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Special Needs

Know the Laws That Protect Your Child With Special Needs

Know the Laws That Protect Your Child With Special Needs

Review ACD program changes

Discover how the comprehensive policy changes to the Autism Care Demonstration can benefit your family member with autism spectrum disorder.

You want to be an effective advocate for your child with special needs. The first step is to understand the laws that are in place to protect children with special needs. Federal laws regulate special education services and make sure schools provide accommodations for children with disabilities. Almost all states now have anti-bullying laws on the books, as well. By understanding these laws and your child’s rights, you’ll know better how to ensure your child receives fair and equal access to their education.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act

Enacted in 2004, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ensures that all children with qualifying disabilities have access to a free and appropriate public education. The law outlines the special education benefit, including individualized special education services. States have different procedures for implementing the law, but they all must be consistent with the IDEA. In accordance with the six basic principles outlined in Part B of the IDEA, schools must:

  • Provide free and appropriate public education. Schools are required to provide an education at public expense, under public supervision and direction.
  • Conduct an evaluation. Schools must gather the information necessary to help determine the child’s educational needs and guide decision making about appropriate educational programming.
  • Produce an individualized education program. To ensure that the child’s individual needs are met, schools must create a written statement of the educational program designed for the child.
  • Provide the least restrictive environment. Children with a disability are entitled by law to receive an appropriate education designed to meet their special needs. They must be educated with their nondisabled peers unless the nature of the disability is such that they cannot achieve in a general education classroom, even with supplementary aids and supports.
  • Offer opportunities for meaningful participation. Schools must provide opportunities for parents and students, when appropriate, to get involved throughout the special education process.
  • Implement procedural safeguards. Procedural safeguards ensure that children’s and parental rights are protected and establish clear steps to address disputes. Procedural safeguards guarantee that parents can participate in meetings, examine all educational records and obtain an individual educational evaluation.

The IDEA’s Part B also establishes the educational requirements for children with a disability from ages 3 to 21. To further explore how this legislation helps to safeguard your child’s rights, visit the IDEA website, which covers such topics as discipline, early intervention services, identification of specific learning disabilities, individualized education programs, dispute resolution and much more. To learn about due process in disputes about special education services, see the fact sheet, Resolving Concerns With a Child’s Special Education Services.

Americans with Disabilities Act

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 provides civil rights protections to individuals with disabilities. The ADA defines an individual with a disability as “a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a person who has a history or record of such an impairment or a person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment.” The ADA does not specifically name all of the impairments that are covered.

Title II of the ADA “prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability by public entities, including public elementary, secondary and postsecondary schools, regardless of whether they receive federal financial assistance. Title II requires that qualified individuals with disabilities, including students, parents and other program participants, are not excluded from or denied the benefits of services, programs or activities of a public entity, or otherwise subjected to discrimination by a public entity, by reason of a disability.”

At the Department of Justice’s ADA website, you’ll find the full text of the ADA and additional information about the act, including lists of questions and answers about child care centers and the ADA and the Amendments Act of 2008 for Students with Disabilities Attending Public Elementary and Secondary Schools.

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 protects the rights of people with disabilities in programs and activities that receive federal financial assistance, including federal funds. Public school districts, institutions of higher education and other state and local education agencies may all be recipients of these funds.

Section 504 helps children with disabilities access school services by requiring schools to provide accommodations and modifications. But, unlike IDEA, it does not provide for an individualized education program. Even if a child does not qualify for special education services under the IDEA, he or she may qualify for special accommodations under this law. For example, a child who must use a wheelchair but does not require special education services could receive accommodations under Section 504.

The regulations implementing Section 504 in the context of educational institutions appear at 34 C.F.R. Part 104. This comprehensive list of more than 40 common questions and answers about Section 504 and the education of children with disabilities further explain how this legislation protects your child’s rights.

Anti-bullying laws

The federal government’s anti-bullying website defines bullying as unwanted, aggressive behavior among youth that involves a real or perceived power imbalance and is repeated multiple times or is likely to repeat. Making threats, spreading rumors, physically or verbally attacking someone, and deliberately excluding another person from a group all constitute bullying. In recent years, bullying has become the subject of increased media attention, particularly as technology and social media websites have given rise to “cyberbullying,” occasionally with tragic consequences.

