A Brief Legislative History
Congress passed the Education of All Handicapped Children Act in 1975 and reauthorized it in 1990 as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This is not a TRICARE or Department of Defense program, but is available to all citizens of the United States. This legislation is an extension of the civil rights movement and guarantees that all students with disabilities will be provided a FAPE. It also states that students with disabilities should be placed in the least restrictive environment (LRE), where they can make progress toward achieving the goals established in their Individualized Education Program (IEP). The intent of the law is that children with disabilities should be educated with children who are not disabled to the maximum extent possible.
IDEA also sets forth the requirements for an educational team, of which families are critical members along with school staff, who are required or requested to participate. No IEP decision should ever be made without your participation. Finally, this law stipulates that students with disabilities must have an IEP, which describes the student’s current level of functioning, their goals for the year, and how these goals will be supported through special services and supports.
Because the challenges associated with autism affect many key aspects of development, the impact of the disorder on education, learning, and overall participation in the educational setting is profound. Therefore, children with autism spectrum disorder are considered disabled under the IDEA guidelines and are legally entitled to an IEP from the school in order to access a FAPE. However, the presence of a diagnosis does not automatically mean that a student is eligible for an IEP. Every student must be determined “eligible” by their educational team, and the process of determining eligibility can take up to 60 days.
Learn more: A 25 Year History of the IDEA
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a Federal Law about developmental services available for children 0-3 years old (Part C – Infants and Toddlers with Disabilities), and educational services for children 3-21 years old (Part B – Assistance for Education of All Children with Disabilities).
Under Part C of IDEA, local authorities are required to provide a free evaluation when parents of children 3 years old or younger express concern about their child’s development. While this free evaluation will not provide a diagnosis, it will establish what services and therapies may help the child and, therefore, is an important start.
Once referred to an Early Intervention Services (EIS) agency for an evaluation, a service coordinator will be assigned to your family. The coordinator will gather information from your family, help arrange the appropriate assessments and evaluations for your child, as well as help you to create an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP). The IFSP describes the child’s strengths and weakness as well as family concerns. The plan also lists services to be provided, to include who will provide the services, where, how often, and for how long.
An eligibility meeting will be held after the appropriate assessments and evaluations have been performed to see if your child qualifies for EIS. If your child is found to be eligible, then you and your support team (including your EIS service coordinator) will write an IFSP.
It is important to note that military families living on a base where there is a DoD school will receive services from the Educational and Developmental Intervention Services (EDIS) and from the local Military Treatment Facility (MTF). All other military families need to contact their local EIS agency.
Part B of the IDEA Law describes the Individualized Education Program (IEP) for children 3-21 years old. A referral to evaluate your child can be made by you, a teacher, doctor, or child development program. If your child is deemed eligible for special education, an IEP will be created. Your child’s IEP will be evaluated and modified on a yearly basis, with an extensive review performed every three years. To learn more about the IEP process, click here.