Children with disabilities aged infant to 21 are entitled to educational services under the federally mandated Individuals with Disabilities Education Act  (IDEA).  which ensures that all children with disabilities have available to them a “free appropriate public education” that emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment, and independent living.

Infants and toddlers with developmental delays or disabilities ages 0-3 are eligible for Early Intervention Services under the IDEA.

Starting at age three, Individualized Education Programs (IEP) are developed for children.  An IEP is a written statement of the educational program designed to meet a child’s individual needs. The IEP focuses on long term goals and objectives which are determined by an assessment and evaluation. A multidisciplinary team, including the child’s parents, develops the IEP. If a child needs a related service (e.g., occupational therapy, language therapy) to receive a free appropriate public education, it must be provided at no cost to the parents.

Each state has at least one federally funded Parent Training and Information Center that provides information, training, and advocacy to parents concerning their child’s right to a free appropriate public education.

Other Helpful Resources

A Parent’s guide to creating a plan for a child’s education, known as the Individualized Education Program, or IEP.

Wrightslaw provides parents, educators, advocates, and attorneys with accurate and reliable information about special education law, education law, and advocacy for children with disabilities.

CADRE works to increase the capacity to resolve special education disputes through mediation. CADRE works with state and local education and early intervention systems, parent centers, families and educators to improve programs and results for children with disabilities.

Early Intervention

Early intervention is the term used to describe services that reach a child early in his or her development, usually from birth through age three. Intervention is vital during this very early time because a child learns and develops at the fastest rate during these first few years.  It’s important not to miss out on this crucial part of your child’s development, as it may be more difficult to teach skills to your child as he or she gets older.

Broadly speaking, early intervention services are special services designed to identify and meet a child’s needs in five developmental areas:

  • Movement (physical development)
  • Learning (cognitive development)
  • Interaction (communication development)
  • Behavior (social or emotional development)
  • Adaptive development (use of existing skills)

Examples of early intervention services include medical services, physical and occupational therapy, and assistive technology devices. A service can be as simple as prescribing glasses for a two-year-old or as complex as developing a complete physical therapy program for an infant with cerebral palsy. The goal is always to help the child achieve the highest possible functioning and interaction at home and in the community. An early intervention program can also provide support and guidance to your family.

Zero to Three is a national, nonprofit organization that informs, trains, and supports professionals, policymakers, and parents in their efforts to improve the lives of infants and toddlers.

Youth Transition

Transition refers to the time when youth with disabilities leave the school system and continue to adult life–college, vocational training, employment, and/or independent living. This is a time when many youths “fall through the cracks” and lose services and supports that enable them to lead an independent, productive life. Planning for life after high school should be included in a student’s Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) by age 16. In fact, this is mandated by the IDEA.

Chart Your Own Future

Explains how youths can use their IEP to plan for their future after graduation.


A fun, interactive web site for youth with games, on-line journal, life maps and more that help youth with disabilities realize their employment, education, and independent living goals.

Think College

An informative website featuring multiple resources, including a services database, to assist both parents and students with selecting and attending college.

Life After High School Toolkit

Strategies and resources for families of youth with disabilities to assist in creating successful transition plans.

Transition Parent Briefs

PACER provides individual assistance, workshops, publications, and resources to help families make decisions about education and services for their child or young adult with disabilities.

Transition to Adulthood

Information on transition from the National Information Center for Children and Youth with Disabilities

National Secondary Transition Technical Assistance Center

NSTTAC helps states build capacity to support and improve transition planning, services, and outcomes for youth with disabilities and disseminate information and provide technical assistance on scientifically-based research practices with an emphasis on building and sustaining state-level infrastructures of support and district-level demonstrations of effective transition methods for youth with disabilities.

Heath Resource Center at the National Youth Transitions Center

A web-based clearinghouse that serves as an information exchange of educational resources, support services and opportunities related disability, counseling, transition and postsecondary education.

Transition Coalition

Online training modules, podcasts, and materials on transition for students, parents, and school personnel.

National Center on Secondary Education and Transition

The Center coordinates national resources, offers technical assistance, and disseminates information related to secondary education and transition for youth with disabilities to create opportunities for youth to achieve successful futures.

National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth

The National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth (NCWD/Youth) assists state and local workforce development systems to better serve all youth, including youth with disabilities and other disconnected youth. The Center is composed of partners with expertise in education, youth development, disability, employment, workforce development and family issues.


Educators play a vital role in helping children with disabilities achieve their full potential. The following resources offer useful tips and information that will help to enhance the educational and social needs for children with disabilities in the classroom.

Information for teachers on helping students with disabilities achieve their full potential including specifics of the IDEA, professional development resources, and best practices.

This Tool Kit from the Department of Education brings together the most current and accurate information, including research briefs and resources designed to improve instruction, assessment, and accountability for students with disabilities.

The TA&D Network supports projects that provide information and technical assistance to states, local schools, educational professionals, and families. The projects address topics such as autism, deafness, disproportional representation, dispute resolution, learning disabilities, parenting children with special needs, positive behavior support and transition.

The Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) is the largest international professional organization dedicated to improving the educational success of individuals with disabilities and/or gifts and talents. CEC advocates for appropriate governmental policies, sets professional standards, provides professional development, advocates for individuals with exceptionalities, and helps professionals obtain conditions and resources necessary for effective professional practice.

Bookshare — Making Print Accessible

Bookshare® is a searchable, online library of digital books available free of charge to people with print disabilities. The collection includes textbooks, novels, periodicals and assistive technology tools for readers of all ages. Users can have memberships through their school, organization, and/or an individual membership for use at home.

Reading materials are downloaded electronically and then read using compatible adaptive technology, typically software that reads the book aloud (text-to-speech) and/or displays the text of the book on a computer screen, or Braille access devices, such as refreshable Braille displays. There are even apps you can use with either your iOS device or your Android device.

Find out if you or your child qualifies for the free Bookshare membership, browse the vast collection, and learn more about this wonderful resource.

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