Is My Child Eligible for Therapeutic Services?
It is important to realize that not all children are the same, and an educational system that benefits one child may not benefit another. Children with special needs especially, such as those with dyslexia, autism, or behavioral problems, may struggle to learn and may struggle to enjoy education without additional support services. Unfortunately, many parents don’t know their rights in terms of getting their children the support they need. Every parent should know that, if they have a special needs child, or a child that requires a little extra support, that help is out there, and it can be accessed.
Understanding the system
Unfortunately, it can be quite difficult for parents of special needs children to find specific information relating to what their family are, and are not, entitled to in terms of their child’s education and therapeutic services. Two things that all parents should know about is the Individualized Education Program (IEP) and section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (the ‘504 Plan’). The IEP stipulates that any child displaying developmental difficulties should have access to an IEP evaluation which aims to determine what services and special education programs should be put in place to help that child get the most out of their education. Parents, teachers, and members of Early Intervention can request an IEP assessment for a child, which should culminate in an appropriate Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE plan). The 504 Plan requires that all mainstream educational establishments in New Jersey do not discriminate against students with special needs, and insists that they are not rejected from admission due to educational needs. Ultimately, the idea is that all schools should be able to provide adequate services for special needs children through a FAPE plan. If you’re having trouble navigating the system, all parents are eligible to seek the support of parent advocates through the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA). Parent advocates have often been in similar situations and can act as a guide for children and their families. They are clued in to what support is available throughout New Jersey for special needs children and their families.
The New Jersey Early Intervention System is designed to help identify the needs of children from birth to three years, and to provide access to appropriate services, such as therapeutic, physical, and developmental programs. Depending on where you reside in the state, your family will be supported by either Family Link, Helpful Hands, Mid-Jersey Cares, or Southern Regional. You will be assigned a caseworker who will work with you to draw up a Individual Family Service Plan (IFSP). The plan will include any tasks or help member of Early Intervention can provide to the family, as well as support in locating local groups and services that could help your child, such as Colors of Play. Unfortunately, not all services are free of charge, but Early Intervention can help you apply for financial assistance, and can also provide supporting documents that will enable you to claim for insurance payments to cover any costs.
Free appropriate public education
Once your child turns three years old, responsibility for providing them with adequate services and education shifts from the Early Intervention System to your child’s school. FAPE plans are in place to support those aged between 3 and 21 years, who require additional educational platforms. As well as providing in-school support for special needs children, a FAPE plan also ensures that they have access to what are known as ‘related services’ which includes physical therapy, speech and language therapy, therapeutic programs, psychological counselling, and many other types of programs that could aid the development and confidence of a special needs child. If your chosen school does not offer a specific service in house, the FAPE plan should act as a referral to a private organization that can provide these services.
In the majority of cases, any child that qualifies for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is eligible for both Early Intervention and FAPE. To be covered by IDEA, individuals must be aged under 21 years, and must have a diagnosed physical, emotional, learning, or cognitive disability that cannot be adequately managed through mainstream education or without the use of related services. In some cases, children who do not meet IDEA criteria may still be eligible for additional support if they are struggling to cope with mainstream education. It is important to know your rights, and to seek a referral if you feel your child would benefit from specific therapeutic services. Talk to your child’s school, or to a parent advocate, who can help set you on the right path for bettering your child’s education, and helping them succeed with the support they need.