on either a daily or a residential basis. Depending on need, children might be entitled to additional educational services over the summer months.
Children and young adults in this age group may be eligible for “related services” as part of their IEP. Related services may include speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, and school-based nursing services.
Schools must document a child’s special education needs as well as his or her progress in school. Evaluations and other records can be helpful later in life to determine eligibility for adult services and other government assistance programs.
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