Education Planning for Special Needs Children

All parents desire the best education possible for their child.  Every child needs an educational advocate in their corner, especially children with special needs.  Actively participating in a child’s education plan is the best way to ensure that a child receives a solid educational foundation.

Education Laws for Children with Disabilities

Understanding the many different laws that apply to special needs children is key for any parental advocate.  The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a law that requires that special needs students receive:

  • An appropriate and free public education for children ages 3 to 21 years of age.
  • For children who do not have disabilities, an education provided as close to the child’s home.
  • In order to meet the unique needs and to prepare the special needs child for employment and living independently, services such as speech therapy, occupational therapy, or a classroom aide shall be provided.
  • Assessments to determine the exact needs of the child.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a law ensuring services to children with disabilities throughout the nation. IDEA governs how states and public agencies provide early intervention, special education, and related services to more than 6.5 million eligible infants, toddlers, children and youth with disabilities.

Infants and toddlers with disabilities (birth-2) and their families receive early intervention services under IDEA Part C. Children and youth (ages 3-21) receive special education and related services under IDEA Part B.

There are two guarantees that are in place to ensure that the special needs child receives the services under IDEA:  an individualized education plan (IEP) and due process.

An IEP is a plan created by a team that includes the parent, educational professionals, and school district personnel that provides, in writing, a statement of a special needs child’s abilities and impairments.  An IEP is reviewed yearly and involves all team members.

Due process is the way for a parent to resolve any disagreements regarding their child’s IEP.  It is set up to give the parent the right and responsibility to be actively involved and act as an advocate for their special needs child.

Transition from Public Education

When a special needs child approaches their 22nd birthday, a parent should already have a plan in place to address any issues that will arise as their child moves from the public education system into the public arena.  This plan is not developed overnight and some parents of special needs children take years to develop a transitional plan.

Based on the nature of a child’s disability, plans can include additional supports for educational or vocational services, work, continued rehabilitation, and medical services.  Since many children with special needs have an average or above average intelligence, continuing education, especially at the college level, greatly enhances employability.

Help and Advice

The set of challenges and triumphs parenting a special needs child is unique.  Parents are the best expert on the needs of the child, but planning for a special needs child can be a daunting task.  Seeking out professional help from attorneys, trust officers, and financial advisors ensures that the planning process is filled with expert help.  Other expert resources include guidance counselors, special education professionals, parental groups for parents with special needs children, and organizations that provide assistance to people with disabilities and their families.

Some groups that can be of assistance to parents with special needs children and adults include:

  • National Information Center for Children & Youth with Disabilities (NICHCY):  This national information and referral center provides information on disability-related issues that are important to families, educators, and other professionals.
  • National Association of Parents with Children in Special Education:  This organization provides parents of children in special education with information on advocacy for children with disabilities.
  • Exceptional Parent Magazine:  This popular magazine is a publication for families of special needs children and adults that contains articles, advice, and help.
  • Parents Helping Parents:  Just as the name implies, this organization is a resource center that focuses its mission on helping children with special needs reach their full potential.

As a special needs child grows into adulthood, the planning process does not stop.  As the child ages, so do the parents.  In regards to final arrangements for parents of special needs children, preplanning of final wishes and pre-funding of funeral arrangements can be set in place.  

The Social Security System contains a unique feature when a parent of a special needs child or adult applies for retirement benefits.  For those parents, the special needs child/adult will be provided with an additional income stream of Social Security benefits from the parent’s retirement income.  However, complications with this additional income can interfere with SSI and Medicaid benefits.  

Since Medicaid can be a very important element in the care and welfare of a special needs child or adult, interruptions to this government medical program can cost thousands of dollars.  For example, home health aides are paid for by Medicaid but not by Medicare.  This vital resource may be necessary for many children with special needs.

The role of a parent of a special needs child contains many different challenges. Education is just one piece of the puzzle.  Parents must continue to research and gain knowledge of changing laws and rights as it pertains to their child’s education.  The effects of a strong parental advocate can provide a special needs child the resources to flourish into adulthood.


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