Exploring options for special needs students

Federal law requires that publicly funded agencies, including schools, provide free services to children with disabilities from birth to age 21 through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The intent of the law is that each child should receive a free, appropriate public education that will prepare the child for further education, employment and independent living.

Special education services are available if your child has problems at school, whether learning or behavioral, and has one or more of the following disabilities:

mental retardation

emotional problems

an orthopedic disability

deafness or other hearing problems

speech or language disability


blindness or other vision problems

traumatic brain injury

a learning disability in math or reading

health impairment (can include ADD/ADHD and Tourette Syndrome)


multiple disabilities

Children with special needs don’t have to wait until they are school age to get help. The state is required to provide early intervention services for children between birth and age three when the children have either developmental delays or physical or mental disabilities that can cause developmental delays.

The services provided include not only therapy, training and instruction for the child, but also training and other services that will help the family take care of that child.

If you think your child may qualify for these services, contact your county’s Office of Mental Health/Mental Retardation. They will arrange for a free evaluation that will look at your child’s delays in five areas:

physical development, including hearing and vision


social/emotional development

thinking (cognition)

self-help skills

After the evaluation, they will let you know what services will be available to your child.

Autism diagnoses on rise and so is teacher training

The number of children diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum disorder (ASD) has risen dramatically in recent years. Today, they number as many as 1 in 88 children, according to the Centers for Disease Control. There are not only more of these children, they are also more visible in the community, in schools and churches, says Adriana Gonzalez-Lopez, director of Arcadia University’s autism endorsement program.

“People now understand that the condition is biological or neurological, not something caused by the parents,” she says, “and it’s more accepted that these children need education, therapy and other services.”

Arcadia’s one-year program qualifies teachers to work with children with ASD, but “we also have therapists and others working in the field, as well as parents of children with ASD.”

For more info

For more information about your child’s rights to education and other services, contact the Education Law Center at 215-238-6970, or visit them online at www.elc-pa.org.

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