IDEA In Education Defined

A Gavel in a courtroom to demonstrate IDEA the individuals with disabilities education act for special education.

Almost nothing about special education is easy to understand. In addition, all of the educational jargon and acronyms make it even harder. So let’s break down one of those terms today. IDEA is an acronym for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. (To help with all these get our FREE Special Education Acronym Guide).


What does IDEA Mean? 

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act is a four-part (A-D) piece of American legislation. This legislation allows students with disabilities to access Free and Appropriate Public Education that fits the student’s individual needs. This is another acronym FAPE.

IDEA is a federal law that mandates schools to serve eligible students with disabilities. Therefore, these schools must find and evaluate students presumed to have disabilities.

Keep in mind, the evaluation itself will be at no cost to the parents or guardians.


What Ages Does IDEA Include? 

Over the years, IDEA has changed and evolved each time new laws are passed based on students’ rights. IDEA includes individuals from birth through high school graduation or age 21 (whichever comes first). 

The Individuals With Disabilities Education Act provides services to these children starting from early intervention services to age two under IDEA Part C. 

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Then transitions to special education for ages 3 through 21 in the public school system under IDEA Part B. This is also available in charter schools.


What are the Parental Rights Under IDEA?

Another objective of IDEA is for parents to have a voice in their child’s education. Because of this, parents have a say in the school system’s educational decisions for their children.

I cannot emphasize this enough… 

Parents have an immense pull and decision-making ability through the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act!

The law allows the parents specific rights and protections during the entire special education process. These are known as procedural safeguards.


How Does a Child Qualify for Services Under IDEA? 

Another important note to discuss is that not every student with learning disabilities or attention issues will be eligible for special education under IDEA.

The student must be eligible under one of the thirteen disability categories under IDEA.

The Thirteen Disability Categories Under IDEA:

  • Autism
  • Deaf-blindness
  • Deafness
  • Emotional Disturbance
  • Hearing Impairment
  • Intellectual Disability
  • Multiple Disabilities
  • Orthopedic Impairment
  • Other health impairments (including ADHD)
  • Specific Learning Disability (including dyslexia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia, and other learning issues)
  • Speech/Language Impairment
  • Traumatic Brain Injury
  • Visual Impairment, including blindness


There is one more disability called Developmental Delay but it is only for children ages 3-9.

Please note that having one of these disabilities does not automatically qualify a student for special education services under IDEA.

To be eligible for special education, a student must have a disability. And as a result of the disability, the student would need special education to make progress in school.


Obtaining Special Education Services Under IDEA

There are multiple steps to obtaining services under IDEA. 

Step 1- Requesting Services

A parent or school staff member can request an IEP meeting if either suspect that a child has an educational disability. Once either party requests a meeting, the school must schedule an IEP meeting within 30 days. 

If the parent requests the meeting, it should be done in writing and have the date of the request on the letter. This meeting is typically considered an initial IEP meeting. 

At this initial IEP meeting, the team considers whether they believe an educational disability exists. When considering whether there is a disability, the team should consider multiple data sources. 

Sources to Consider

  • Classwork
  • Grades
  • Progress
  • Medical history
  • Classroom interventions
  • Parent concerns

This data will help the team discuss if a disability is suspected. If the team suspects a disability or disabilities, they should explain what disability or disabilities they suspect. 

Then, the team will order the necessary assessments to determine if the student has an educational disability. 


STEP 2: Review Assessments and Determine Eligibility 

After that, the team will order assessments and get parental consent. Then, the team has 60 days to complete the assessments. Once the tests are complete, the team will schedule another IEP meeting. This meeting will be to review the evaluations and determine if the student is eligible for special education services. 

In determining eligibility, the team will look at the following two things. 

  • Whether the child has an educational disability 


  • Do they require specialized instruction

As a result, if both of the answers to the questions are yes, the team will develop an IEP as per required by IDEA. If the team determines that a child has a disability but does not require special education, the school can consider a 504.  


STEP 3: Writing An IEP

The next step is writing an IEP (Individualized Education Program), which comes after the evaluation is complete.

The IEP is a legal document that spells explicitly out:

  • Student’s educational goals
  • Services needed
  • Supports the school will provide.


An eligibility meeting will decide if the student qualifies for special education. After that, if the student qualifies, the parent will work with the school team to develop the IEP. 

Consequently, if the student does not qualify, the process stops, and there will be no IEP. But that does not mean it is over. You can still advocate for other services, such as the 504 plan


In conclusion, if your child does qualify for an IEP, the school system must provide the student with special education and related services. Above all, the school system is required to meet the student’s unique needs. The overall goal is to help the student progress within the school’s curriculum.


Parental Involvement Is Crucial in Special Education Programs

IDEA recognizes the importance of parent involvement and that parents are influential advocates for their children. That is why the law allows parents to have a voice in their child’s education.

Therefore, as a parent, you must speak out and be that voice for your child!


What to Do Next…

We provide many special education resources to help you navigate this process. Here are some to look at next: 




A Gavel in a courtroom to demonstrate IDEA the individuals with disabilities education act for special education.
What is IDEA in Special Education? Understanding this legislation inside and out isn’t easy, but being familiar with the basics is vital!

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Shannah Holt

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