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Frequently Asked Questions

What is Special Education?

Special Education is the practice of educating students who have special needs in a way that specifically addresses their individual requirements. These exceptional children are typically underprepared for the general classroom setting and require a variety of special assistance to aid them in becoming better prepared to enter a general classroom environment.

Special Education does not refer to disabilities nor does it reflect negatively on the child. Special Education is not a place but a process where a child will receive the assistance they need to navigate their educational careers. A child may require special education services for a variety of reasons; learning disabilities, communication disabilities, emotional and behavioral disorders, physical disabilities, developmental disabilities and intellectual giftedness.

Special Education services can be offered to a student through the use of an Individualized Educational Plan (IEP). This plan will provide the student with a direct path and plan that is fully tailored to them in order to give them the best chance at success and possibly preparing them for introduction into a general classroom environment.

In some cases, Special Education services are being given to children who continue to thrive in a general classroom environment and only require a slight adjustment for them from the rest of the students. The more a student is able to thrive in a general classroom environment, the sooner they typically adjust and eventually overcome the need for their IEP.

Special Education services are designed to offer several components working together to assist the student. Often this can be the team of teachers and administrators ensuring the student have a modified curriculum, environmental accommodations and physical assistance. For some students the educational need includes collaboration between parents, the school and DIS services, friendship/facilitation, consultation with specialists, behavior support plans, and/or staff development.

Special Education should be:

  • Based on assessment results
  • Individual
  • Considered using various factors
  • Outcome oriented
  • Lined to the standards
  • Monitored and modified
  • Not just a place to send students

Special Education should not be:

  • Synonymous with under-achievement
  • Only remediation
  • Separate
  • Just small group instruction
  • For students with behavior problems
  • For substance exposed students
  • For students whose special needs can be met in a general education environment

Special Education is designed to aid children in their education and work toward them becoming capable and prepared to participate in the general education environment as quickly as possible. By working with professionals in the field of Special Education and creating an IEP for your student, your child can gain the assistance they need to learn how to overcome any difficulties they might be experiencing.

What is an IEP?

An Individualized Education Program (IEP) is a legal document which is designed to completely spell out the learning plan, needs, progress expected and accommodations a child will receive in order to improve their learning capabilities throughout the school year. An IEP is a legally binding document and requires the school to provide everything it promises in the document.

By law an IEP must include:

  • A Statement of the child’s present level of performance (PLOP) – how the child is currently performing in school
  • The child’s annual educational goals
  • Special education support and services that the school will provide to help the child reach their goals
  • Modifications and accommodations the school will provide to help the child make progress
  • Accommodations the child will be allowed when taking standardized tests
  • How and when the school will measure the child’s progress toward the annual goals
  • Transition planning to help prepare teens for life after high school

An IEP is part of the special education process and is necessary for students to receive needed special education services through the school. Not all students who struggle with school will necessarily be approved or require and IEP. There are two actions that must be taken in order to qualify a child for an IEP; an evaluation and a decision. The evaluation is conducted by an IEP team after consulting with parents, teachers, a counselor or a doctor who may see the child is struggling to keep up in school. The decision to implement an IEP is done with an IEP team made of up parents and school officials who decide the child needs and will benefit from the use of special education services through the use of an IEP. The evaluation and decision making process can be lengthy in nature and take time to implement, but once an IEP is in place, the child is to be afforded all accommodations spelled out in the IEP by law.

What is a 504 Plan?

A 504 plan is an alternative method of offering accommodations to students who do not qualify for an IEP. This type of plan falls under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and prohibits discrimination against students with disabilities who are able to learn from and participate in the general education curriculum. A 504 plan outlines measures taken to accommodate children and remove barriers to learning for children who need accommodations but can still perform in a general education setting.

Because Section 504 defines “disability” in very broad terms those who don’t qualify for an IEP may qualify for a 504 plan. Section 504 defines a person with a disability to be a person who:

  • Has a physical or mental impairment that “substantially” limits one or more major life activity
  • Has a record of the impairment
  • Is regarded as having impairment or a significant difficulty that isn’t temporary.

Qualification for a 504 plan requires an evaluation which can be initiated by the parent or the school. Before the school can initiate the evaluation they must receive permission from the parent to conduct a 504 evaluation.

