Understanding the big IDEA

As you work with school officials and seek to meet your child’s educational needs, it helps to familiarize yourself with a powerful piece of federal legislation called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). IDEA spells out rights, obligations and protections for all stakeholders involved in educating people with disabilities—including parents, educational professionals and students.

Signed into law in 1975, IDEA seeks to ensure that affected students receive a free, appropriate public education and that parents have a say in determining how educational and related services are provided. 

When a child is determined to be eligible under IDEA, it’s the school’s obligation to deliver education services that address the student’s unique needs. These might include accommodations such as extra time on exams; related services such as counseling, speech therapy; and assistive technology such as audiobooks and recording devices to help with note-taking. 

Disability categories covered under IDEA

  • Autism

  • Deaf-blindness

  • Deafness

  • Emotional disturbance

  • Hearing impairment

  • Intellectual disability

  • Multiple disabilities

  • Orthopedic impairment

  • Other health impairment (includes ADHD)

  • Specific learning disability (such as dyslexia and other specific diagnoses)

  • Speech or language impairment

  • Traumatic brain injury

  • Visual impairment, including blindness

Who (and what) IDEA covers

IDEA protections apply to students with an eligible disability from birth until age 21 or graduation from high school—whichever occurs first. The 13 “eligible disabilities” are specified in the law and listed below. They include autism, deafness, dyslexia, ADHD and others.

In addition, IDEA requires more than a diagnosis identifying any of the 13 categories. To be eligible for special ed services under IDEA, the child must require those services in order to progress academically. If a child can make progress in school without special ed services, they’d be ineligible under the statute. 

The law mandates access to a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) for every student with covered disabilities. The school must provide an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) that outlines specific steps the school will take to address the child’s specific needs. 

Other provisions of IDEA include:

  • Schools must make early intervention services available for covered individuals up to age 3.

  • Students in public as well as charter schools are covered; private school students are not. 

  • Parents have the right to participate in developing the IEP. If there’s a dispute, it must be subject to a formal dispute resolution process.

How to seek IDEA protection

If you think your child may have a disability of any kind (eligible or not under IDEA rules), the critical first step is to get a professional evaluation. Hope Haven offers a wide range of evaluation services, which can provide clarity and direction as you and your child start your journey. 

If the child is deemed eligible for services under IDEA, the school will need to propose an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) that’s custom-designed to address your child’s specific needs. 

A thorough working knowledge of IDEA can strengthen your negotiating position and clarifies what accommodations you’re entitled to. Our Center for Educational Advocacy can help you navigate the process.

To learn more about Hope Haven and our Discovery School, or to arrange a personalized tour, call us at (904) 346-5100. And be prepared to ask lots of questions. We’re always happy to answer them all.