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Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004 (IDEA)

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is the nation’s special education law. First enacted three decades ago, IDEA provides billions of dollars in federal funding to assist states and local communities in providing educational opportunities for approximately six million students with varying degrees of disability who participate in special education.

Through IDEA, children with disabilities are provided the same Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) as their non-disabled peers in the least restrictive environment (LRE).

  • What is a free appropriate public education (FAPE)?

“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 further education, employment, and independent living”.

  • What is the least restrictive environment (LRE)?

Essentially, IDEA stipulates that states must have procedures, which provide children with disabilities to be educated with children who are not disabled. Where possible, separate schooling, special classes or removal of children with disabilities from a regular educational environment when satisfactory education cannot be met due to the nature of the student’s disability is only allowed in extreme cases.


Eligibility for Special Education and Related Services


The need for special education and related services must be determined at a multidisciplinary conference following a comprehensive case study evaluation. A child is eligible for services if he/she needs special education and related services as a result of having one or more of the following characteristics or conditions:

Mental Impairments – The child’s intellectual development, mental capacity, adaptive behavior, and academic achievement are markedly delayed. Such mental impairment may be mild/moderate; severe, or profound.

Developmental Delays – The term means one or more disabilities as defined in this section for children aged 3-5 experiencing delay in at least one of the following domains: physical development, cognitive development, communication development, social and emotional development, or adaptive development

Speech/Language Disabilities – The child exhibits deviations of speech and/or language processes which are outside the range of acceptable deviation within a given environment and which prevent full social or educational development.

Physical and Health Impairment – The child exhibits a physical or health impairment, either temporary or permanent, which interferes with his or her learning and/or which requires adaptation of the physical plant.

Specific Learning Disability – The child exhibits a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or using language, spoken or written, which may manifest itself in an imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or do mathematical calculations. The term includes such conditions as perceptual handicaps, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia and developmental aphasia. The term does not include children who have learning problems which are primarily the result of visual, hearing, or motor handicaps, mental retardation, emotional disturbance, or environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantage.

Behavior/Emotional Disorders – The term means a condition exhibiting one or more of the following characteristics over an extended period of time and to a marked degree, which adversely affects educational performance, even after supportive assistance has been provided. The student must demonstrate an inability to learn which cannot be explained by intellectual, sensory, health, cultural, or linguistic factors; an inability to develop or maintain satisfactory relationships with peers and adults; inappropriate types of behavior or feelings under normal circumstances; a general pervasive mood of anxiety, unhappiness, depression; or a tendency to develop physical symptoms or fears associated with personal or school problems.

 Multiple Impairments – The child exhibits two or more impairments, severe in nature or total impact, which significantly affects his or her ability to benefit from the educational program.

 Autism – The term means a developmental disability significantly affecting verbal and nonverbal communication and social interaction, generally evident before age 3, that adversely affects educational performance. Other characteristics often associated with autism are engagement in repetitive activities and stereotyped movements, resistance to environmental change or change in daily routines, and unusual responses to sensory experiences. The term does not apply if a child’s educational performance is adversely affected primarily because the child has a behavior disorder / emotional disorder.

Visual Impairment – The child’s visual impairment is such that the child cannot develop his or her educational potential without special services and materials.

 Hearing Impairment – The child’s residual hearing is not sufficient to enable him or her to understand the spoken word and to develop language, thus causing extreme deprivation in learning and communication. Or the child exhibits a hearing loss which prevents full awareness of environmental sounds and spoken language, limiting normal language acquisition and learning achievement.

Traumatic Brain Injury – The term means an acquired injury to the brain that adversely affects a child’s educational performance. A traumatic brain injury is one which is caused by an external physical force and occurs after the perinatal period; it is not medically degenerative or congenital. The student must demonstrate impairment in one or more of the following areas:

  1. Cognitive functioning (attention, concentration, intelligence, memory, problem-solving, abstract reasoning, judgment, and information-processing);
  2. Communication (receptive and expressive language and speech);
  3. Social/emotional (relationships, self-esteem, self-control, age-appropriate behavior);
  4. Sensory/perceptual (visual, auditory, kinesthetic, tactile, visual-motor integration);
  5. Motor (balance, equilibrium, find and gross motor, spatial orientation, speech, speed and coordination of movement, strength);
  6. Adaptive behavior (daily living skills, socialization, coping skills).