With no standard 504 plan required by law each school district handles these plans a little differently from each other. The following should be included in a 504 plan in order to ensure the child will be able to succeed and have their needs met:

  • Specific accommodations, support or services
  • Names of the school professional that will provide each service
  • The name of the person responsible for ensuring the 504 plan is implemented

In general a 504 plan can provide a wide range of accommodations and services including specialized instruction, physical accommodations, speech therapy, occupational therapy or counseling. As a much less detailed plan than an IEP, a 504 is much simpler to implement and works to give parents a peace of mind their child will be accommodated as needed.

What is the difference between an IEP and a 504 Plan?

Both plans area designed to provide accommodations and support to children who need it while in school. Even though in many ways these two plans are very similar, there are some very distinct differences to make note of as well.


  • Both provide a blueprint for the educational experience of a child
  • Both are at no cost to the parents
  • Both provide a list of accommodations and services that will be needed for the child
  • Both address the needs of the child brought on by a form of a disability
  • Both create a list of needed accommodations for the child
  • Parental consent is required for both plans
  • Both plans address ways for parents to resolve discrepancies found with the school and the accommodations being provided


  • An IEP is part of Special Education Services, a 504 plan is not
  • An IEP applies under IDEA, a 504 plan is part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973
  • To qualify for an IEP a student has one or more of the 13 specific disabilities listed in IDEA and the disabilities affect the child’s educational performance, a 504 plan has a broader definition of a disability and can be applied to students who are able to continue in a general education classroom and don’t qualify for an IEP
  • An IEP has very strict rules and requirements for who can create the plan, the 504 plan is much less specific and can make the evaluation
  • An IEP is very specific, sets goals, ensures progress, and spells out the accommodations needed, the 504 plan spells out the accommodations but is not standardized
  • AN IEP must be reviewed at least once a year, a 504 plan is to be reviewed as needed or more often depending on the rules of the state

Understanding the differences between the two plans can help parents know what plan is going to best work for their child. Some students will benefit more from an IEP than a 504 plan while others will perform with only minimal accommodations to ensure they can enjoy the learning environment of the general education setting.

What is IDEA?

IDEA is the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act that is a federal law requiring schools to serve all educational needs of eligible students with disabilities. For parents who feel their child needs the benefit of Special Education services, IDEA provides the legal rights and protections needed to ensure children receive the assistance and accommodations they need in order to participate in the educational process and experience.

IDEA was passed originally in 1975 and has been amended several times since, but still has two main purposes:

  • To protect the rights of children with disabilities
  • To give parents a voice in their child’s education

The children who are protected under IDEA are aged from infants through high school graduation or 21 years old, whichever comes first.

IDEA is very specific as to who is actually eligible to receive protection. A child must first have one of 13 kinds of disabilities:

  • Autism
  • Deaf-blindness
  • Deafness
  • Emotional disturbance
  • Hearing impairment
  • Intellectual disability
  • Multiple disabilities
  • Orthopedic impairment
  • Other health impairment (for example ADHD)
  • Specific learning disability
  • Speech or language impairment
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Visual impairment, including blindness

IDEA covers these thirteen disabilities in the process and implementation of an IEP in order for students to be offered the best possible opportunity to make progress and be successful in school. Without IDEA, parents of children with disabilities had very little voice in the education process of their children and were left to find specialized services that would allow their child to participate. With IDEA in place, the parents and children are protected with the school owning the implementation and execution of the IEP and Special Education services needed by the child.

What is Autism?

Autism, also called Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), both are general terms for a group of complex disorder for brain development. Because these disorder represent a widely varying degree of social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and certain repetitive behaviors there is a full spectrum, or degrees which a person can be affected by Autism.

Autism is most often associated with a difficult in motor coordination, but is also associated with intellectual disability, attention and physical health issues. In many cases, children and adults with ASD excel in specific skills such as visual skills, music, math and art.

Usually autism will begin to emerge between the ages of two and three even though it actually begins at the very beginning of brain development. Currently nearly 1 in every 68 American children are on the autism spectrum with a majority being boys who represent approximately 1 in every 42 with girls showing up with a 1 in every 189 ratio.

With no one cause for Autism, just as there is not just one type of Autism, scientists have found the causes they have discovered so far include a combination of autism risk genes and environmental factors. Even when the autism risk genes are present, a child does not always show signs of ASD unless environmental stress or risk factors are also present.

