Exploring Assistive Technology: Understanding, Access, and Resources for All Ages and Abilities

Brief overview:

  • Access to assistive technology (AT) is protected by four federal laws.
  • The U.S. Department of Education has released guidance on the specific requirements about providing AT under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The guidance takes the form of detailed explanations for many misunderstood facts about using AT in schools and early intervention services. It is available online and in PDF form in English and Spanish.
  • AT can be very simple and low-cost, or it may be high-tech or large and expensive. Resources for deciding on AT devices and services and buying or getting low-cost or free TA are included in the article.

Full Article

You can also type “assistive technology” in the search bar at wapave.org to find other articles where assistive technology is mentioned.

What is assistive technology (AT)? Who uses it? Where is it used?
Assistive technology (AT) is any item, device, or piece of equipment used by people with disabilities to maintain or improve their ability to do things. AT allows people with disabilities to be more independent in education, at work, in recreation, and daily living activities. AT might be used by a person at any age—from infants to very elderly people.

AT includes the services necessary to get AT and use it, including assessment (testing), customizing it for an individual, repair, and training in how to use the AT. Training can include training the individual, family members, teachers and school staff or employers in how to use the AT.

Some examples of AT include:

  • High Tech: An electronic communication system for a person who cannot speak; head trackers that allow a person with no hand movement to enter data into a computer
  • Low Tech: A magnifying glass for a person with low vision; a communication board made of cardboard for a person who cannot speak
  • Big: An automated van lift for a wheelchair user
  • Small: A grip attached to a pen or fork for a person who has trouble with his fingers
  • Hardware: A keyboard-pointing device for a person who has trouble using her hands
  • Software: A screen reading program, such as JAWS, for a person who is blind or has other disabilities

You can find other examples of AT for people of all ages on this Fact Sheet from the Research and Training Center on Promoting Interventions for Community Living.

Select the AT that works best:

Informing Families, a website from the Developmental Disabilities Administration, suggests this tip: “Identify the task first. Device Second. There are a lot of options out there, and no one device is right for every individual. Make sure the device and/or apps are right for your son or daughter and try before you buy.”

AT3 Center, a national site for AT information, has links describing, finding and buying a wide variety of assistive technology, with text in English and Spanish.

Understood.org offers a series of articles about AT focused on learning in school, for difficulties in math, reading, writing, and more.

Who decides when AT is needed?  Your child’s medical provider or team may suggest the AT and services that will help your child with their condition. If your child is eligible for an Individualized Education Program (IEP), an Individualized Family Services Plan (IFSP), or a 504 plan, access to AT is required by law. In that case, the team designing the plan or program will decide if AT is needed, and if so, what type of AT will be tried. Parents and students, as members of the team, share in the decision-making process. A process for trying out AT is described on Center for Parent Information and Resources, Considering Assistive Technology for Students with Disabilities.

Access to assistive technology (AT) is protected by four laws:

  1. The AT Act of 2004 requires states to provide access to AT products and services that are designed to meet the needs of people with disabilities. The law created AT agencies in every state. State AT agencies help you find services and devices that are covered by insurance, sources for AT if you are uninsured, AT “loaner” programs to try a device or service, options to lease a device, and help you connect with your state’s Protection and Advocacy Program if you have trouble getting, using, or keeping an assistive service or device. Washington State’s AT agency, Washington Assistive Technology Act Program (WATAP), has a “library” of devices to loan for a small fee and offers demonstrations of how a device or program works.

IDEA Part C includes AT devices and services as an early intervention service for infants and toddlers, called Early Support for Infants and Toddlers (ESIT) in Washington State. AT can be included in the child’s Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP). When a toddler transitions from early intervention services to preschool, AT must be considered whether or not a child currently has AT services through an IFSP.

It’s important that a student’s use of AT is specified in their post-secondary Transition Plan. This will document how the student plans to use AT in post-secondary education and future employment and may be needed when asking for accommodations from programs, colleges and employers when IDEA and IEPs no longer apply.

Guidance on assistive technology (AT) from the U.S. Department of Education

In January 2024, the U.S. Department of Education sent out a letter and guidance document on the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requirements for assistive technology for children under Part C and Part B of IDEA.

