Video Summary: Eligibility

This video covers the guidelines of eligibility for special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). In order for your child qualify for special education services, they must be three to 21 years of age, have a disability recognized and listed by the IDEA, and that disability must adversely affect your child’s education in a significant way. In the next couple of sections, we will provide a general overview of what disabilities qualify your child for special education services, as well as the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) of the IDEA in-depth. We’ve also provided access to the Nebraska State Advisory Eligibility Booklet, which offers more specific eligibility guidelines for each disability. As we go through this section, however, keep in mind the three primary criteria for receiving special education services.

Overview

The official requirements for qualifying for special education services under the IDEA are as follows: a) your child must be three to 21 years of age, b) they must have a disability specified under the IDEA, and c) that disability must adversely affect their education. You may often run into the distinction between a medical and educational condition, which can determine eligibility; if a condition is medical but not educational, then no special education services are required. Your child may need related services (such as physical, occupational, or speech-language therapy), but unless their condition requires some sort of educational service, then they may not be eligible for special education services.

There are multiple categories of disabilities, and each category comes with its own guidelines. The categories can vary between states, but a few federally-recognized categories apply to all states. These include autism, deaf-blindness, deafness, emotional disturbance (or a behavioral disorder), hearing impairment, intellectual disability (sometimes referred to as mental retardation or mental handicap), orthopedic impairment, having multiple disabilities, or any sort of specific learning disability, traumatic brain injury, visual and orthopedic impairments, or developmental delay.

“Specific learning disability” cannot be simply related to a lack of progress without connection to an actual disability. “Developmental delay” differs from a simple lack of progress in that the child must be tested for cognitive development and score two standard deviations under their age group. A doctor or Multidisciplinary Team (MDT) can also diagnose or identify a developmental delay, or a condition that could cause one. In the case of a developmental delay, states can opt to identify children up to nine years old. Nebraska allows its schools to make their own decisions for children aged five through nine.

A disability cannot be based upon a lack of instruction or limited proficiency in English. That is, if your child is not learning as well as they should because they do not speak or understand English, that does not qualify as a disability (that may, however, qualify your child for English as a Second Language, or ESL, services).

A few other things to keep in mind: information gathered about your child must come from multiple sources (a single test cannot determine their eligibility). The severity of your child’s disability does not affect their eligibility, so even if your child shows only mild symptoms, that counts as much as a child whose symptoms are severe. If your child does not qualify for special education services, they may still qualify for section 504 services, a topic which is unfortunately beyond the scope of our guide (we can, however, direct you to a basic guide to answering a few questions regarding section 504 services). If your child does not qualify, you can also ask for an Individual Education Evaluation (which we cover in this section), or file a State or due process complaint (covered in these two sections, respectively). In the next section, we will cover the CFR regarding eligibility for special education services.