Autism is a unique and specialized disorder with many who are affected having above average intellectual abilities. With a wide spectrum of afflictions, children who have been diagnosed with Autism benefit greatly from the comprehensive and continuous support and Occupational Therapy offered at We Rock the Spectrum Kid’s Gym.

With the use of sensory equipment and smaller toys that challenge the fine motor skills of a child, a child with Autism typically shows signs of improvement and growth beyond the expectations of doctors and their normal Occupational Therapists. The use of larger play equipment helps children learn strength and improves their ability to function while the smaller toys and texture sensitive equipment and toys assist children with the skills they will need on a daily basis. Those who suffer socially are also able to gain the benefits of participating in activities with other children and learn what appropriate social behaviors are. The environment at We Rock the Spectrum Kid’s Gym is specifically designed to address needs of children on any part of the Autism Spectrum.

For more details regarding the changes to the criteria, visit the American Academy of Pediatrics News website at

What is Down syndrome?

Down Syndrome occurs when a full or partial extra copy of chromosome 21 is present in a person. Having this additional genetic material causes developmental characteristics that have become knowingly associated with having Down Syndrome. The physical traits most commonly associated are low muscle tone, a small stature, eyes that slant upward, and a single deep crease across the center of the palm. These traits are most common, but a person with Down Syndrome may possess all or none of these traits in a variety of degrees.

Down Syndrome affects 1 in 691 children in the United States which makes it the most common genetic condition in the country. With this statistic, and the number of births considered, approximately 6,000 babies are born with Down Syndrome each year. There are three types of Down Syndrome: trisomy 21 (nondisjunction), translocation and mosaicism. Each type of Down Syndrome has its own unique characteristics and causes leaving parents with a variety of developmental challenges they will face with their child. Down Syndrome can often be diagnosed early, either prenatally or shortly after birth giving parents an early start on helping their child face their challenges.

Generally children who have Down Syndrome suffer from cognitive delays that offer a range of severities. Those who have mild delays are sometimes simply thought of as being a “little slow” and find themselves more easily integrated into society as they reach adulthood. Those who suffer from much more severe delays require more assistance and patience during their formative years.

Regardless of the severity of the Down Syndrome of a child, the marvelous advances in medicine along with the ability for children with Down Syndrome to enjoy their lives, these children are finding themselves more integrated in society than ever before. Many programs are available to families who have children with Down Syndrome including the use and benefits of the equipment and staff at We Rock the Spectrum Kid’s Gym.

One note of interest is the amazing change in the life expectancy of a person with Down Syndrome. In 1910 the life expectancy was only age nine with an increase to twenty with the discovery of antibiotics. Today with many treatment options and surgeries to help correct heart issues many adults with Down Syndrome can live full and happy lives that reach as far as age sixty, a huge improvement over the short expectancy of only a century ago.

What is an Intellectual Disability?

A child is considered to have an Intellectual Disability when their ability to perform intellectual functioning (reasoning, learning, problem solving) or their adaptive behavior (which is a range of social and practical skills) is significantly limited. This form of disability shows itself well before the age of 18 and covers a wide variety of factors that lead to the limited ability to process information by a child.

Children are diagnosed as having an Intellectual Disability when the following is present

  • An IQ of 75 or less
  • Limitations in adaptive behavior- this covers conceptual skills, social skills and practical skills
  • These results are present as a child, which is defined as age 18 or less

Intellectual Disabilities can be caused by a varying number of factors. Children can be born with Intellectual Disabilities, but environmental and social factors can also contribute to a child developing an Intellectual Disability. With a variety of risk factors that can contribute to a child having an Intellectual Disability is has been difficult for experts to find one main cause for these forms of disability.

Because this form of disability encompasses the cognitive part of the brain and the thought process, children who have been diagnosed with Intellectual Disabilities most often benefit from Occupational Therapy that is designed to challenge this part of their brain and have them thinking. Playing with puzzles, building blocks and even learning how to clean up and put away toys help these children with everyday activities in order to prepare them for the simple problem solving skills needed in their lives.