The guidance document is available online and in a downloadable pdf in English and Spanish. It includes common “Myths and Facts” about AT. The document is designed to help parents, early intervention providers, educators, related service providers, school and district administrators, technology specialists and directors, and state agencies understand what IDEA requires.

For instance, there are examples of what IFSPs might include:

  • A functional AT evaluation to assess if an infant or toddler could benefit from AT devices and services;
  • AAC devices (e.g., pictures of activities or objects, or a handheld tablet) that help infants and toddlers express wants and needs;
  • Tactile books that can be felt and experienced for infants and toddlers with sensory issues;
  • Helmets, cushions, adapted seating, and standing aids to support infants and toddlers with reduced mobility; and
  • AT training services for parents to ensure that AT devices are used throughout the infant or toddler’s day.

For IEPs, some important facts from the guidance document are:

  • Each time an IEP Team develops, reviews, or revises a child’s IEP, the IEP Team must consider whether the child requires AT devices and services (in order to receive a free appropriate public education (FAPE).
  • If the child requires AT, the local educational agency (LEA) is responsible for providing and maintaining the AT and providing any necessary AT service. The IEP team can decide what type of AT will help the child get a meaningful educational benefit.
  • The IEP must include the AT to be provided in the statement on special education, related services, and supplementary aids and services.
  • A learner’s AT device should be used at home as well as at school, to ensure the child is provided with their required support.
  • AT devices and services should be considered for a child’s transition plan as they can create more opportunities for a child to be successful after high school. (Note: AT can be an accommodation used in post-secondary education and in a job).

If a student is already using AT devices or services that were owned or loaned to the family, such as a smartphone, theguidance includes information about how to write it into an IEP or an agreement between the parents and school district.

Paying for AT

Some types of AT may be essential for everyday living including being out in the community and activities of daily living like eating, personal hygiene, moving, or sleeping. When a child has an AT device or service to use through an IFSP, IEP, or 504 plan, the device or service belongs to the school or agency, even if it’s also used at home. All states have an AT program that can help a school select and try out an AT device. These programs are listed on the Center for Assistive Technology Act Data Assistance (CATADA) website. A child’s AT devices and services should be determined by the child’s needs and not the cost.

When a child graduates or transitions out of public school, they may need or want AT for future education or work. In these cases, families can look for sources of funding for the more expensive types of AT. Here are some additional programs that may pay for AT devices and services:

AT for Military Families

Some programs specific to the United States Armed Forces may cover certain types of assistive technology as a benefit.It’s important for Active-Duty, National Guard, Veteran and Coast Guard families to know that they are eligible for assistive technology programs that also serve civilians, including those in Washington State.

If the dependent of an Active-Duty servicemember is eligible for TRICARE Extended Care Health Option (ECHO), assistive technology devices and services may be covered with some restrictions. The program has an annual cap for all benefits and cost-sharing, so the cost of the AT must be considered. The AT must be pre-authorized by a TRICARE provider and received from a TRICARE-licensed supplier. If there is a publicly funded way to get the assistive technology (school, Medicaid insurance, Medicaid Home and Community-Based Services Waiver, state AT agency loaner device, or any source of taxpayer-funded access to AT), the military family must first exhaust all possibilities of using those sources before ECHO will authorize the AT.

Some types of AT, such as Durable Medical Equipment, may be covered under a family’s basic TRICARE insurance plan.

The United States Coast Guard’s Special Needs Program may include some types of assistive technology as a benefit.

Additional Resources
Assistive Technology

Does my child qualify for Assistive Technology (AT) in school?

Movers, Shakers, and Troublemakers: How Technology Can Improve Mobility and Access for Children with Disabilities

Low tech tool ideas that can be used to increase Healthcare Independence

IEP Tips: Evaluation, Present Levels, SMART goals

Getting services at school starts with evaluation. Eligible students get an individualized Education Program (IEP), which describes a student’s present levels of performance and how specially designed instruction supports progress toward annual goals.

This article provides a quick overview of the basic IEP process and provides tips for family caregivers to get more involved. PAVE offers a fillable worksheet to assist parents in developing suggestions to share with the IEP team.

Step 1: Evaluate

To determine eligibility for special education, the school district collects data to answer 3 primary questions:

  1. Does the student have a disability?
  2. Does the disability adversely impact education?
  3. Does the student need Specially Designed Instruction (SDI)?

