Legislative History

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 you are a critical member among school staff who are required or requested to participate. No IEP decision should ever be made without your participation. Finally, this law requires that students with disabilities must have an IEP, which describes the student’s current level of functioning, his or her 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 his/her educational team, and the process of determining eligibility can take up to 60 days.

Learn more: A 25 Year History of the IDEA

IDEA Components

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).

Part C

Part C of the IDEA Law describes the IFSP process for children 0-3 years old. It requires the local authority to provide a free evaluation when a parent calls and states that they have a concern for their child’s development. The evaluation must be multidisciplinary, that is the evaluation must be conducted by professionals from at least two different disciplines. Disciplines commonly used may include physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, special education, social work, nursing, psychology, and pediatrics. The evaluation must be free to the family, and must result in a report of the child’s strengths and weaknesses. The evaluation does not provide a diagnosis, but established what services (i.e. physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, etc.) may be of benefit for the child. The evaluation also must provide recommendations for services. In most states there is a partial cost for services, however a few states offer the services for free.

If services are recommended, the Early Intervention Services agency and the family develop an Individualized Family Services Plan (IFSP). The IFSP describes the child’s strengths and weakness as well as family concerns. The Plan lists services to be provided to include who will provide the services, where, how often, and how long. Services are preferably to be provided in a natural environment; that is a place and setting that is routine for the child. Examples of natural environments include the home, the child’s daycare and playgroup. A variety of activities are designed to assist and encourage the child’s development; and most importantly assist the parents and child’s caretakers learn activities to assist the child’s development until the next visit.

Part B

Part B of the IDEA Law describes the Individualized Education Program (IEP) for children 3-21 years old. To learn more about the IEP process, click here.

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