Children with Intellectual Disabilities can also benefit greatly from open play and learning how to master a variety of activities such as climbing, swinging, jumping, crawling and even falling. To address a social deficiency, children are able to gain an advantage by learning how to take turns and what is acceptable behavior. All of the necessary elements to assist children in problem solving and helping them to spark the cognitive part of their brain are present at We Rock the Spectrum Kid’s Gym.

Even though children with Intellectual Disabilities are likely to suffer from them during their entire lifetime, it has been found these children can learn and master many of the basic functions needed to be able to comfortably function in social settings.

What is a Learning Disability?

A Learning Disability is a neurological disorder that often shows itself in a child who has difficulty reading, writing, spelling, reasoning, recalling and organizing information. These disabilities cannot be cured or fixed, they are something the child has to learn to live with and find ways to overcome. In many cases children with Learning Disabilities are as smart or smarter than their peers and can show signs of frustration when a lack of understanding or results is present in the classroom.

With nearly 42% of school age children receiving some form of assistance for a diagnosed Learning Disability this category is one of the most common seen at school or play. Of the 42%, approximately two-thirds are male, making it more prevalent in boys than in girls. Attention issues are much different from Learning Disabilities and children with Learning Disabilities often do not draw attention to themselves and it can take a few years to actually diagnose and begin a path to treatment and improvement for the child with a Learning Disability.

Learning Disabilities show up in a variety of ways. A Language-Based Learning Disability (LBLD) can affect a variety of communication and academic skills. This includes listening, speaking, reading, writing and performing math calculations. Children with this form of a Learning Disability have been known to be unable to perform the alphabet in the correct order and have difficulty sounding out a spelling work. Children suffering from LBLD may be able to read an entire story without being able to explain the subject matter of the story at all. A variety of therapies and counseling can assist children who suffer from LBLD, but often it’s not discovered until the child is of school age.

Children with LBLD often show the following:

  • Learning is difficult because the information becomes fuzzy or scrambled
  • A serious deficiency in reading comprehension, spelling, written expression, math computation, problem solving, organizational skills, time management or social skills
  • An inconsistency to have problems in these areas, but some problem is always present
  • Often act out from frustration to themselves and others

Another form of a Learning Disability is a Nonverbal Learning Disability (NVLD). Children with NVLD often miss nonverbal cues and have difficulty understanding nuances and sarcasm. These children are typically highly intelligent and understand reading and writing but can read an entire story while missing important parts of the story. Unfortunately for children with NVLD, they are often classified as “different” by their peers because they don’t comprehend the same nonverbal cues the rest of society so easily processes. Diagnosing NVLD can be difficult because it shows up in ways that simply seem to be socially inappropriate, however when repeated actions are present and children seem to have problems keeping friends, parents and teachers should be aware to consider NVLD.

Children with NVLD often show the following signs:

  • Talking, but not connecting
  • Asking about things, but not exploring
  • Strong reading and spelling, but poor comprehension
  • Memorizing math answers, but showing no understanding of the concepts behind them
  • Memorizing information, but not knowing how to share it

In either form of Learning Disability, early detection and diagnosis is vital in order to properly manage the disability and provide the assistance and accommodations needed for these children in order for them to thrive and grow intellectually and socially. Children with Learning Disabilities have shown over the years they can flourish and become successful, with the support offered through Special Education services these children can be shown how to work and overcome their disability to be successful.

What is a Speech and Language Impairment?

A Speech Impairment is caused by difficulty of the brain being able to communicate with the muscles of the mouth in order to create proper speech. This can show up in a wide variety of forms, mostly showing up as a speech impairment that causes the child to be unable to properly form the words with their mouth and jaw. This Impairment does not signify a disability in learning, but a struggle with the regurgitation of information through speech.

Speech Impairments are generally very easy for parents and teachers to discover in students as it shows up daily in their speech, making them difficult to understand or showing an inability to communicate appropriately. For children with Speech Impairments a Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP) is normally seen on a regular basis at the school by the child in order to work to improve their speech over the course of time. Even though the initial discovery of the Speech Impairment can be fairly easy to see, learning exactly what is needed in order to assist the child in correcting their speech becomes the challenge for an SLP to help the child work through.

A Language Impairment is present for children who display a serious difficulty not only understanding what is said to them, but also in expressing themselves. Children who suffer from Language Impairments often end up confused or frustrated by what is said, because they either don’t understand what was said or aren’t sure what a correct response would be. The main areas of Language Impairment show up as articulation, fluency, voice and language. These are defined below for easier reference, but difficulty in one or all of these areas makes it very difficult for someone with a Language Impairment to feel understood.

