Special Education - Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) : D. Identification: Does My Child Need Special Education

Which children can get special education?

The law is very clear about when children can get special education.

  • First, your child must have one of the disabilities in the law.
  • Second, the disability must cause your child to have trouble at school.

How do I know if my child has a disability?

The following chart lists the disabilities that are in the law.

If you think your child might have one of the problems listed in the chart, talk to your child’s doctor and the school.  Ask them to test your child for special education.


• Your child’s doctor will usually diagnose this before he turns three years old.

• Your child develops more slowly. He walks, talks, potty trains, or feeds himself later than other children.

• Your child might have problems eating or sleeping. He might be sensitive to lights, sounds, tastes, or smells.

• He might appear not to hear you. He might stare off into space. He might be fascinated by things that move, like fans or wheels.

• He might have trouble playing with other children. He might have trouble understanding or relating to other people


• Your child’s doctor will diagnose both a hearing and visual impairment.

• Your child does not have to be totally deaf and blind.

• For more signs, read hearing impairment and visual impairment in the chart.




• Your child has trouble hearing. She does not talk or her speech is still hard to understand after she turns two years old.

• She might be sensitive to very loud sounds. She might not hear soft sounds. Her voice might get louder when she talks.

• She might turn up the TV or radio to hear it.

• She might point, pull, or touch instead of talk. She might get upset or nervous in very loud places.

Emotional Disturbance

(Also called “severe behavior handicap.”)

• Your child has trouble controlling his emotions.

• He might be aggressive. He might act out, fight, or hurt himself. He might get in trouble a lot at home and school.

• He might be hyper. He might have a short attention span. He might act without thinking.

• He might have trouble making friends. He might be afraid or nervous around other people.

• He might act immature. He might cry a lot or throw temper tantrums.

• He might appear unhappy or depressed most of the time. He might get headaches or tummy aches when he is really upset.

Mental Retardation

(Also called “developmental handicap” or “cognitive impairment.”)

• Your child has a low IQ, generally below 70.

• Your child’s doctor will often diagnose this at a young age.

• Your child cannot learn as fast or as much as other children her age.

• She might walk, talk, dress, or feed herself later than other children.

Orthopedic Impairment

• Your child has trouble using (or is missing) her fingers, hands, arms, legs, or feet.

• Your child might need a wheelchair or other help to move around the school.

Other Health Impairment

• Your child has medical problems that make it hard to participate in regular classroom activities.

• Your child’s doctor must diagnose a medical problem.

• Examples include asthma, attention deficit disorder (ADD) or attention deficit/ hyperactivity disorder (AD/HD), diabetes, epilepsy, a heart condition, hemophilia, lead poisoning, leukemia, nephritis, rheumatic fever, sickle cell anemia, and Tourette Syndrome.

Specific Learning Disability

• Your child has an average or high IQ, but still does not do well in school.

• She might have problems in reading, writing, or math. She might have problems listening, talking, or thinking.

• She might do very well or learn quickly in some subjects, but do very poorly in others.

• She might have trouble writing down what she is thinking. She might make mistakes when she reads out loud.

• She might have trouble following directions. She might have trouble figuring out how to start a task.

Speech Impairment

• Your child has trouble speaking or is hard for others to understand.

• He might not say all his letters correctly. He might mix up sounds. He might have a hard time getting out the word he is trying to say.

Traumatic Brain Injury

• Your child’s brain has been hurt in an accident or other injury.

• She might have trouble speaking, hearing, seeing, or thinking.

• She might have problems remembering. She might not be able to concentrate. She might have a short attention span.

• She might get tired easily. She might have bad mood swings.

Visual Impairment

• Your child has trouble seeing, even with glasses or contacts.

• He might squint while reading, watching TV, playing on the computer, or playing video games. He might get headaches when doing these activities.

• He might have some sight or he might be legally blind.

Multiple Disabilities

• Your child has more than one of the problems already listed in the chart.

• She might have physical problems. She might have a hard time moving around the school.

• She probably has trouble communicating with others.

• She probably has behavior problems.

• She might forget skills that she does not use a lot. She might have to relearn things she has already been taught.

Remember that having one of these disabilities is not enough. Your child must also be having trouble at school because of the disability.

How can I tell if my child may need special education?

Failing grades are a good sign that your child is having trouble. However, grades are not the only sign of a problem. A lot of detentions, suspensions or expulsions can be a sign of trouble. Problems making friends might distract your child from her school work. This could be a sign of trouble too.

If your child has a disability but is doing fine at school, your child can still receive special education. Talk to the school about what type of education you think is appropriate for your child.

What is identification?

Identification simply means that someone thinks your child might need special education. This person is usually you or your child’s teacher. You and the school must agree that your child might need special education before he can be tested. Ohio calls the special education evaluation a multifactored evaluation, or MFE.

If someone from the school identifies your child, the school must get your permission before doing an evaluation. Once you give permission, the school has 90 days to complete the entire special education process.

If you identify your child, you must ask the school to test your child. If the school will not do an evaluation, they must tell you why. They must tell you in writing. This is called prior written notice.

How do I request a special education evaluation?

Always ask the school to do things in writing! To get an evaluation, write a letter to your child’s principal. Read the letter below for an example.

  • Date the letter.

  • Say that you want your child tested for special education.

  • Be specific about the problems that your child is having at school.

Sample Letter

August 1, 2007

Dear Principal Smith,

My son, Joey, goes to your school. He is having problems and may need help. I want the school to test Joey to see if he needs special education.

Joey seems to be behind other kids his age in reading. He spends a lot of time on homework, but he still does not seem to understand what to do. He does not have this problem with his spelling or math homework.

Please call me sometime in the next 10 days. I would like to know how long it will take to test Joey. I would also like to know who I should call if I have any questions.


Mrs. Johnson

What Is an Intervention Assistance Team (IAT)?

The intervention assistance team, or IAT, is a team of people that helps students who are having trouble at school. All schools must have an IAT. The team usually meets once a month. The team includes the child’s parents, teachers, and other people from the school.

The team usually starts by talking about the problems that the student is having. Then, the team talks about ways the teacher can help the student. The team can ask for a special education evaluation if they think the student needs special education.

Your child’s teacher will usually ask for the IAT meeting. You can ask for the meeting too. Talk to your child’s principal. Find out when the next meeting is. Ask if the team can talk about your child.

If you ask for a special education evaluation, the school may refer your child to the IAT instead. Go to the meeting. Listen to what the teachers have to say. If the suggestions sound reasonable, agree to them. If your child has not improved in one or two months, ask for an evaluation again. If the suggestions do not sound reasonable, ask for a special education evaluation again at the meeting. If the school will not give you an evaluation, ask for prior written notice.

If you think the school has discriminated against your child because of his or her disability, you can file a complaint with the Ohio Department of Education. When you call, ask for the Office of Civil Rights. You can also contact any one of the following organizations:

For more information about testing your child, read the section on Understanding Special Education Evaluations.

See also the Forms & Education tab in this section for more information.

The information in this site is not intended as legal advice.
Back to Top of Page | Didn't find it? Use Advanced Search | Back to Step 1

Click here to find legal help near you.

To find a civil legal aid provider, call

1.866.LAW.OHIO (1.866.529.6446)

For the hearing impaired:
Use this site to find the local
Ohio legal aid provider in your
area. Then, call the Ohio Relay
Service at 1-800-750-0750 and
ask the service operator to
connect you to the provider
you are trying to call.

The information in this site is
not intended as legal advice.


Personal tools