When a child lags significantly behind peers in mental, emotional or physical development he or she may have a disability.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has compiled a list of common disabilities, information about their symptoms as well as common treatment approaches.
Every child is entitled to a "free and appropriate public education" (FAPE), regardless of whether they have a learning disability or other condition that impedes successful learning. The US Department of Education issues regulations pertaining to FAPE. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is the law that guides the US Department of Education Office of Special Education in overseeing that children with special needs and disabilities are identified and helped, to ensure they receive FAPE. States develop avenues for referral that comply with IDEA guidelines. Broadly, "Part C" of IDEA refers to children ages 0-2, and "Part B" to ages 3-21.
Child Find was established through the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA) to identify children in need of early intervention and special education as early as possible. Young children are identified through various avenues (e.g. local government agencies, pediatricians, mental health professionals, child care programs, parent self-referral). Specific eligibility criteria for early intervention and special education needs vary by state. Early Intervention services may be provided to children who do not meet criteria for having a particular disability but are at risk of developmental delay. Some states offer early intervention services to infants and toddlers.
The Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center (www.ectacenter.org) provides an overview of early intervention information (including state-specific links) for parents.
For school-age children, special education needs are assessed within public school districts by school psychologists or referred out to specialists or private practitioners within the community. Parents who wish to seek evaluations privately should be aware that schools may or may not accept private evaluations as suitable for determining eligibility and planning interventions.
• Individualized Education Plans (IEPs). To learn more about IEP's, see: