Individuals With Disabilities Education Act
The Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which was first enacted in 1975 and most recently revised in 2004, mandates that each state provide all eligible children with a public education that meets their individual needs. IDEA was renamed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act in 2004, but most people still refer to it as IDEA. IDEA specifies that children with various disabilities, including autism, are entitled to early intervention services (Part C) and special education services (Part B.) Your child’s evaluation by the school district will determine whether your child will gain access to the rights afforded by IDEA. IDEA legislation established an important role for parents in their children’s education. You, as a parent, are to be treated as an equal partner with the school district in deciding on an education plan for your child and his or her individual needs. This enables you to be a powerful advocate for your child. It also means that you must be an informed, active participant in planning and monitoring your child’s unique program and legal rights.
What Is A “Free and Appropriate Education?”
IDEA provides for a “free and appropriate education” for all children with disabilities. Each word in this phrase is important, but “appropriate” is key: school districts are required to provide what the IEP team considers “appropriate” but will not necessarily be “optimal” for your child. The ongoing challenge for IEP planning is to reach agreement among the IEP team members on what is “appropriate”, and therefore what will be provided for your child. IDEA requires an education, not medical services. This is particularly confusing when the IEP term related services, which includes speech, physical and occupational therapy, is used. Related services such as speech therapy are frequently considered appropriate educational services for children with ASD. However, many methodologies, techniques, equipment, and other considerations found in these therapy fields in a private, medical setting will not be considered educational. The Autism Center of Tulsa offers many workshops, seminars, and support on these topics. For more information about IDEA, IEP planning, and your child’s legal rights, see our Links page.
What is “Least Restrictive Environment?”
IDEA also specifies that your child is entitled to be educated in the “least restrictive environment.” This means that your child should be placed in the setting in which he or she has the greatest possible opportunity to interact with children who do not have a disability and to participate in the general education curriculum. The “appropriate setting” will mean different things for different children, depending on what the school district offers for its students. In the general education setting, providing the least restrictive environment can sometimes be accomplished with accommodations, such as using a one-on-one aide who is trained to work with children with autism. While it may be true that seeking the least restrictive environment is appropriate for children with autism, it’s important to consider whether or not an option such as inclusion is right for your child. It may or may not be more appropriate for your child to be placed in a special education program, in a home instruction program, or another setting determined by the IEP team. It is helpful to remember this question when considering the appropriate setting for your child: “Where (which setting) does my child learn the best (most appropriately) at this time in his/her education?” Settings do not have to be in place for the entire school day: many IEPs are designed with more than one setting and combination of accommodations and modifications in place. For more information about LRE, see the Links listed above.