If the answer to all three questions is ‘Yes’, the student qualifies for an Individualized Education Program (IEP).

If the answer to any of the three questions is ‘No’, the student may be eligible for support through a Section 504 Plan.

TIP: Does the data being collected capture information in all areas of concern? District special education staff can provide input if more specialized evaluation tools are needed.

Step 2: Write the Present Levels of Performance (PLOP)

(Also referred to Present Levels of Educational Performance (PLEP)

When an IEP is drafted, information from the evaluation transfers to the present levels of academic achievement and functional performance (PLOP for short). Students, family members, and outside providers may contribute additional information. There are required elements, depending on age:

  • Preschool: how disability affects participation in appropriate activities within the natural environment​
  • School-age: how disability affects involvement and progress in general education​

​​TIP: Does the PLOP list talents and skills to encourage a strength-based IEP? This section of the IEP can describe how teaching strategies support a student and create opportunities for progress toward goals.

Step 3: Write Goals to Measure Effectiveness of Specially Designed Instruction (SDI)

Goals are written for each area of SDI that a student is eligible to receive. Remember that the 3-part evaluation determines whether SDI is needed. Evaluation, PLOP, and goals are tied to the same data points.

TIP: Here are some questions to consider when reading/writing goals with the IEP team:

  • Are a student’s natural talents and curiosity described and appreciated as part of goal setting?
  • What is the SDI to support the goal, and why is it a good approach or strategy for this learner?
  • Are goals providing opportunity for appropriate progress, given the child’s circumstances?
  • Do the goals properly address the concerns revealed through evaluation and explained in the PLOP?
  • Can the students use their own words to describe IEP goals and how they are making progress? Student goal-tracking worksheets are readily available online.
  • Is the goal SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-Bound?

Grid for Goal Development

In accordance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), an IEP goal is reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriately, in light of the child’s circumstances. Parents/students have the right to participate in goal setting and progress monitoring.

These points can be used to design a grid to outline goal setting and to note whether written goals are SMART. A downloadable PDF shows these points in a grid format. A family participant on an IEP team can draft rewritten or proposed goals for the IEP team to consider. Submitting those suggestions to IEP team members before a meeting might help ensure that a parent’s suggestions are a critical part of the agenda.

  • Challenge: Identify the learning barrier/issue.
  • Skill: What needs to be learned?
  • SDI (Specially Designed Instruction): What is the teaching strategy?
  • SMART Goal: Yes/No? Use the following questions to determine whether the goals need improving.

Review whether IEP Goals are SMART:

  • Specific: Is the targeted skill clearly named or described? How will it be taught?
  • Measurable: How will progress toward the goal be observed or measured?
  • Achievable: Is a goal toward this skill realistic for the student, considering current abilities?
  • Relevant: Is the skill something that is useful and necessary for the student’s success in school and life?
  • Time-Bound: What specific date is set to determine whether the goal is met?

Learn more about SMART Goals in this short video:

Special Education Frequently Asked Questions

How do I know if my child has a developmental delay?

If you suspect that your child might have a developmental delay, you should talk with your child’s pediatrician. They may conduct a developmental screening.

Where can I learn more about tracking milestones?

The Learn the Signs. Act Early website includes tools for tracking milestones and materials for families to learn more and plan home-based activities to promote skill development.

Where can I find out about early intervention services in another state?

The US Department of Education Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) provides funding for the Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center, based at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. The center builds state and local capacity to improve outcomes for young children
with disabilities and their families.

How do I get the information and documentation for my child’s IEP translated to my first language?

The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) provides guidance about language access rights in multiple languages.

How do I find a program that is culturally responsive?

Call the program office and schedule a visit during which you can observe and ask questions. Communicate your family and cultural values to gauge how the program may accommodate any differences, challenges, or needs.

What is an IEP?

An Individualized Education Program (IEP) is a dynamic program written and tailored to the needs of a student with a disability, aged 3-21, in order to help them participate in and make progress in their education. Read this article to learn more about the IEP.

What do I do if the school will not evaluate my child for an IEP?

If the school refused to evaluate your child, request that they provide you with prior written notice of this decision. You may send a letter requesting an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE) or pursue dispute resolution options under the procedural safeguards.

How can I request more help with my child’s educational and medical needs and supports?

Complete a Get Help request on the PAVE website to connect with a team member for additional support.

