Educating the Special Needs Student

After identification of a disability, the process is dictated by IDEA.  If a child is identified before the age of three, there will be an Individual Family Service Plan.  If the child is identified after age three, or after reaching the age of three, there will be IEPs, including an initial IEP, and IEPs on at least a yearly basis.  As the child approaches the age of majority, there will be transition planning for after majority.  Additional transition planning may occur as the disabled individual moves into adulthood. 




Depending upon the nature of the disability, a child may be entitled to services.  Following is a list of some of the possible services available or required:


  • Early identification/assessment services
  • Speech-language pathology and audiology services
  • Physical therapy
  • Psychological services
  • Rehabilitation counseling and other counseling services
  • Interpreting services
  • Occupational therapy
  • Orientation and mobility services
  • Medical services if such relate to diagnosis or evaluation
  • Recreation/therapeutic recreation
  • Parent counseling and training
  • Social work services in schools


The IEP team holds the responsibility of identifying the necessary services and writing them into the goals.  These goals must identify when services will commence, frequency, and location of where services will be provided.  The IEP becomes the written commitment document for the delivery of the listed services, and the school district is charged with insuring that the services are delivered.  If a service is in the IEP, the parents are not required to pay.


The service plan cannot be changed without a further IEP meeting.


Services are only one part of achieving an IEP goal.  Accommodation/Modification is another important part, and comes under the Special Education portion of the ISP. This can include the following:


  • Adapting of scheduling (e.g., extra time for assignments or testing periods, or the breaking up of testing periods)
  • Adapting of setting (e.g., working in small groups or one-on-one)
  • Adapting of materials (e.g., audio learning, being provided with adapted material, being provided with instructor’s notes)
  • Adapting of Instruction (e.g., reduction of the difficulty of assignments, use of a tutor, reducing the reading level)

Accommodation/Modification is part of the IEP process, and all accommodations and modifications are specifically included in the IEP document.


The resources which may be available to students with disabilities are varied, and may vary upon availability from district to district.  Most districts will have various types of resources available, but the district resources available are not always those that are appropriate for the child.  It is unusual for a school district to voluntarily refer a child to a private school, or to send a child outside the resources provided by the district.  However these “non-school district provided” alternatives can be requested and, based upon various factors, may have to be provided by the district as appropriate.  (Private schools and/or outside resources are often refused by districts, leading to the demand for Due Process.)

Transition Plan


For the IEP team, transition planning should begin before the age of 15.  This includes the assembly of a team to analyze the strengths and preferences of the student and possible paths post-high school.  If the student is Regional Center qualified, the inclusion of the student’s Regional Center caseworker is strongly recommended.  The first IEP for transition should be in effect by age 15, and the team must meet annually to update the IEP.  (It is at this age that the student should start attending the IEP meetings.)


Consideration should be given to whether the student will get a high school diploma. The right to have an IEP (and services under IDEA) remains with the child until age 22 or graduation from high school.  The parents/guardians and the student may consider taking a Certificate of Completion instead of graduation and a diploma, and holding off on taking the California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE) until sometime after 18 and before age 22.  The right to have an IEP (and services under IDEA) remains with the child until age 22 or graduation from high school.  Since graduation with a diploma cuts off the right to additional educational services under IDEA (such as the Bridge Program), careful consideration must be given to this decision.


Also during the two years before high school graduation or age 22 (if the student does not graduate with a diploma), a vocational rehabilitation process should be implemented.


Prior to age 17, the parents/guardians should consider ongoing guardianship/conservatorship.  (This is not a school issue, but should be carefully considered by the parents/guardians.)  Another non-school issue is the application for Social Security Disability benefits, which should be undertaken well before age 18. 

Post-Secondary Education


After a child “ages out” of IDEA, he/she has other protections and avenues for assistance, both within and outside of the education system.  The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act provide many protections/benefits.  Any institution, public or private, that accepts federal funds must make programs accessible to qualified students.


The ADA prevents any eligibility requirements which would screen out people with physical or mental disabilities.  (Students must still meet the academic criteria to be admitted.)  It also requires programs offered, including extracurricular activities, to be accessible.


Under the two laws, certain types of services and accommodations must be provided.  These accommodations include, but are not limited to, assistive listening systems, closed captioning, TTYs, qualified interpreters, qualified readers, audio recordings, taped texts, Braille materials, large print materials, materials on computer memory systems, adapted computer terminals, etc.  Accommodations and modifications may be required in the presentation of the course, and in such things as testing, so long as the modifications do not alter the content of the course or the test accommodations do not alter what the test measures.
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