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Frequently Asked Questions

1What is Special Education?

Special Education is “specially designed instruction” to meet the individual needs of an exceptional child. The “specially designed instruction” should be:

  • Based on assessment results
  • Individual
  • Consider various factors
  • Outcome oriented
  • Linked to the standards
  • Monitored and modified
  • Not just a place to send students

Special Education should not be:

  • Synonymous with under-achievement
  • Only remediation
  • Separate
  • Just small group instruction
  • For students with behavior problems
  • For substance exposed students
  • For students whose special needs can be met in the general education

Special Education is NOT a place! It is support and services brought to students through an IEP. Special Education may include some or all of the following components working together to support a student: modified curriculum, environmental accommodations, physical assistance, collaboration, DIS services, friendship/facilitation, consultation with specialists, behavior support plans, and/or staff development.

2What is an IEP?

An IEP is an Individualized Education Plan. It is a document that is written for each child who receives special education services. It is a legal document. An IEP is tailored specifically to meet the needs of the individual child.

3What is included in an IEP?

The main ingredients of an IEP include:

  • Eligibility Statement
  • Program Options, Services, and Instruction
  • Accommodations/Modifications
  • Participation in General Education
  • Present Levels of Performance
  • Goals & Objectives
  • Behavior Support Plan
  • Plus a lot of additional details…

4What is IDEA?

IDEA is an acronym for Public Law 101-476, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1990. This law updated and added to Public Law 94-142. In 1975, the United States government passed Public Law 94-142, which extends educational rights to school-age children. The law declares that all children with disabilities are entitled to a free, appropriate, public education (FAPE) in the least restrict environment (LRE). IDEA has 2 parts: Part B (ages 3-21); and Part C (birth-2) IDEA was reauthorized in 2004 in which new statutory provisions went into effect as of July 1, 2005.

5What is Autism?

Autism is a neurological disorder most recently renamed as a single umbrella disorder known as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Each individual has a range of characteristics, differing levels of severity, and various delays. Therefore, each individual requires different levels of assistance and intervention. Autism Spectrum Disorder is characterized by symptoms that cause functional impairment, in two main areas:

  • Social communication/interaction
  • Behavior (repetitive and restricted)

In May 2013, the fifth edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) was released, presenting a revised diagnosis to Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). This manual is the main reference used to determine the diagnostic criteria. Some of the key changes in DSM-5 include:

  • The elimination of the sub-diagnoses of Autistic Disorder, Asperger Syndrome, Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified, and Disintegrative Disorder. The diagnosis will be called Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
  • The diagnostic criteria have been rearranged into two areas: 1) social communication/interaction, and 2) restricted and repetitive behaviors.
  • Symptoms must begin in early childhood, although they may not be recognized fully until social demands exceed capacity.
  • Symptom severity for each of the two areas of the diagnostic criteria is now defined.
  • There is a new diagnostic category of social communication disorder.

For more details regarding the changes to the criteria, visit the American Academy of Pediatrics News website at http://aapnews.aappublications.org/content/early/2013/06/04/aapnews.20130604-1
Visit the DSM-5 website for the American Psychiatric Association’s Autism Spectrum Disorder Fact Sheet: http://www.dsm5.org/Documents/Autism%20Spectrum%20Disorder%20Fact%20Sheet.pdf
To see the full text of the diagnostic criteria for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and the related diagnosis of Social Communication Disorder as they appear in the DSM-5, visit Autism Speaks’ website: http://www.autismspeaks.org/what-autism/diagnosis/dsm-5-diagnostic-criteria
For a side-by-side look at the diagnostic criteria for Autism Spectrum Disorder under both DSM-IV and DSM-5, visit Talk About Curing Autism’s (TACA) website: http://www.tacanow.org/family-resources/diagnostic-criteria-for-autism-spectrum-disorder/

6What is Down syndrome?

Down syndrome is an intellectual disability caused by an extra chromosome at the 21st position. Children (and adults) with Down syndrome often have:

  • Distinct physical characteristics (almond shaped eyes and decreased muscle tone)
  • Cognitive and physical developmental delays
  • Additional problems such as delayed speech, hearing impairments (60-80% of infants), congenital heart disease (50% of infants), thyroid dysfunction, seizures, sleep apnea.

For more information on Down syndrome, visit the National Dissemination Center of Children with Disabilities (NICHCY) website: http://nichcy.org/disability/specific/downsyndrome

7What is an Intellectual Disability?

An individual is considered to have an intellectual disability based on the following three criteria:

  1. Intellectual functioning level (IQ) is below 70-75
  2. Significant limitations exist in two or more adaptive skill areas
  3. Condition is present from childhood (defined as age 18 or less)

In addition, you will also often observe:

  • Delays in speech and language
  • Delays in fine and gross motor skills
  • Social and play skills are significantly impacted

For more information on Intellectual Disabilities, visit the National Dissemination Center of Children with Disabilities (NICHCY) website: http://nichcy.org/disability/specific/intellectual

8What is a Learning Disability?

  • It is a permanent disorder.
  • For people with learning disabilities, incoming and outgoing information that is processed by the brain often becomes fuzzy or scrambled, making learning difficult.
  • It is commonly recognized with significant deficits in: Reading comprehension, spelling, written expression, math computation, problem solving, organizational skills, time management, or social skills.
  • It is often inconsistent, causing problems one day but not the next, or in only one area, or in many areas.
  • Can be very frustrating, to themselves and to others (especially if not properly diagnosed or if the student does not receive appropriate interventions).

