How to Navigate the Special Education Process

Right around this time of year the first report cards are arriving and parent teacher conferences are being scheduled.

Teachers are reflecting on each child’s progress, both academically and socially. Parents are wondering how their child is doing, both academically and socially.

If there is a significant area of weakness, now is the time that is begins to be discussed and interventions begin to be put into place.

As a parent, this can be very overwhelming and frightening. Suddenly, your precious child has been identified as potentially having special educational needs.

Take a deep breathe and let me help guide you.

Identify the weakness:

What, specifically, is the issue that needs to be addressed?

Attention/inattention, over activity/lethargy, rapidly falling grades, inability to make progress, or mental health concerns are all reasons that a teacher or school might begin the special education process.

Teachers don’t just pull these concerns out of a hat. They begin the referral process only after collecting lots of info!

Consult with teacher:

As soon as the teacher informs you of the concern, schedule a meeting.

You need to know how the concern was discovered/identified, what steps have already been taken, and what the plan is moving forward. Find out how this concern is affecting your child’s academic and/or social life at school. Ask for copies of the data collected and take notes during the meeting.

Better yet, use my FREE Parent/Teacher Conference form!


RTI, or Response to Intervention, is the standard operating procedure prior to testing for special needs.

This means that your child will be getting extra help in the regular classroom. This is the step BEFORE special education referrals usually begin.

RTI can help your child catch up, which is great! Or it can help to provide some evidence to jump-start the special education process.


If interventions, like RTI, haven’t worked, the school will begin testing your child. This gathers even more evidence about what’s going on.

Or you can skip right to this step. Your parental rights include the right to request that your child can be evaluated. The school can deny your request, but it is worth a shot. Read more here!

Either way, a standard battery of tests will be given by a trained professional. The results will be analyzed. These results will be the backbone of the next step.

Eligibility Meeting:

This is where everything is laid out on the table.

All the scores, work samples, and records for your child will be talked about. Based on the information, the school team (teachers, admin, therapeutic specialists) will decide if your child meets the threshold for either an IEP or a 504 Plan.

504 vs IEP:

This is the confusing part, but is breaks down like this:

  • IEP: education is negatively impacted by learning difference or disability in one of 13 categories.
  • 504 Plan: This is a plan that adapts the learning environment, not the curriculum.

IEP and 504 plans differ in one other key way: length of validity.

While a child is in school from PK-12, both are reviewed annually and reevaluated every three years. However, an IEP no longer applies when a child graduates from high school or reaches age 22. This means that it cannot be used in college.

However, 504 Plans are valid for life. This means college! As a reminder, the ENVIRONMENT is changed, not the content or requirements.

At the end of the day, the special education process is not quick or easy.

An advocate, like me, can help parents navigate the jargon and find solutions that work for their child. An advocate can serve as the mediator during a contentious IEP process, and can help all parties work together for the good of the child.

Hopefully, this guide will help you to navigate the special education process. And if you need more help, I’m only an email away.



11 thoughts on “How to Navigate the Special Education Process

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s