Beginning the Special Education Process

Like anything else in life, there's a method to the special education process. It was put in place to  help people who deal with learning disabilities get the  best services possible. In order to help you understand  this method, here's a simplified version of the Special  Education process. 

1) Request for evaluation

Someone sees that the child is having difficulty in school and asks that testing be done to find out what's  causing the problem.  This request can come from parents  or educators.  If the parents make the request, the  district must agree to give a full and individual  evaluation. If the request is made from someone else,  such as a teacher, a team of educators and an administrator  will meet to review the reasons and decide whether to  pursue testing.  No matter who makes the request, you as  the parent, must give written permission for this testing  to be done.  At this point, you will be informed of your  rights and those of your child.

If the district decides not to test, then it must let you know that and inform you of your rights.  You can  continue to pursue the option through a due process hearing  if you wish.

2) Results of the testing

You have the right to be notified of the results of the testing before the meeting.  If you don't understand what  is being said in the report, you have the right to have  someone explain the results to you.
When the testing is done, you will meet with the team of professionals to be told of the results.  If your child is  found to have a learning disability, and you agree that he  should receive special education services, then you must give  written permission for this to happen.
If he is not found to have a learning disability, you and his teachers will still have valuable information about  him and the ways he learns best. 
If you disagree with the results either way, you have the right to have him tested by someone outside the school  district.  The district must pay for the evaluation or show  at a special hearing why it refused.

3)  Placement

If you and the school district agree that a learning disability was found, then you and the team will decide the best program for your child.  The team will  make up an Individualized Education Program (IEP) that  will include goals and ways to measure those goals during  the year. It will also list the services your child will  get and any special aids or helps your child can get, such  as special transportation or speech therapy if he needs it.

Your child is entitled to receive his services in the "Least Restrictive Environment.  "That means that he  will receive the services that are best for him in the  place that's best.  For example, he won't be placed in the  resource room for help with math if he needs help only  with reading. He won't be asked to stay in the mainstream  for spelling if he has a learning disability in that area.  In other words, he will only receive help in things he  needs help in.

It's important to be active in this process for your child.  If you know the process, you can make sure  that it's followed correctly and that your child's rights  are recognized.  This doesn't mean that you always have to  be on the attack, but it does mean that you need to keep a  watchful eye.  Again, it all comes back to acting on  behalf of your child, since he can't do that for himself.   And, in the long run, he will be more successful because  of you.

For more plain talk about learning disabilities, please visit us at

About the Author
Sandy Gauvin is a retired educator who has seen learning disabilities from many perspectives - as the parent of a daughter with learning disabilities, as the teacher of children with learning disabilities, and as an advocate for others who have diagnosed and unrecognized learning disabilities. Sandy shares her wisdom and her resources at

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