Communication Log

Maintaining a clear record of who said what and when is simplified with a school communication log. This tool streamlines the organization and retrieval of your notes pertaining to phone calls, letters, face-to-face meetings, emails exchanged with your child’s teachers, and any other interactions involving the school.

For parents of children with an Individualized Education Program (IEP), meticulous record-keeping of all communication with the school or IEP team is particularly crucial. Insert this chart at the forefront of the “Communication” section in your IEP binder. Utilize it to promptly log specifics following discussions or when
engaging in written communication.

Use the printable log to track your conversations with members of the IEP team, as you see in the sample below.

Sample of a filled out communications log, It includes the date, name of contact, role or position  summary of conversation, whether the issue is resolved and next steps and follow up dates. Also include what kind of means was used for communicating, such as email, call, etc.

Example of an empty Communications log.

Sample of an empty  communications log, It includes the date, name of contact, role or position  summary of conversation, whether the issue is resolved and next steps and follow up dates. Also include what kind of means was used for communicating, such as email, call, etc.

For more information, read these Tips for Communicating as an IEP Team.

This article also forms part of the 3-5 Transition Toolkit

Educational Program Options for Children Aged 3-5 Years Old

Inclusion Preschool Programs

Inclusion preschools, sometimes called developmental preschools, are special classes in the school district for children aged 3 to 5 with special needs. These students receive custom tailored instruction to meet their individual requirements. The special education team comprises professionals, such as teachers, teaching assistants, speech-language pathologists, occupational therapists, education specialists, physical therapists, school psychologists, and school nurses.

In these preschools, kids learn various skills that prepare them for kindergarten and beyond. These services are free, and eligibility is determined by assessments from a team of specialists who create an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for each child.

Most inclusion preschools have sessions from Monday to Thursday, each lasting 2 1/2 hours. There are morning sessions from 10:00 AM to 12:30 PM and afternoon sessions from 1:30 PM to 4:00 PM on these days. Some programs offer a half-day schedule from Tuesday to Friday, while others have a full-day one from Monday to Friday. Remember that the scheduling can vary depending on your school district.

To see if your child is eligible for an inclusion preschool near you contact your local school districts. Each school district will supply parents with preschool enrollment information. For a complete listing of schools in your area please visit OSPI’s Washington’s state school explore map.

Alternatives to Inclusion Preschool Programs

Although Inclusion preschools are designed for all, some families might seek other preschool options for their child. When exploring alternatives, parents and caregivers should consider factors such as the school’s location, tuition costs, acceptance of working connections, the physical setting (home-like or classroom), adult-to-child ratios, operating hours, cultural competence of staff, and their experience in caring for children with developmental delays and disabilities. Some alternatives to Inclusion preschool include ECEAP programs, centerbased options, family childcare centers, and family, friend, and neighbor (FFN) programs.

The Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP) is Washington’s no-cost prekindergarten program, aimed at preparing 3- and 4-year-old children from families facing more significant challenges for success in school and life. The Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF) oversees the program. Families with children aged 3 or 4 by August 31st may be eligible for this free opportunity. To find out more and locate an ECEAP program in your area.

EECEAP programs (Pierce County)
The Tacoma school district operates eight ECEAP classrooms distributed across seven locations in Pierce County, which include Bonney Lake, Buckley, Eatonville, Orting, South Hill, Sumner, and University Place. Additionally, a dual language program that teaches both Spanish and English is offered at the South Hill location. Families in Pierce County can also access the ECEAP program provided by the Multicultural Child and Family Hope Center, located in Tacoma. For more information on their programs and services please visit the Multicultural Child and Family Hope Center website.

Center-Based Childcare Centers
When families seek alternatives to inclusion preschools, they can decide between center based childcare providers and family childcare homes. Childcare centers offer care to groups of children, typically organizing them into classrooms based on their age. These centers usually have several staff members responsible for looking after the children. Childcare centers are commonly situated in commercial facilities and can be run by various entities, including individual owners, for-profit chains, government agencies, public schools, or nonprofit organizations like faith-based or community organizations.