Some common characteristics of Language Impairments include:

  • Improper use of words and their meanings
  • Inability to express ideas
  • Inappropriate grammatical patterns
  • Reduced Vocabulary
  • Inability to follow directions

Continued efforts with children who suffer from Language Impairments by use of additional learning and problem solving activities assists these children who can eventually overcome their impairment. In fact, both children who suffer from Speech Impairments and Language Impairments can eventually overcome their impairments and grow to have fluid speech and a full understanding of language.

Areas of Speech and Language:

  • Expressive Language – expressing ideas verbally using appropriate vocabulary, grammar, and sentence structure
  • Receptive Language – the comprehension of language; understanding grammar, vocabulary, directions and questions
  • Articulation – how well the child is able to produce sounds in words and sentences
  • Fluency – shows an age appropriate flow of speech
  • Voice – shows an age appropriate pitch, volume or a nasality of the speech

What do I do if I think my child has a disability?

As a parent of a child with a disability you have a long list of rights and privileges that are guaranteed to you. It’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with these right prior to beginning an IEP or 504 process in order to ensure you are fully aware of what should be taking place and when with regards to your child’s educational needs.

One of the most frightening possibilities is having a child with a disability. This is truly only scary because most parents have never experienced the challenges of having a child with a disability and the fear of the unknown becomes present. Before you head out and book the best Occupational Therapists in the area and buy all the equipment you feel might be necessary to actually assist your child, you need to take a variety of steps in order to be certain your child has a disability.

The steps you need to take include:

  • Talking to your child’s doctor or pediatrician
  • Talk to your child’s teacher
  • Contact your local Regional Center
  • Talk to the school nurse, speech therapist, or other educational specialist
  • Contact your local school district (the school psychologist, school principal, and/or director of special education)
  • Contact your local SELPA (Special Education Local Plan Area) Community Advisory Committee (CAC), and /or Family Resource Center(FRC)

Starting with the pediatrician will help to discover if there is a medically based disorder present, but the inclusion of any number of the experts listed can assist in the discovery of a disability or a learning deficiency. If you discover your child has a disability you will then be able to start the path toward and IEP or 504 plan in order to provide your child with all the necessary assistance and accommodations to help them grow, develop and become the most advanced they can possibly be.

What are my Parent Rights?

As a parent of a child with a disability you have a long list of rights and privileges that are guaranteed to you. It’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with these right prior to beginning an IEP or 504 process in order to ensure you are fully aware of what should be taking place and when with regards to your child’s educational needs.

State and federal law under the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) guarantees parental rights

  • Notice: Before a child is tested or placed in a special education program, you have the right to be notified of what the school plans to do.
  • Consent: You must give your consent before special tests are given and before your child is placed in a special education program.
  • Evaluation: You have the right to a full evaluation of your child to determine individual educational needs.
  • Records: You have the right to know what records are kept on your child.
  • Confidentiality: With the exception of school personnel with legitimate educational interests, no one may see your child’s records without your permission.
  • Least Restrictive Environment: You have the right to have your child educated with children without disabilities tto the maximum extent appropriate.
  • Due process: If at any point along the way you do not agree with how the school is dealing with your child, you have the right to request a hearing. At this hearing, you and the school will reach an agreement concerning the identification, evaluation, placement or educational program of your child.

Each school district across the country is required to present to parents, in more detailed format, the Parents Rights and Procedural Safeguards document.

IEP Meeting Tips/Resources

Once you have been notified and agree to an IEP meeting it’s important for you to understand what this meeting is going to consist of when you arrive. Showing up at school with a room full of administrators, some of whom you may have never met can be an unnerving experience by itself. One of the most fundamentally important aspects to keep in mind is the goal of an IEP meeting is to develop a plan for your child to grow and improve in their education. Because an IEP is formal and governed by IDEA your child will have a set of goals the school administrators are working to help them reach during the school year.   These resources will give you more insight and help you to be ready to enter the IEP meeting and help develop the correct plan for your child.

“A Parent’s Guide to Developing your Child’s IEP” from the National Dissemination Center of Children with Disabilities (NICHCY):