Video summary: How do I know my child qualifies?

This video covers the basic aspects of the Child Find screenings and eligibility evaluations. If you suspect that your child may have a disability, the first question you ask might be “How do I know if my child qualifies for special education?” The governmental process created by the Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) has a system in place that determines if your child has a disability, and if they qualify for special education services.

The first step of this process is called Child Find. Child Find involves the state government (via school districts) actively looking for children who may have hearing, vision, developmental or other issues and determining if they might qualify for further evaluation. The school district finds children through screenings; these screenings can be advertised publicly and held in public locations, or conducted directly in preschools, since Child Find focuses on identifying children as early as possible. Screenings usually cover children between the ages of zero and five, but can accommodate those with potential disabilities up to 21 years of age.

Once the child is identified as possibly qualifying for special education, an evaluation to determine eligibility is conducted. The main difference between a screening and an evaluation is formality; the evaluation involves more formal testing in key areas (vision, hearing, cognitive development) to see if the child has any disabilities that could inhibit their learning.

Once the child has been evaluated, a group of qualified professionals called a Multidisciplinary Team (MDT) meet and write a multidisciplinary team evaluation report (MDT report) for the child. There are fourteen categories of possible eligibility (these categories will be covered in a later section), and the evaluation provides info for the school district to assess eligibility in these fourteen areas.

If the child is found ineligible, then the parent can ask for a hearing (please see the section on due process hearings for more information on this topic). If the child is found eligible, then every three years (minimum), a reevaluation takes place to make sure the child continues to qualify for special needs services.

There is also the Response to Intervention (RTI), which is a relatively new process in the IDEA. The RTI allows for regular classroom interventions to try to assist a child’s learning in the classroom. If the interventions work, there’s no reason to continue the Child Find/Evaluation/Eligibility process. If the interventions do not work, then the process should progress accordingly.

You, the parent, are not alone in this process. The IDEA is an affirmative duty placed upon the school district to help find any problems a child might have. The Child Find process is the same regardless of how the child is identified (whether through a screening or if a medical provider, teacher, or parent notices a problem), and will lead to an evaluation and possible qualification for special education services. In the next section, we will cover the Child Find process in depth.