By law, schools must make special services available to eligible children with disabilities. These services are called special education and related services (discussed more below). The law that requires this is the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA. Under the IDEA, school-aged children who are thought to have a disability must be evaluated by the public schools at no cost to parents. Based on the evaluation, a determination is made as to their eligibility for services.
IDEA defines categories of disability under which a child is considered eligible for services. These categories are: autism, deaf-blindness, hearing impairments including deafness, mental retardation, other health impairments, orthopedic impairments, serious emotional disturbance, specific learning disabilities, speech or language impairments, traumatic brain injury, visual impairments including blindness, or multiple disabilities. If permitted by the state and the local educational agency, a school may also provide services to a student, from age 3 through age 9, under the separate category of "developmental delay." Parents should check with their state department of special education to find out what guidelines their state uses.
It's important to realize that a child may have a disability and still not be eligible for special education and related services. For a child to be determined to be eligible, the child's disability must adversely affect his or her educational performance.
Special education is instruction that is specially designed to meet a child's unique educational needs. Related services can include a range of services that are provided to help the student benefit from his or her special education. Related services include (but are not limited to) such services as occupational therapy, speech therapy, or physical therapy. Both special education and related services must be provided at no cost to the parents; both can be extremely beneficial for children with PDDNOS.
Services to very young children are also covered under the IDEA. Through the Program for Infants and Toddlers with Disabilities, states make early intervention services available to eligible infants and toddlers (birth through two years). Not all services are free; some may be provided on a sliding-scale basis (in other words, according to the parents' ability to pay).
Early intervention services are designed to meet the developmental needs of the infant or toddler in areas such as their physical development, cognitive development, communication development, social or emotional development, or adaptive development. Services include (but are not limited to) such services as: family training and home visits, special instruction, speech-language pathology, vision services, and occupational therapy. To the maximum extent appropriate, early intervention services are to be provided in natural environments, including the home and community settings in which children without disabilities participate.
The IFSP and the IEP
The majority of school-aged children with PDDNOS will need some special education services, just as those who are younger will need early intervention services. If a school-aged child is found eligible for services, the parents and the school will develop an Individualized Education Program (IEP). This is a document that lists, among other things, the child's strengths and weaknesses, and what special education and related services the school will provide to address those needs. If the child is less than 3 years old, he or she will have an Individualized Family Service Plan, (IFSP). Parents can contact their state parent training and information center (PTI) or NICHCY for helpful information about IEP or IFSP development and the special education process.
A Mother's Story
Ryan, always in a whirl of activity, has had many labels. He was diagnosed with PDDNOS at age three and a half. When he went to preschool, his label was "developmentally delayed." Now he's 8 years old, and his label is "autistic." He spends most of his time in a 2nd grade class. He's doing great, but he still needs lots of extra help--speech therapy, occupational therapy, and physical therapy. He loves playing soccer with kids in his class. His disability is only one part of who he is; he also has lots of strengths and talents. Every day still has its challenges, but we love him. He's not a label--he's Ryan.
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