How to Advocate for Services for a Child with Autism or Developmental Disabilities
by Lisa DiFalco
Are you having problems getting an evaluation for services for your child with special needs? Perhaps, you are not clear about the route that you need to take to begin the evaluation process, have had your request overlooked by the school district or do not agree with the evaluation findings. Many parents are unsure about how to proceed in getting the services that would benefit their child with Autism or another developmental disability and their rights as parents of a disabled child. Mark Woodsmill, founder of Woodsmall Law Group specializing in Special Education, Regional Center Matters, Special Needs Trust Planning and Conservatorship in California, offers valuable insight on school advocacy. Parents given a diagnosis of Autism, Asperger’s or a similar condition can benefit from clear direction and support on getting necessary special education services for their child as early as possible.
Why is an Evaluation Necessary?
In order to receive special education services, children must be eligible for an Individualized Education Program (IEP). This will afford the child the level of care they require until the point at which in most states they age out of services. An evaluation or an assessment is performed by highly trained therapists and diagnosticians and may use:
- Documented observation;
- Past reports;
- Parent and teacher surveys; and
- Standardized testing.
All findings are then presented within a formal report. The report is used to create a picture of the child’s current level of performance and baseline of functioning in key areas. The information gives an overview of the child’s current abilities to the IEP team and parents. Children that qualify for special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) will be given written goals to be implemented and to support their development. There are thirteen categories of eligibility for special education services as written in federal law, 34 CFR: Part 300 section 306(c). These categories include the following:
- Visual impairment;
- Traumatic brain injury;
- Speech or language impairment;
- Specific learning disability;
- Other health impairment;
- Orthopedic impairment;
- Multiple disabilities;
- Intellectual disability;
- Hearing impairment;
- Emotional disturbance;
- Deaf-blindness; and
Additional categories may be available in different states. Find the eligibility categories in a specified state on Special Education Eligibility Classifications by State.
How Can You Request an Evaluation?
Parents, state agencies and school districts can request an evaluation. In general, the majority of requests come from parents. There are important timelines involved. Therefore, parents should put the initial request for an evaluation and any signed assessment plan in writing. It should be dated and faxed with confirmation when sent to the district. Parents are to add the following sentence to the initial page of the assessment plan:
“Please provide copies of all DRAFT assessments within five business days of the IEP meeting.”
Parents will then be given access to information before the meeting itself to review at their convenience.
What can you expect after an initial request is made? Parents, school district and other state agencies making the request will:
- Be given an assessment plan. Parents can review the plan and consent or can request the expansion of it to include other areas or reduce the areas covered. The IEP team should help with any direction needed. Essentially, this plan is a draft and can be modified.
- Agree to a complete and final evaluation plan that must be signed and returned. Keep a copy of it with proof of when it was returned to the district.
- Allow the district, in most areas, 60 days, barring some holidays and vacation periods, from the date of approval to complete the assessments and then consider findings at an IEP meeting.
Dates are important and formal written requests are the best way for families to begin the process of an evaluation for special services and to record their submissions.
What Can You Do if You Disagree with Evaluation Results?
Parents and their children still have options if they believe that the evaluation results do not accurately portray the needs of their child. Parents can request an Independent Evaluation or IEE at the school district’s expense. This would provide the opportunity for a second opinion. A district that refuses to pay for an Independent Evaluation would need to then begin a due process hearing soon after and against the parent to defend its initial findings. If a parent wants an IEE, it is smart to send a written request and to retain proof or receipt. Fax is faster than certified mailing and begins the timelines immediately.
Learn How to Advocate for Your Special Needs Child
Other Relias Academy blogs discussed the need for early intervention for children with autism spectrum disorders, PDD-DOS and other developmental disabilities. Children can be eligible for special early intervention services at birth under Part C of IDEA. Children at the age of three may benefit from preschool special education eligibility. Evaluations for special education services can be requested at any time until the age of 22, according to Woodsmill. This applies as long as the student has not already graduated from high school with a regular diploma. In some states, it is even possible to tape an IEP meeting with 24 hour notification prior to the meeting date.
There are many special education programs and delivery formats of special services to children that can differ in terms of restriction, or the inclusion of children without disabilities. A child with an IEP can receive services in a General Education Program, a Resource Specialist Program, a Special Day Class, a Home School Program, a Residential Program and more. Children may also benefit from “related services” or Designed Instruction and Services (DIS), such as language and speech therapy services and behavior therapy. Parents, caregivers, behavioral therapists, teachers and other health professionals should understand the full rights enabling children with autism and special needs to receive the special education services they need to thrive.