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Special Education Process

The first thing parents want to know if they think their child might have special needs is “what is the special education process” and “what am I supposed to do?” This overview of the process will help you understand how it works.

The steps in the process are:


  1. The Referral

  2. The Evaluation

  3. The Eligibility Conference

  4. Develop a Plan: Individualized Education Program (IEP)/504 Plans

  5. The Annual Review


Recognize that the special education process can take a long time. It is measured in school days, every one of which is very precious. Do insist that the school keep the process moving in a timely manner. Do your part to participate as best you can. Your work with the school should be approached with care, thought and in the spirit of co-operation. A sense of humor might also help. Always remember that you are the only one who is with your child year to year, and you are full partners on a team trying to maximize your child’s success.

Know your legal rights.

Knowing your child’s legal rights takes you from an observer to an active, knowledgeable participant in your child’s education. You cannot effectively advocate for your child if you do not learn the special education laws and understand the special education process. Each district is unique and it’s up to you to make sure your school provides what your child is entitled to under the law.


The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) provides a free resources to parents that can be accessed at, You can also refer to the “Explanation of Procedural Safeguards” which is distributed to parents by the local school district.

Learn the language of special education.

Becoming familiar with the terminology will help you understand and allow you to fully participate in any meetings pertaining to your child. Use the ISBE resources as support. There are also helpful books published on the topic.

Make your energy productive.

The life of a parent with a child with special needs is sometimes incredibly difficult and sometimes wonderfully rewarding. Many parents find it helpful to join a group or see a professional for emotional support and guidance. Remember, this is an ongoing process, not a short-term problem to be solved quickly. If you begin to accept what you can’t change, you can channel your energy more constructively. Don’t expect to be perfect; just do the best you can. One of the most important lessons you will ever teach your children is how you manage the challenges in your life.


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