Special Educational Needs (SEN) Information & Advocacy for Parents in the USA Part 1

Support of disabled children and young people and those with specific requirements is a legal right in all states in the US, even though there might be slight varieties in federal and state statutes and regulations and any relevant policies.

Autism Awareness Month NaomiMcLaughlan

There are currently 5 different laws and guidelines in the USA which protect the rights of children;

  • The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) (1975), amended in 2004
  • Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (1973)
  • The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) (1990), amended in 2008
  • No Child Left Behind Act  (NCLB) (2001) / Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) (2010)
  • Assistive Technology Act (1988), amended in 2004

Children (3-21 years) with disabilities have the right to receive a free and appropriate education in the least restrictive environment possible.

Criteria for eligibility, procedures for implementing these laws and services available, can differ between states, so please make yourself aware of these laws and related regulations in your particular area.

13 different categories, listed in IDEA, of disabilities under which children can be eligible to receive special education and related service are:

  • Autism;
  • Deaf-blindness;
  • Deafness;
  • Emotional disturbance;
  • Hearing impairment;
  • Intellectual disability;
  • Multiple disabilities;
  • Orthopedic impairment;
  • Other health impairment;
  • Specific learning disability;
  • Speech or language impairment;
  • Traumatic brain injury; or
  • Visual impairment (including blindness)

Depending on the individual requirements of your child it might display more or less difficulties in school, for example lack of concentration, making friends, or behavioural difficulties.

If you suspect your child to have special educational needs you can request an Individualized Education Program (IEP).

The IEP is a detailed written description of your child’s educational program, reviewed on an annual basis. The IEP might include Speech and Language, Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy, Behavioural Therapy, and/or the provision of a classroom aide and is developed with parent’s participation.

 Main aspects of the IEP include:

  • Your child’s current educational status
  • Goals and objectives
  • Instructional setting or placement
  • Transition services

The first step is to schedule a meeting with your child’s teacher to discuss your concerns. Depending on the outcome of the meeting, you can then formally request an evaluation of your child in a written format, e.g. a letter. The assessment process might include psychological and educational testing of your child’s abilities and needs. Important is to date the letter and keeping a copy for your records, along with any relevant notes, reports and mail between the school and yourself about your child. Those might be needed, if for any reason the school district does not respond to your request or refuses services under the IDEA or Section 504 or both.

The school district determines whether or not your child is eligible for special education.

If you request gets turned down, you may choose to challenge this decision through a due process hearing; a legal hearing in which you and your child have an advocate who can help express your views and concerns. In this case you can contact a U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights Regional Office for assistance or retain your own attorney if you decide to appeal a school’s decision.

OCR – Office for Civil Rights

OCR states (n.d.) “The mission of the Office for Civil Rights is to ensure equal access to education and to promote educational excellence throughout the nation through vigorous enforcement of civil rights.”


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All the Best,

Naomi x

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