When a lawyer is advocating for expanded services from a school district for a child with special needs, they often turn to Kidmunicate to perform a comprehensive speech and language evaluation. We wanted to teach our readers how to use the law to get better outcomes for a child, so we reached out to Veronica Baxter, blogger and legal assistant working for a busy family law attorney in Philadephia.

Advocating for Services for Children with Special Needs

Every child has unique needs. This article will set forth the possible services your school district and the government can provide to address your child’s special needs and how an attorney can help you secure them.

While this particular article targets special services available to children in Philadelphia, chances are good that your municipality has parallel organizations and offers similar services. Contact a local special needs rights attorney for help.

Why Do I Need a Special Needs Rights Attorney?

There are many government and school district programs and services available to children with special needs, however, not every parent knows about them, who to contact, and how to apply. A local lawyer specializing in education and Social Security law is a valuable liaison and advocate for you, being aware of everything your child may qualify for and how to apply.

Available School District Services

In the School District of Philadelphia, the Office of Specialized Services (OSS) provides special education, behavioral health, school health, and prevention/intervention programs. School psychologists are available to assess students’ needs, and the OSS works with the Office of Academic Supports to implement the following:

  • Learning Support
  • Emotional Support
  • Autistic Support
  • Life Skills Support
  • Physical Support
  • Multiple Disabilities Support
  • Speech/language therapy
  • Occupational therapy
  • Physical therapy
  • Hearing support
  • Vision therapy
  • Transition services

If you feel your child needs the type of assistance offered by the OSS, you can request an assessment. Unfortunately, not every assessment is fully accurate. If you feel your child should qualify for services he or she is not getting, an attorney can advocate for you to get those services.

IEP and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a federal law charging school districts with the duty to find and evaluate children with special needs and provide them with a free and appropriate education. Children with any of the following are eligible for special services from the school district under IDEA:

  • intellectual disability
  • hearing impairment (including deafness)
  • speech/language disabilities
  • visual impairment (including blindness),
  • severe emotional disturbance
  • orthopedic impairments
  • autism
  • traumatic brain injury
  • other health impairments
  • specific learning disabilities

Determining what is “appropriate” for a child with any of these special needs will entail testing and psychological evaluations by the school district. Any assistance the child needs is then memorialized in an Individual Education Program (IEP).

If you feel your child needs an IEP, you can request that your child be assessed in writing to the school principal or superintendent. If they refuse to evaluate your child, an attorney can help you formally appeal. If they agree to assess your child, they will provide you with the results of the assessment and schedule an initial IEP meeting.

Unfortunately, assessments often do not capture all of a child’s impairments and so the resulting IEP does not fully assist the child in obtaining an appropriate education. If this is the case and you’ve been unsuccessful in advocating for your child with the school district, an attorney can step in and help you understand what your child is entitled to and how to obtain it.

If you’ve incurred costs for additional evaluations, tutoring, or equipment or technology necessary for your child to learn as a result of an incomplete IEP, an attorney can help you get reimbursed for that by the school district.

Social Security Benefits

A child with special needs under the age of 18 might be eligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) if their disability or disabilities are impairments that are severe enough to limit the child’s ability to do things and behave in the way that children of similar age group do.

Parents’ income affects the amount of SSI the child will receive through a process called “deeming.” The more the parents earn, the less in SSI the child will receive.

Attorneys who specialize in SSI law can help you appeal if your SSI claim has been denied or if benefits have been miscalculated. The process of applying for SSI is complex and often parents make procedural or administrative mistakes that result in their claim being denied initially.

An appeal will entail gathering your child’s medical records and evaluations and any new evidence if available. The first step is to ask for reconsideration of your child’s claim. If the claim is denied upon reconsideration, your attorney will represent your child at a hearing before an administrative law judge and perhaps use an expert witness to help explain why your child is entitled to SSI.

If the judge affirms the denial of your child’s claim, your attorney can ask for review by the Social Security Appeals Council. If that review fails, then your attorney can file a lawsuit in federal court.

Children with severe impairments may also be eligible for federal Medical Assistance, which is the same as Medicaid. These benefits are not tied to parental income.

Not every parent has the ability to learn all there is to learn about programs and services available to their special needs child. An attorney can help parents understand their child’s right to appropriate education and to government benefits, and help them obtain that education and those benefits.

About the Author

Veronica Baxter is a blogger and legal assistant living and working in the great city of Philadelphia, USA. She frequently works with Lee Schwartz, a noted Philadelphia family lawyer.