Information for Parents and Caregivers

What is a disability?

A disability is an impairment that interferes with a child's ability to learn. In general, the term "disabled" is used to describe a child who has mental, physical or emotional impairments that affect his or her ability to learn. To qualify for special education services in school, a student's impairment must also meet the definition of a disability under special education laws. It is important to recognize that having a disability does not mean that a child isn't smart or can't learn. It simply means that he or she needs special instruction or extra help in certain areas.

What is Special Education?

Some children have a mental, physical or emotional disability that makes it difficult for them to learn in the traditional public school settings offered in their communities. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is the federal law that holds school districts legally responsible for providing special education programs to ensure that these children are given an opportunity to access the free and appropriate public education they are entitled to by law. Special education programs known as Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) include a wide range of accommodations to meet the child's needs, from timed tests to a one-on-one aide to special schools.

Who is eligible for Special Education?

The child you are caring for may already have an IEP. If that is the case, it is important for you to understand the disability the child has and the support services the school has in place to meet the child's needs and ensure that he or she is able to access the school curriculum. There are 13 eligibility categories under IDEA. If the child you are caring for does not have an IEP but you believe he or she may need one, you, or anyone who knows the child well, can initiate the assessment process.