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Helping patients with learning and behavioral disabilities access school services

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With the school year in full swing, it’s common for caregivers of children to receive updates on their child’s learning and behavioral progress in school. Upon receiving these updates, some caregivers may find themselves concerned about their child’s academics and/or behavior in school, but unsure of what to do. Other families may have children with disabilities that are not currently enrolled in school but would likely benefit from services provided by the school district. Whatever the case might be, caregivers can request a full and individual evaluation (FIE) from their child’s school. This may be unfamiliar territory for caregivers, which is why providers at Texas Children’s Hospital are here to support them through this process. Below, our pediatric psychology team has taken the opportunity to answer some questions you may have about this process. 

What is a full and individual evaluation (FIE)?
An FIE is a comprehensive, individualized assessment of your child’s cognitive, academic, social/emotional, adaptive and behavioral skills that is completed in order to assess your child’s eligibility and needs for services that are provided by your child’s school at no charge to you. You can find more information on the FIE process here.  

How do I request an FIE for my child? 
The FIE must be requested in writing to your child’s neighborhood or “zoned” school. Address the letter to the principal of your child’s school and the special education director for your district. If you are unsure of who the principal and/or special education director at your child’s school is, you can use the Texas Education Directory. If you are unsure of your child’s school, you can contact your region’s Education Service Center or use the Texas School District Locator. Special education law requires that the school must adhere to a very specific timeline from the moment your request is made to when the evaluation is completed. You can find more details about this timeline here. You can use a template from the IDEA manual (page 36) or on our Community Resources page for School Resources and Services

What are special education services?
Children with disabilities have a legal right to a “free and appropriate public education” (FAPE). This includes special education services, which are a range of services and accommodations for students with disabilities that are provided in the public school system at no cost to families. These services and accommodations are designed to meet a child’s unique needs as a result of a disability by supporting learning and/or removing barriers to the learning environment. Special education services can include an IEP, which we describe below. 

Individualized Education Plan (IEP)

  • If the school determines that your child has a disability that results in an educational need for services, they will be eligible for an IEP. Disability classifications are defined by federal law and The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
  • Examples of services provided by an IEP may include:
    Psychological and/or counseling services
    Speech therapy, occupational therapy, and/or physical therapy
    Supplementary aids and services (eg., paraprofessionals, assistive technology, adapted materials, transportation)
    Instructional accommodations
    Instructional modifications
    Behavior intervention plans
  • For example, a child who qualifies for special education services due to a speech or language impairment may benefit from speech therapy services, substituting oral assignments for written ones, modified grading rubrics, and unrestricted use of an AAC (augmented and alternative communication device) or other communication aids. 
  • A child with a specific learning disability such as dyslexia may benefit from one-to-one or small group pull-out instruction for reading, reduced grade level reading, use of audio books, verbal instruction, and allowing extra time for assignments.  

504 Services

  • If the school determines that your child has a disability but does not have an educational need, they are eligible for 504 services. These services are designed to help students with disabilities access the general education setting by providing necessary accommodations. 
  • Examples of 504 accommodations can include:
      Preferential seating 
      Extended time on tests or assignments
      Excused absences
      Pre-approved breaks throughout the day or trips to the nurse’s office
      Open pass to the bathroom 
      Daily medication administration and monitoring
  • For example, a child with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may benefit from an instructional accommodation such as having their desk moved closer to the teacher, frequent breaks throughout the school day, and medication administration and monitoring. 
  • A child with a health or a medical condition (e.g., cancer and/or diabetes) which results in school absences may benefit from accommodations such as education to peers/staff on their illness, an extra set of textbooks for the hospital, a modified attendance policy, homebound instruction, and development of a health care/emergency plan for the school. 

If you find yourself navigating the full and individual evaluation (FIE) process, you may need help in advocating for your child’s needs. Below, we have included some helpful resources that can assist you in further understanding the special education process and how to become an advocate for your child. 

Helpful Resources:

Information on the special education in Texas:
Texas Project First  
Navigate Life Texas
SPEDTEX Parent Resources
Step by step of special education process
Guide to the ARD Process
Special Education Advocacy
Resource on the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) (English) (Spanish)
Resource on Section 504 and 504 services (English) (Spanish)
SPEDTEX advocacy resources