Every state in the nation addresses anti-bullying. Using an interactive map at the StopBullying website, you can research your own state’s laws and policies and find out more about the 13 key components of state anti-bullying legislation, including specification of prohibited conduct, development and implementation of local education agency policies, and training and preventive education.

The website also includes guidance prepared especially for kids, including “Facts about Bullying,” “What You Can Do,” and more than a dozen “webisodes” (cartoons that portray bullying situations and show kids how to address bullying) with accompanying quizzes.

School policies

Your school may have a policy related to discrimination, harassment or bullying. Familiarize yourself with your school’s policy by reading the parent handbook or policy manual. If you can’t find any information in the parent handbook, ask your school for a copy of its policy.

For more detailed information on the range of laws protecting children with disabilities, you may be interested in the Department Of Justice’s Guide to Disability Rights Laws.

What to do when you have concerns about school implementation

The Resolving Concerns With a Child’s Special Education Services fact sheet outlines the steps parents and guardians can take if they disagree with their children’s school on any issue involving the special education program.

Read more related articles here:

IDEA, Section 504, and the ADA: Which laws do what

Also, read one of our previous posts here:

What Happens When Your Child with Special Needs Turns 18?

Click here to check out our On Demand Video about Estate Planning.

Click here for a short informative video from our own Attorney Bill O’Leary.

special needs grandparents

How to Grandparent a Child With Special Needs

How to Grandparent a Child With Special Needs

Educate yourself, provide support, know your limits and find the joy

 When Jim Oricchio’s grandson Sammy was diagnosed with autism at age 3, his family worried the boy wouldn’t make friends, would struggle to communicate and wouldn’t do well in school.

Instead, Sammy captained his high school bowling team, founded the school’s computer club and cohosted a podcast about autism. Now 20, he’s into cars and the stock market, and attends college. Along the way, Oricchio and his wife Donna, who have 11 grandchildren, have helped Sammy’s parents with the cost of his private school, advocated for services and connected with him through activities like twice-monthly lunches.

“I thank God every day that Sammy is who he is; he’s a blessing to our family,” says Oricchio, 75, who lives in suburban Minneapolis and owns a business technology company. He is also a volunteer with the PACER Center, a special-needs advocacy and support organization in Minneapolis that, among other programs, runs groups for grandparents.

Being the grandparent of a child with special needs can bring incredible joy but is also complicated, say grandparents like Oricchio, as well as advocates and other experts. About 17 percent of children are diagnosed with some kind of disability, says Madonna Harrington Meyer, a university professor in sociology at Syracuse University and coauthor with Ynesse Abdul-Malak of the book Grandparenting Children With Disabilities. While that percentage seems to be increasing, support programs for families are not, she says.

That’s one reason grandparents are so important. In fact, they are sometimes the first to spot that a child’s development is off the established norm, says Harrington Meyer, who interviewed dozens of grandparents for her book.

“Sometimes the grandparents are actually out in front,” she says. “But then they learn what it is. They learn what it means. And then they hit the ground running.”

Grandparents play an important role

Paul Fredette, 74, of New Bedford, Massachusetts, says he has a special connection with his grandson Tyler, 20, who has seizures and intellectual impairment as well as social and behavioral challenges.

“He just has this bond with us,” Fredette says. “It’s wonderful for us and it makes us feel happy that we can connect with him and make him laugh.… He loves us and we love him.”

Fredette and his wife, Claudette Weaver, 81, have 15 grandchildren in their blended family. Fredette’s daughter Deb Booth, who lives in Sandwich, Massachusetts, says her father and stepmother have provided invaluable help since Tyler developed a type of epilepsy at age 4 that does not respond to medication, possibly due to encephalitis.

When he was younger, Tyler loved the routine of having his grandparents pick him up from the school bus, take a ride by the airport, then go out to eat and to the arcade. Sometimes he spent the night at their house.

