The most important federal and public funded resource available to children and adults with disabilities is the right to a free appropriate public education. (PL 94-142: Individuals with Disabilities Act). There are other public benefit systems available to children in the US but none are based solely on the individual’s needs without regard to family and/or beneficiary income and assets. Access to special education is an entitlement as defined in IDEA. It is a law ensuring services to children with disabilities throughout the nation. IDEA governs how states and public agencies provide early intervention, special education and related services to millions of eligible children. IDEA is the fundamental law that guarantees your child the right to a free, appropriate public education (FAPE).

Your child should be getting the services he/she requires which are deemed appropriate to develop to the fullest extent possible, in the least restrictive environment, offered by the state and/or public school system. If the public sector is not deemed appropriate and cannot provide your child with needed services, private education is considered as an option. The IEP team should be effective in making those decisions and the parent should be an integral part of that decision. Children receive services through both Part C (early intervention) and Part B (school age-21). Each state has discretion to decide how they implement and provide funding for those services. Procedural safeguards are in place to ensure that early intervention and special education personnel are adhering to the confines of the law. Families need to be made aware of their rights and these procedural safeguards in order for the process to be successful.

There are many components to understanding IDEA. Each component must be agreed upon by the parent(s) in order for a child’s plan (IFSP/IEP) to be successful. An IFSP/IEP is based solely on an individual’s needs and should be a collaborative effort guided by you and the professionals working with your child. The goal is to fully evaluate your child’s needs and then develop planned educational and related services to access educational (such as OT, PT, Speech, Augmentative communication, Nursing, Feeding, Vision, etc…) programs. The program should yield educational and therapeutic outcomes that will enhance and improve their activities of everyday living within the home, school and community.

It is up to this team (PPT) to determine what is appropriate and how to plan accordingly. Goals and objectives should be both measurable and attainable. They should also be realistic for the child. This plan (IFSP/IEP) is written for a period of one year but a meeting (PPT) can be called at any time by the parent as necessary. All conditions of the placement, programming and the IEP will need to be agreed on. If there is an area you are not comfortable with, it is best to resolve it before signing. Follow your instincts and strive to achieve a mutual understanding and agreement with your child’s team.

More importantly, consider the unique and complex needs of your child (stamina, development, and seizures) and how much they can tolerate and participate during an academic day. You are setting the foundation for what you expect and want for your child up until the age of 21 within the educational setting. Effective advocacy and planning for your child should not be adversarial. The goal of a successful IEP team is to achieve the best possible outcomes for your child without regard to resources within the school district. During an IEP meeting, the term “budget” should never be used as IDEA requires that all students receive appropriate services based on individual needs. It requires very careful planning surrounding your child in an educational environment that meets their needs and is appropriately designed around every domain of development. Other factors to be considered include medical needs and safety while your child is attending school. Challenging yourself to be the best advocate for your child and being mindful of the ongoing demands and needs of your child is a process. It will take time and planning. It will require patience and perseverance. It will require you to become informed and gain better understanding of the laws in our country designed to protect children with disabilities.