Decoding Special Education Eligibility
July 26, 2023

Decoding Special Education Eligibility

A disability should never inhibit your child’s opportunity for a quality education. Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), children with disabilities are eligible for special education and related services provided they meet certain criteria.

All in all, the basis for determining a child’s eligibility for Special Education Services (SES) involves a holistic evaluation, which includes aptitude and achievement assessments, parental input, teacher notes and comments, diagnostic exams, and the student’s cumulative academic performance data. Depending on your school district, a medical diagnosis may or may not be a necessary prerequisite for evaluation.


The First Step: Evaluation

IDEA specifies 13 disability categories, and your child’s issues must fall within these parameters to qualify for SES. These categories are:

• Specific Learning Disability (SLD)
• Other health impairment
• Autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
• Emotional disturbance
• Speech or language impairment
• Visual impairment, including blindness
• Deafness
• Hearing impairment
• Deaf-blindness
• Orthopedic impairment
• Intellectual disability
• Traumatic brain injury
• Multiple disabilities

There are some disorders, like ADHD, that fall outside the specific disabilities listed in IDEA. However, children with disabilities may still qualify for SES with an ADHD diagnosis if it is determined that it negatively inhibits learning.

The child’s parents and a team of qualified professionals will make the determination as to whether or not a child’s disability falls under the umbrella of IDEA and if special education services are required. This team will include the parents, the child’s regular teacher, and other qualified individuals like a school psychologist, occupational therapist, or other academic or health professionals.

Specifically, your child’s disability must be shown to have a negative impact on their academic performance. If your child differs from their peers in oral expression, listening comprehension, reading skills, reasoning, or basic math skills, there is a strong possibility that standard classroom accommodations just are not cutting it. Your child’s teacher will know best if their academic performance is within an acceptable range.

heart symbol

Come along with 200k+ families!

Explore the endless possibilities of learning!

Download for Free.

More than 100 games designed by
psychologists and specialists.

child plays with building blocks

The Second Step: Eligibility

At the conclusion of the evaluation, the team will draw up a report that delineates your child’s strengths and challenges, exam scores, observatory remarks, and recommendations. Importantly, the report will state whether or not your child’s disability qualifies them for special education under IDEA. So what determines eligibility?

Quite simply, the report will explain the team’s decision and their reasoning. The team will analyze your child’s behavior and how that behavior affects their academic functioning. In addition, they will note the presence of any discrepancies between your child’s academic achievement and that of their peers, and whether or not these discrepancies can be corrected without supplemental help.

If it is determined that your child does qualify for SES, then the school will draw up and Individualized Education Plan (IEP) based on the recommendations in the evaluation as well as parental input.




This article is examined by Clinical Child Psychologist and Ph. D. Researcher Kevser Çakmak, and produced by Otsimo Editorial Team.

More iconChevron

Certified special education app

Get Otsimo for iOS and Android now.

This post does not provide medical advice. See Additional Information.