Posted By Annie Pill

Aug 24, 2022

All About the IDEA

IDEA is the nation's special education law.

To take advantage of its protections, there are some things you should know.

How the IDEA protects your child’s right to an education.
IDEA stands for the Individual with Disabilities Education Act. Essentially, it’s our country’s special education legislation, and it requires schools to provide special education services to families at absolutely no cost to them. In order to benefit from IDEA services, a child must have been diagnosed with a learning disability that requires special education in order to succeed in the classroom. Under the IDEA, children with learning disabilities will have certain rights and protections from birth through age 21, or until they graduate from high school.
Because of the IDEA, states and their public schools are required to provide Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) to kids who have learning disabilities. This means allowing them to learn alongside their peers in the classroom. It has been proven to be beneficial for every child to be able to learn and develop alongside other children their age. This is referred to as LRE, which stands for Least Restrictive Environment. 

Parents of kids with disabilities have legal rights and protections, too. They are allowed to have a voice in their child’s education, because no one knows their child better than they do. Procedural safeguards will be put in place, such as requiring consent from a parent before providing services to their child, and involvement in their child’s education plan. 

What is classified as a learning disability? 

Definitions may vary based on whether the context is legal, medical, or otherwise, but broadly speaking learning disabilities are any kind of disorder that impacts a child’s ability to carry out mathematical functions, comprehend language (whether written or spoken), pay attention in class, or coordinate physical movement. 

The most common learning disabilities are as follows:

  • Dyscalculia: a learning disability that involves difficulty making sense of numbers and performing mathematical calculations.
  • Dysgraphia: a learning disability in which individuals struggle to write by hand or have other issues with fine motor skills.
  • Dyslexia: one of the more well-known learning disabilities, though frequently misunderstood, dyslexia impacts the ability to read and process language.
  • Non-Verbal Learning Disabilities: this is a catch-all term for a group of disabilities in which individuals experience difficulty with body language and coordination.
  • Oral Language Disorder: individuals struggle to communicate with the spoken word. 
  • ADHD: though it may manifest differently based on the individual, ADHD is predominantly characterized by hyperactivity and inability to focus or pay attention.
  • Dyspraxia: though not primarily a learning disability, individuals with dyspraxia struggle with coordination which can impact speech and language learning.
  • Executive Functioning Disorder: individuals struggle with or are unable to plan, manage their time, or organize their belongings.

While this is by no means an exhaustive list, it provides a general idea of what evaluators are looking for in order to qualify under the IDEA. If a child is struggling with reading, writing, math, or simply paying attention in class, an evaluation can be a great way to gain insight into whether or not they require additional help to meet their needs. 

What else qualifies as a specific learning disability under IDEA? 

You might be surprised to learn that there are plenty of other disabilities that qualify under the IDEA, even if they aren’t strictly “learning disabilities”. Any disability that interferes with a child’s ability to learn will likely qualify, falling under one of the categories outlined below. 

  • Autism: a developmental disorder that has far reaching implications, from impaired communication, behavior, and learning.
  • Deaf-Blindness: the combination of loss of hearing and loss of sight.
  • Deafness: a very severe or complete loss of the ability to hear.
  • Emotional Disturbance: often difficult to diagnose as it contains symptoms that don’t fall neatly into other categories, emotional disturbance is marked as the inability to learn despite no obvious health or intellectual impairments. Children with emotional disturbance might act inappropriately or seem generally unhappy, exhibiting signs of depression from a young age.
  • Hearing Impairment: a mild to severe loss of the ability to hear.
  • Intellectual Disability: usually divided into four categories, from mild to moderate to severe to profound, individuals are diagnosed with intellectual disability when they exhibit problems with cognitive abilities and social skills.
  • Multiple Disabilities: individuals with more than one disability, whether physical, intellectual, emotional, or a combination of two or more.
  • Orthopedic Impairment: refers to an individual with a congenital problem, disease, or injury that affects their ability to learn.
  • Other Health Impairment: individuals with other health impairments could refer to disabilities such as ADHD which are neurodevelopmental in origin, affecting learning indirectly through lack of focus or hyperactivity among other symptoms.
  • Specific Learning Disability: this category includes all of the specific learning disabilities outlined in the previous section, such as dyslexia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia, and more.
  • Speech or Language Impairment: a broad category involving speech impairments such as stutters or difficulties forming specific sounds.
  • Traumatic Brain Injury: students recovering from a traumatic brain injury (TBI) face unique challenges, as TBIs often present with symptoms similar to other learning disabilities. Students with TBIs require a slower pace and cannot handle as much stimulation as their peers who are unaffected.
  • Visual Impairment, Including Blindness: a lack of eyesight that ranges from severe to total blindness. 

Not All Students With Disabilities Qualify 

One important caveat to the IDEA is that not all students with disabilities qualify for it. In order to benefit from the IDEA, a child must require special education in order to excel in school. Even if they have one of the conditions above, as diagnosed by a doctor or other professional, they likely won’t qualify if they are thriving in an academic environment without any intervention. 

Ultimately, however, this is not an issue for most students. If a student is struggling in school because of a learning disability, then it should not be difficult to qualify for the IDEA. And if they aren’t struggling, then there is no cause for concern and no need to invoke the IDEA in the first place. 

Posted By Annie Pill Aug 24, 2022

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