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How do students get special education services?

Updated: Sep 21, 2023

Students who are struggling in school may have a learning disability and be entitled to individualized support and services based on their unique needs. The only way to know if your child has a learning disability or qualifies for special education services and support is to have them evaluated.

As part of the Child Find requirement in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), public schools are obligated to locate, identify, and evaluate children who are suspected of having a disability and may be in need of special education and related services.

Parents can refer their child for special education services, request an evaluation, and begin the special education process. We caution parents to have a full understanding of the special education process and necessary criteria for their child to qualify for special education prior to embarking on what we call an advocacy journey. To help parents on this journey we’ve created this free downloadable Special Education Roadmap that outlines what to expect when you are advocating for your child.

The initial referral is a critical first step in acquiring the services and support your child needs in school.

It all begins with a referral which we recommend be a written letter. Your letter of referral for special education services should be a formal letter that is attached to an email or sent via regular mail to the special education designee at your child’s school.

Do you really need to be so formal with your child’s school? Yes. Remember, you are beginning a lengthy process and clear documentation is important to future advocacy. This formal letter also conveys the seriousness with which you are presenting your concerns to the team.

Many parents believe that a conversation with a teacher is a sufficient start. Instead, these conversations tend to delay the important first step in the special education process.

Be sure to include the following in your letter:

  • Your concerns about your child’s education and the data to support them

    • For instance, if your child is struggling in reading you will want to share with the team your child’s reading level according to their latest report card, recent reading scores, teacher comments about their reading, your own observations of your child's reading, and/or any other information that supports your claim that your child is struggling in reading.

  • The adverse impact your child’s struggles are having on your child at home and in the classroom

    • To continue the example of a child who is struggling with reading, they may not be able to keep up with the workload in school, they may be embarrassed to read out loud, and may show symptoms of increased anxiety and lowered self-esteem. This adverse impact is critical to bring to the team’s attention.

  • A clear and specific request

Once your referral letter is received by the team your advocacy journey has begun. Be sure to keep your Special Education Road Map handy to help you prepare for every step in the process.


Do you need have questions about how to have your child be found eligible for special education services?

Are you worried that your dyslexic child is falling behind in school?

Are you ready to see your child learn and thrive?

If so, we can help! Our advocacy practice has helped countless families transform the lives of their children, and create more peace and harmony at home.

While it isn’t always easy, it CAN happen, and we will support you every step of the way. Let’s Talk about how we can help your family!


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