Beginning at age 3 and throughout your child’s education, if you suspect that your child has special needs, he/she may be eligible for support from the local school district. To determine this, assessments must be conducted, which can be requested by the parent. Once assessed, an IEP (Individualized Education Program) meeting will be held to discuss potential eligibility and appropriate placement/supports.
At times, you may disagree with the school district recommendations. Remember that under federal law the school district must offer a “free and appropriate public education” (the so-called FAPE). It is not obligated to offer the “best,” but it must assure that your child makes more than just trivial gains.
As a special education attorney and a parent of a special needs child, I have seen many occasions in which a school district fails to offer what a child needs. If you feel that your child is being denied the support he/she requires, you have the right to initiate due process proceedings which can include mediation and/or a hearing.
The IEP process can be exhausting. Be ready for a marathon. I recommend that you use a “trainer” through this process. This “trainer” can be an attorney, advocate, or even a fellow parent. This person will provide not only emotional support, but also objectivity that you as a parent cannot be expected to have.
Throughout this process you will be advocating for your child’s future. To survive you must take it one day at a time. Realize that you are in it for the long haul. Work with knowledgeable professionals that will advise you and support you along the way. And, most importantly, be sure to never lose sight of your child’s achievements.