It is a permanent disorder. For people with learning disabilities, incoming and outgoing information that is processed by the brain often becomes fuzzy or scrambled, making learning difficult. It is commonly recognized with significant deficits in: Reading comprehension, spelling, written expression, math computation, problem solving, organizational skills, time management, or social skills. It is often inconsistent, causing problems one day but not the next, or in only one area, or in many areas. Can be very frustrating, to themselves and to others (especially if not properly diagnosed or if the student does not receive appropriate interventions). For more information on Learning Disabilities, visit the National Dissemination Center of Children with Disabilities (NICHCY) website: http://nichcy.org/disability/specific/ld

9What is a Speech and Language Impairment?

  • Children who are delayed in speech have difficulties with their pronunciation or with stuttering.
  • Children who are delayed in language have difficulties understanding what is said to them, or have difficulties expressing themselves.

Areas of Speech and Language:

  • Expressive language is expressing ideas verbally using appropriate vocabulary, grammar, and sentence structures.
  • Receptive language is the comprehension of language; understanding grammar, vocabulary, directions and questions.
  • Articulation is how well the child is able to produce sounds in words and sentences.
  • Fluency is age appropriate flow of speech.
  • Voice is age appropriate pitch, volume, or nasality of the child’s speech.

For more information on Speech and Language impairments, visit the National Dissemination Center of Children with Disabilities (NICHCY) website: http://nichcy.org/disability/specific/speechlanguage

10What do I do if I think my child has a disability?

  • Talk to your child’s doctor or pediatrician
  • Talk to your child’s teacher
  • Contact your local Regional Center: http://www.dds.ca.gov/RC/RCList.cfm
  • Talk to the school nurse, speech therapist, or other education specialists
  • Contact your local school district (the school psychologist, school principal, and/or director of special education)
  • Contact your local SELPA (Special Education Local Plan Area), Community Advisory Committee (CAC), and/or Family Resource Center (FRC): http://www.cde.ca.gov/sp/se/as/caselpas.asp

11What are my Parent Rights?

State and federal law under the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) guarantees parental rights

  • Notice: Before a child is tested or placed in a special education program, you have the right to be notified of what the school plans to do.
  • Consent: You must give your consent before special tests are given and before your child is placed in a special education program.
  • Evaluation: You have the right to a full evaluation of your child to determine individual educational needs.
  • Records: You have the right to know what records are kept on your child.
  • Confidentiality: With the exception of school personnel with legitimate educational interests, no one may see your child’s records without your permission.
  • Least Restrictive Environment: You have the right to have your child educated with children without disabilities tto the maximum extent appropriate.
  • Due process: If at any point along the way you do not agree with how the school is dealing with your child, you have the right to request a hearing. At this hearing, you and the school will reach an agreement concerning the identification, evaluation, placement or educational program of your child.

Each school district across the country is required to present to parents, in more detailed format, the Parents Rights and Procedural Safeguards document.

12IEP Meeting Tips/Resources

“A Parent’s Guide to Developing your Child’s IEP” from the National Dissemination Center of Children with Disabilities (NICHCY): http://nichcy.org/wp-content/uploads/docs/pa12.pdf

“IEP Meeting Tips” from the Mental Health Advocacy Services, Inc. www.mhas-la.org/assets/Ed013.pdf

13Common Acronyms in Special Education

These are some common acronyms that parents and professionals use in special education and school settings. ABA – Applied Behavioral Analysis

ADA – Americans with Disabilities Act
ADD – Attention Deficit Disorder
ADHD – Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
ADR – Alternative Dispute Resolution
APE – Adaptive Physical Education
ASL – American Sign Language
AT – Assistive Technology
BIP – Behavior Intervention Plan
BSP – Behavior Support Plan
DIS – Designated Instruction and Services
EI – Early Intervention
ELL – English Language Learner
ESL – English as a Second Language
ESY – Extended School Year
FAPE – Free and Appropriate Public Education
FBA– Functional Behavior Assessment
IDEA – Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
IEP – Individualized Education Program
IFSP – Individualized Family Support Plan
ISP – Individualized Services Plan
ITP – Individualized Transition Plan
LEA – Local Education Agency
LEP – Limited English Proficient
LRE – Least Restrictive Environment
NCLB – No Child Left Behind
OT – Occupational Therapy or Occupational Therapist
PECS – Picture Exchange Communication System
PDD/NOS – Pervasive Developmental Disorder, Not Otherwise Specified
PT – Physical Therapy or Physical Therapist
RTI – Response to Intervention
SELPA – Special Education Local Plan Area
SLD – Specific Learning Disability
SLP – Speech and Language Pathologist

14Additional Resources

“Ten Things Every Child with Autism Wishes You Knew” by Ellen Notbohm http://www.ellennotbohm.com/article-archive/ten-things-every-child-with-autism-wishes-you-knew/

Developmental Milestones Checklists, by Age – 2 months through 5 years (English and Spanish) http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/actearly/pdf/checklists/all_checklists.pdf

Autism Spectrum Disorders from A to Z by Barbara Doyle and Emily Iland http://www.asdatoz.com/

To ensure INCLUSION, FREEDOM, and RESPECT for people with disabilities, we must use People First Language by Kathie Snow http://www.disabilityisnatural.com/images/PDF/pfl09.pdf
Mental Health Advocacy Services, A non-profit organization protecting and advancing the legal rights of people with mental disabilities, Los Angeles, California: http://www.mhas-la.org/