Special Education Resources: We’re Here for You

To help your child be successful at school, it’s important to know what special education services are available. Let’s take a look at some of the services you and your child can benefit from.

Elementary school kids sitting on the floor in a circle around the teacher and listening to a story.

By offering easy-to-follow information, advocacy and skill-building tools, and connections to other caregivers, Exceptional Lives provides families, caregivers, and professionals the level of support and compassion necessary to see your children thrive in an educational environment.

What Special Education services are available? How do you access them?

We know that school can be overwhelming for both you and your child without the right resources and support. It can be hard to understand your rights and the school’s responsibilities when your child is struggling in school. So where do you start? 

Since every child is different and has different challenges, it’s important to think about their specific needs when exploring what special education services are available.

Before Diagnosis

If your child is struggling in school but they don’t have a diagnosis, here are the first steps.

  1. Explore your concerns with your child and their teacher (or with your child’s doctor, if you child is not yet in school).
  2. Ask the school to do an evaluation to get more information about your child’s progress and needs, like your local Parent Training and Information Center.
  3. Explore your child’s experience at home.

After Diagnosis

If your child has a new diagnosis, here’s how to get the support they need.

  1. If your child is under 3, call your Early Intervention program. Otherwise contact your school district’s Special Education department.
  2. Connect with other families and disability support organizations, like your local Parent Training and Information Center.
  3. Look into other government benefits like SSIMedicaid, and services from your state’s disability support office.

Has your child benefitted from services in the past but now something isn’t working? Here are the steps to help your child get back on track.

  1. Let the IEP team know about your concerns. Trouble spots can change over time.
  2. Ask for an IEP meeting (you don’t have to wait for your annual meeting) so you and the team can decide what may need to change.
  3. Track your child’s progress with the new services and accommodations to see if the approach is helping.

Is your child with an IEP getting ready to finish high school? Here are steps to help them prepare for life after high school.

  1. Meet with your child’s transition coordinator to make sure your child’s transition plan reflects their goals
  2. Make sure the IEP reflects the support your child needs to reach those goals.
  3. Educate yourself about what comes next for your child, whether it’s collegejob training, or supported living.

Step-By-Step Guides

How do I know if my child qualifies for Special Education?

Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)—a federal  law—public schools are required to provide children with disabilities the services they need to access the curriculum. While the process for getting special education services may vary slightly from state to state, you generally begin by asking the school for a special education evaluation. If your child qualifies for Special Education, the school will work with you to create an IEP. 

Your first step is to recognize and assess your child’s needs. This way you can begin to understand what is going on with your child and help the school. Here are a few of the questions to ask yourself to get that process started: 

  • What is it that I’m seeing (behavior or actions) that has me worried?
  • What does my child struggle with the most in or out of school?
  • Who is the school’s point of contact for everything to do with my child?

The school will determine if your child qualifies for special education and help you understand what special education services are available for your child. 

Search our Disability Services Finder for Louisiana (en español) or Massachusetts (en español) to find many kinds of disability-related services in your area.

Terms to Know

Understanding the Language of Special Education

Special education is full of jargon and acronyms, and it can be hard to work your way through the system before you understand what they mean. If you are confused about all the Special Education terms and acronyms that you’ve been hearing, we have a full glossary of Special Education terms in straightforward language and short videos.

Our glossary can help you understand major Special Education terms and acronyms like these:

Read our Special Education GlossaryLea nuestro Glosario de Educación Especial
  1. Accommodations

    Changes that the teacher can make to help your child learn more effectively. For example: they may let your child sit at the front of the classroom, wear headphones when doing their own work, take more time for tests, or give them certain types of learning aids. Accommodations are NOT changes to the education content itself. They can be used for class instruction, homework and testing, including college entrance tests like the SAT or ACT. They can be written into an IEP or a 504 plan. Adults can also get accommodations in the workplace. More about accommodations, or about testing accommodations for high schoolers.

  2. IDEA: Individuals with Disabilities Education Act

    The federal law that gives children with disabilities the right to have “equal access” to a “free and appropriate” education. (See FAPE above.) It requires public schools to give them the services they need to meet their own educational goals. More about IDEA and your special education rights. (Or in Podcast form.)

  3. Individualized Education Plan (IEP)

    A document written for each child who qualifies for special education. It describes your child’s goals and the special services and accommodations your child will get to meet their unique educational needs. It is a legal contract between you and the school, under the IDEA law. Parents and guardians should be part of the team that writes this. More about the IEP.

Parent Perspectives on Special Education

Know that you are not alone in this journey! By hearing from other parents and providers caring for children with disabilities you can learn from other’s experiences and thoughts. Learn how they navigate their own challenges in our webinars, podcasts, and blogs about Special Education.

Check out our webinars, podcasts, and blogs.

Is your child struggling in school?

Here are some resources to help you out! 

Does your child have a new diagnosis?

Here are some resources to help you out! 

Has your child hit a road-block at school and you’re not sure what to do?

Here are some resources to help you out! 

Is your child getting ready to finish high school?

Here are some resources to help you out! 

Frequently Asked Questions about Special Education

Special Education can be overwhelming. Don't worry, we have your back! Here's some of the questions parents ask us most often.

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  1. Support learning at home by reading and talking with your child
  2. Address your child’s anxiety by answering their questions and introducing them to classmates.
  3. Prepare for the transition from Early Intervention, if they are enrolled.

If you think your child may have a disability, or if they are struggling in school, this is a good time to think about the special education evaluation process. Here are a few first steps to help get started.

Contact your child’s teacher or the Director of Special Education in your school district. Tell them you would like your child to have a special education evaluation.

Put your request in writing (email is ok) and make sure it has a date. Even if you talk with your child’s teacher and agree to have this done, make sure to follow it up with an email or letter and share it with the principal and the school district’s special education department. 

Sign the consent form for the evaluation when they send it to you.

Ask questions! If there’s anything you don’t understand, ask them to clarify it for you.

Learn more about the special education evaluation process

504 plans are for students with disabilities who need some adjustments to the learning environment (accomodations) to help them meet their needs in the classroom. This is different from an IEP, which includes specialized instruction to help children learn the material. To learn more about this, read our article explaining a 504 plan!

There are different tests that can tell you if your child is making progress. Assessments are important for all students, but school assessments in Special Education are critical for children with disabilities. They can tell how well your child is keeping up with grade-level learning, and if they’re on track to meeting their IEP goals. To learn more about these different types of assessments and tests, check out this article on tracking your child’s progress through school assessments in special education.

In states that allow for school choice, including Louisiana, you can choose the school based on your own criteria, but all public schools must provide Special Education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). To learn more, watch Joyce Ridgeway answer this in our “One Quick Question” special.

All states have a parent training and information center.

In Massachusetts, the first place you can call is Family TIES of Massachusetts. Family TIES of Massachusetts provides information and referral services, emotional support, and training to parents of children and youth with disabilities.

In Louisiana, you can call Families Helping Families of Greater New Orleans, who provides information, referral, and support services.

Exceptional Lives is also happy to answer your questions by chat, or help you connect with an organization near you.