“I don’t know how we would have made it this far without their support,” Booth says. “Tyler has just an incredible relationship with my parents, and 99.9 percent of the time, he has never been a behavioral challenge for them.… If he’s in a grouchy mood, we do a FaceTime with ‘Pepere’ and ‘Memere,’ and that can turn him around.”

Grandparenting a child with special needs is a journey into unknown territory, says one Massachusetts grandmother of an autistic child who asked to remain anonymous. Like parents, grandparents may feel grief and anger when a child is first diagnosed. Then, as with any grandchild, they have to adjust their dreams to meet a child’s own story.

“I think we all went through some denial, almost like stages of grief,” the Massachusetts grandmother says. She and her husband, both retired educators, were prone to think they could fix anything but, as she says, “it’s nothing like a broken arm.”

In her case, grandparents and parents have pulled together to raise a child who struggles with communication and can’t be left alone. When her grandchild was younger, she and her husband helped with childcare. They also have helped financially, and they cook dinner for their grandchild’s family once a week.

“That’s what people need who are in this situation — they need a team of people,” she says.

Advice for grandparents, from grandparents

If you are facing the challenge of grandparenting a child with special needs, be assured there are ways to get advice and support that will help you emotionally, physically and financially. Here is some advice from grandparents of children with disabilities and others:

● Learn about your grandchild’s diagnosis. Time and information are “powerful tools,” says Harrington Meyer. Grandparents can be a huge resource by supporting parents and helping them to find programs and treatments. For example, many of the grandparents she spoke with for her book helped by driving a child to therapy sessions or accompanying parents on medical visits.

● Use education as a defense. Grandparents told Harrington Meyer that usually people were kind when they were out in public with a grandchild with disabilities, although things were sometimes awkward when someone in public reacted to a child’s seemingly willful behavior. “Very rarely does somebody say anything negative, but when they did, the grandparents chose to educate rather than get mad,” she says. “And that seemed to give the grandparents a great deal of strength. They felt very proud of how good they’d gotten at that out in public.”

Fredette says his experiences with Tyler have made him more compassionate toward other children he sees out in public. “You hear people say when somebody’s kids are screaming in the store, ‘He needs some discipline.’ …That’s not our first reaction anymore,” he says.

● Know your grandchild’s rights and advocate for them. Every state has a publicly supported information and training center for parents of children with special needs, such as the PACER Center, says Susan Einspar, a senior parent training and information advocate with PACER. The centers work with families to get the services and education to which their children are entitled under federal and state laws. For example, Oricchio says PACER helped him advocate for Sammy to have an aide in school. Some may have information or support groups for grandparents, as PACER does.

● Understand your own limits. “Just like we wanted the best for our own children, we certainly want the best for our grandchildren,” Einspar says. That means many grandparents are generous to a fault, whether it’s with time or financial resources. Seek advice on how to help your children and grandchildren financially without too much risk to your own future, she says. And recognize your own physical limitations; this is a marathon, not a sprint. As you and your grandchild age, it may be harder to provide childcare, for example, and you’ll need to adjust what you can do to help, grandparents say.

Tyler, now grown, no longer spends nights at his grandparents’ alone because, as he and they have aged, it’s become more difficult for them to physically handle his seizures.

● Find support for yourself. Connect with other grandparents of children with disabilities who understand the medical and emotional issues. “Getting online, getting in a support group, getting attached to other grandparents who have the exact same diagnosis seems to be by far the best thing,” says Harrington Meyer.

● Discover the joy. Fredette can’t wait for pandemic restrictions to be lifted. He wants to take Tyler for walks and out to eat and to spend the day with him again. “That’s not going to change and hasn’t since the day one with him,” he says. Einspar describes it as finding gifts among the challenges. “Perhaps you’re not going to be able to go to their football game and see them as quarterback,” she says, “but you’re going to have new dreams and aspirations for your grandchildren.”

Read more realted articles at:

How to be Fabulous Grandparents to a Child with Special Needs

Special grandparenting for a grandchild with special needs

Also, read one of our previous Blogs at:

Estate Planning For Special Needs Family Members

Click here to check out our On Demand Video about Estate Planning.

Click here for a short informative video from our own Attorney Bill O’Leary.

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