Know your rights


IDEA is our nation’s special education law. IDEA stands for Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. IDEA guides how states and school districts provide special education and related services to more than six million eligible children with disabilities. Learn more about this important federal law here!


What does IDEA mean for a child with autism?

IDEA is divided into four sections, called Part A–D. Each part relates to some area of educating children and youth with disabilities. These parts are:

1. Part A defines the terms used in the law. For example, the terms Child with a Disability and Free Appropriate Public Education are defined in Part A.

2. Part B gives money to States to provide services for eligible children and youth with disabilities. Part B includes the rules and regulations that States and school systems must follow to receive funds from the Federal government. This includes what must be done with respect to:

  • evaluating children for the presence of a disability and their eligibility for special education and related services;
  • notifying parents and involving them in their child’s education;
  • working with parents to write IEPs for eligible children;
  • providing special education and related services to children with disabilities;
  • resolving conflicts between parents and the school system; and much, much more.

Because Part B focuses on schools and children, it is probably the best known part of the law.

3. Part C is the Early Intervention Program for Infants and Toddlers with Disabilities. This program helps States develop and operate a system for providing early intervention services to infants and toddlers and their families. This system must include all of the agencies that might provide services, such as the Department of Education, Health, and Social Services. Some of these services may include family training, counseling and home visits, speech-language services, occupational therapy, and physical therapy. Like Part B, Part C is well known, primarily because it, too, deals with children.

4. Part D helps State education departments and other agencies improve how they work with children and youth with disabilities. Although lesser known than Parts B and C, Part D is critically important, because it builds the capacity of early intervention systems and schools to address the unique needs of children who have disabilities. Part D provides the information and research that informs professional practice and families. Under Part D, the Federal government provides grants to universities, colleges, and other organizations to:

  • Prepare teachers to teach all students, including students with disabilities;
  • Do research into best practices for children and youth with disabilities;
  • Publicize information about services to parents, teachers, and other professionals working with children;
  • Operate parent training and information (PTI) centers, which work directly with families;
  • Operate information centers like NICHCY;
  • Develop technologies for professionals and children; and
  • Operate demonstration projects that investigate new or promising educational practices.

Each part of the law has a crucial role to play in the education of children with disabilities. Together, they work to ensure that the four purposes of the law are carried out. As stated in the opening words of IDEA‘s implementing regulations for Part B:

“The purposes of this part are—

(a) to ensure 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 employment and independent living;

(b) To ensure that the rights of children with disabilities and their parents are protected;

© To assist States, localities, educational service agencies, and Federal agencies to provide for the education of all children with disabilities; and

(d) To assess and ensure the effectivenessness of efforts to educate children with disabilities.” (34 Code of Federal Regulations Section 300.1, Purposes.)



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