Our oldest daughter had always struggled with math, but it wasn’t until after private testing in third grade that she received a formal diagnosis of dyscalculia, a math learning disability. Despite the fact that I was a former teacher, I felt out of my depth in regard to getting her the appropriate support.

The special education system can be intimidating – so many procedures and acronyms! Thankfully, I had wonderful former co-workers to guide me, and our school’s services were great. Although it all worked out in the end, a special education 101 would have been extremely helpful!

Here are some basic guidelines to help you begin your journey with special education:

If you suspect a disability or other need

If your child is not yet public-school age, the Texas Health and Human Services agency offers help for families with infants and toddlers through its Early Childhood Intervention program. Services are available for children under the age of 3. At 3 years old, children with disabilities may become eligible for services from their future public school.

If your child is already in school, speaking with the teacher is a great place to start. Express your concerns, being as specific as possible. If this step is unsuccessful, you can ask the principal or other school personnel about making a referral to the campus-based student support team, a team of teachers or other professionals who regularly meet to discuss behavioral and learning concerns of students.

Please note that before your child will be referred for a special education evaluation, other support services may be tried first, such as tutoring, remediation or behavior support. A child who does not respond to interventions within a reasonable time will then be referred for a special education evaluation. Parents do have the ability to request a referral for an initial special education evaluation at any time, regardless of whether a child is receiving interventions.

Should parents decide to request an initial evaluation, my recommendation is to put your evaluation request into writing. A written request requires a response no later than the 15th school day after it is received. If the request is made verbally, it is not subject to the 15-day response timeline.

Some families choose to have their children privately tested. Your child’s teacher can point you to the appropriate school professional with whom to share the results. Typically, the school will retest your child – at no cost to you – but the private test is still valuable as it provides you with important information about your child and can also help initiate testing at your child’s school.

Admission, Review and Dismissal Committee Meetings

After your child’s evaluation report is completed, an Admission, Review and Dismissal committee (ARD) will be formed to review the report and determine your child’s eligibility for special education services. The ARD committee is made up of a number of campus representatives, including at least one general education and one special education teacher. You will also be a member of your child’s ARD committee and will be invited to each ARD committee meeting held on behalf of your child.

Individualized Education Program

In order to be eligible to receive special education services, testing must demonstrate that your child has a disability and, as a result of the disability, needs special education services to benefit from his education.

If your child qualifies for special education services, the ARD committee will develop an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for your child. An IEP includes your child’s current academic achievement, annual goals by which her progress will be measured, a description of the special services that will be utilized, a plan for how your child will participate in state and district testing, and transition services when age-appropriate.


Basic Terminology

I know firsthand that special education terminology and acronyms can be intimidating! This list can help you get started:

504 services – Accommodations provided in the general education setting and managed by the general education teacher.

Accommodations Classroom supports put in place to grant your child equal access to the curriculum while meeting his specific needs.

Admission, Review, Dismissal (ARD) meeting An annual meeting at which your child’s individualized special education program will be determined
or updated.

ARD committee The professionals who work together to create your child’s special education program. Parents are also members of their child’s ARD committee.

Full and Individual Evaluation (FIE) – The evaluation completed by a special education professional to determine if and how a student qualifies for special education.

Individualized Education Program (IEP) – Legally binding document listing your child’s schedule of services and accommodations.

Least Restrictive Environment
(LRE) –
The closest your child can be to a general education only setting while still successfully making progress towards his or her goals and objectives.

Modifications Changes to assignments to help a child complete work as independently as possible.

Push-in services Instructional and related services provided by special education professionals in the general education classroom.

Resource Room/Pull-out services – Special education services provided outside of the general education classroom to students who spend most of their time in the general education classroom. Examples may include counseling, dyslexia services, some speech therapy and modified instruction of core curriculum.


Response to Intervention (RTI) An approach that many schools use for identifying and helping students who are at risk for not meeting grade-level standards. It includes a system of increasingly intense interventions based upon a child’s progress.

STAAR Alt A modified version of the state-mandated assessment.


Teaching Assistant (TA) A paraprofessional who provides special education support for your child, if needed.

Alison Bogle is an Austin-based freelance writer and mom of three.

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