As a parent, you may make a special education referral for your child at any age up to sixteen. Many parents believe that only school personnel are allowed to do this and that is incorrect. According to Section 300.300 of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), "either a parent of a child or a public agency may initiate a request for an initial evaluation to determine if the child is a child with a disability." There are different regulations and procedures according to the age of your child that I will outline here.
If your infant, toddler or child is not in school and you suspect that he/she is not developing appropriately and that your child may have a disability it is a good idea to discuss this with your child's pediatrician. They have specialized training in detecting disabilities and will make a referral to early intervention services for you if they concur with your suspicions. It the pediatrician does not concur they will usually provide you with some education and suggestions regarding your concerns. Many parents are unaware that children with disabilities are entitled to certain services from birth. Early intervention is often referred to as the Child Find Process.
If your child is in school and you suspect that he/she may have a disability that impedes his/her learning it is best practice to discuss your concerns with your child's primary teacher. School personnel should be trained to look for clues that a child may be in need of special education services. In fact, the teacher may have already requested support and pre-referral interventions from the school's support team due to their concerns. School personnel are obligated to attempt to remediate the child's academic and/or behavioral concerns with research-based interventions for a time period prior to them being able to make an official referral. Pre-referral interventions are not considered part of the evaluation process for special education services.
The law in Part C of IDEA (for children birth-age 2) indicates that children who are referred to early intervention services requires that a screening, an assessment and the initial meeting need be completed within 45 days of the referral. The law in Part B of IDEA (for children age 3-21) states that the initial referral must be conducted within 60 days of receiving the parental consent to evaluate the child. There are exceptions to these timelines if the parent or child are not available for evaluation, or of the child is moved to another public school district and sufficient progress has not yet been made on the evaluation.
If you do not feel like you are getting the results you want with your child's teacher or pediatrician and you have significant concerns for your child, you may write a letter to your local school district indicating that you would like your child to be evaluated for special education. Early intervention is crucial for children with disabilities, which is why there are federal and state laws mandating evaluation and services from birth through the age of 21 of children with disabilities, when appropriate.