by Theresa Rebhorn

Being a parent is the most wonderful—and hardest—job in the world. If you have a child with special needs, your job is no less wonderful, but it can be more complicated.

Your child’s education is most likely an area of great interest to you. As a child with a disability, he or she may be eligible for special education services in school. If so, then it will be important for you to learn:

  • more about special education;
  • how special education services can support your child; and
  • what part you can play in the special education process.

The good news is that there’s a lot of information available for parents. (1) This guide can help you learn what you need to know. It explains the basics of the special education process and gives you information on how to be an effective partner with your child’s school.

Quick links (these links connect with the original online guide at Center for Parent Information & Resources)



Thanks to a powerful and important federal law called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA, children with disabilities are entitled to a “free appropriate public education” (often called FAPE). (2) This means that schools must provide eligible children who have a disability (3) with specially designed instruction to meet their unique needs at no cost to the children’s parents. This specially designed instruction is known as special education. (4) IDEA includes a great deal of information to help states design special education programs for children with disabilities. IDEA also includes regulations to protect the rights of parents and children. (5)

Getting to know IDEA will be very useful to you, because it is the basis of your child’s educational rights. Detailed information is available on the official IDEA site established by the Department of Education, at:

The Center for Parent Information and Resources can also help you learn about this law. Many publications in the Repository of Resources explain IDEA’s requirements. Some publications are short, others go into detail.

It’s also helpful for you to know the policies of your state and local school district. These must be based on, and consistent with, IDEA’s minimum requirements, but they often spell out important details about procedures and guidelines in your area. Call or write your state department of education (or your local school district) and ask for a copy of your state (or local) special education regulations. There may also be a special education handbook or parent guide available from your state or local district.

One of the most important parts of the special education process is creating a plan for your child’s education. This plan is called the Individualized Education Program, or the IEP. (6) The IEP is the foundation for your child’s education, and you are a very important member of the team that develops it. Your child’s IEP lists the special education services your child will receive, based upon his or her individual needs. This is why it is so important that you understand and help develop your child’s IEP.

If you’ve never helped to develop an IEP before, the information we’ve included in this guide may seem overwhelming. It helps to think of the IEP both as a process and as a document to be written. Understand the process one step at a time—it has many parts. Learn the process of writing the document the same way. It, too, has many parts.

You will quickly become familiar with all the steps to writing an IEP. If your child continues to receive special education each year, you will soon become an IEP expert yourself!

The complete guide can be found at their website


§ Special Symbols in This Issue §

As you read the explanations about IDEA, you will find references in the form of endnotes, because they appear at the end of this document. These point you to specific sections of the Federal regulations, such as §300.320. You can use these references to locate the precise sections in the Federal regulations that address the issue being discussed.

For example, an endnote may refer you to §300.320 when the topic being discussed is “content of the IEP.” (The §symbol means “section.” The 34 CFR refers to Title 34 in the Code of Federal Regulations.) This reference tells you that, to read the exact words IDEA uses to describe the content of an IEP, you would look under Section 300.320 in IDEA’s regulations.

Visit CPIR’s online version of the IDEA regulations, beginning at:


Access the Full IEP Guide

Credit / Sources

This resource is from Center for Parent Information & Resources.  The complete guide can be found at their website.

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