Family Childcare Centers

Family childcare providers offer personalized care to a small group of children in their own private residence, which can be a house, apartment, or condo unit. If families prefer smaller group sizes and a homely environment with flexible hours, including evenings and weekends, family childcare can be an excellent choice. It’s worth noting that family childcare providers may be a more cost-effective option than certain center-based programs, although rates may differ depending on your local community. For information on how to find a center-based or family childcare center for your child, please contact your local childcare resources and referral agency- Brightspark. You can also find additional information on childcare options by visiting Childcare Aware of Washington, and Childcare.gov.

Family, Friends, and neighbors (FFN)

Family, friend, and neighbor (FFN) providers encompass a diverse group, including friends, neighbors, older siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles, elders, and other individuals who support families by offering childcare services. FFN care is the most commonly chosen form of childcare for children from birth to age five, as well as for school-age children both before and after school hours. Many parents and caregivers opt for FFN care, especially when their child has special health or developmental needs, as they may already have an established relationship with a family member, friend, or neighbor who shares their language and culture. To learn more about FFN childcare, please visit the DCYF website.

This article forms part of the 3-5 Transition Toolkit

Preparing for Productive and Effective Conversations with Education and Service Providers

Here are our top three tips for making every conversation with your child’s IFSP or IEP team an opportunity to show them what makes your child the remarkable human being you know and love.

  1. Share your child’s strengths and needs: Every conversation with your child’s IFSP or IEP team is an opportunity to show them what makes your child the remarkable human being you know and love. As you work together to develop a plan to address their needs, it’s equally important that you share your child’s strengths. They are more than the sum of their symptoms, challenges, and disabilities. Your child’s interests are a part of who they are and their current abilities can help to identify the best support strategies for their individual needs.
StrengthsNeeds
Things my child does that make me feel happy or unconcernedThings that my child does or cannot do that make me feel concerned
Smiles back at me or othersDoesn’t smile back at me or others
Responds to his or her nameDoesn’t respond to his or her name
Likes to play with other childrenPrefers to play alone
Makes sounds, babbles, or talksSeldom Attempts to make sounds
*Adapted form the PACER Center

While it’s true that children develop differently, at their own pace, and that the range of what’s “normal” development is quite broad, it’s hard not to worry and wonder. If you think that your child is not developing at the same pace or in the same way as most children his or her age, it may be helpful to review established guidelines, such as the Early Learning and Development Guidelines. This booklet includes information about what children can do and learn at different stages of development, focused on birth through third grade. A free downloadable version is available in English and Spanish from the
Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI).

2. Ask Questions: No single person knows everything. You are not expected to know or understand every word or acronym used. Parents have the right to ask questions before, during, and after meetings. Although the professionals may know about child development, you are the expert in your child. It is important for you to ask questions for clarification and understanding; learning as much as you can helps you to be a better advocate for your
child.

3. Take notes and share your reflections: Write down your questions before meetings and make note of anything that remains
unanswered to follow up on. During the meeting, take notes that highlight concerns, resolutions, and unresolved issues. As soon as possible after the meeting, or at least within the next 24 hours, write down everything you remember from the meeting. Then, email a quick thank you note with your notes attached, asking them to let you know if you misheard or misinterpreted anything that was discussed. This allows for clarification and understanding before frustration can take root and interrupt the team’s effectiveness.

This article forms part of the 3-5 Transition Toolkit

Common Accommodations and Modifications in an IEP For 3-5 year old’s

Accommodations and modifications for 3-5-year-olds should be tailored to meet the unique needs of each child. These young children may have various developmental, cognitive, and sensory challenges, so it’s important to work closely with a team of educators, therapists,
and parents to create an effective IEP.

  • Accommodations are changes in how a student learns and demonstrates their knowledge without altering the curriculum’s content.
  • Modifications are changes made to the curriculum or expectations, often involving a reduction in content, complexity, or grading standards.

Examples of accommodations and modifications

Accommodations

  1. Extended Time: Provide additional time for completing assignments, tests, or in-class
    activities.
  2. Frequent Breaks: Allow short breaks during lessons or assessments to help manage
    attention and focus.
  3. Small Group or One-on-One Instruction: Offer personalized instruction to address
    specific learning needs.
  4. Use of Assistive Technology: Provide access to technology tools or devices like text-tospeech software, screen readers, or speech recognition software.
  5. Visual Supports: Use visual aids like charts, diagrams, or graphic organizers to enhance
    comprehension.
  6. Verbal or Visual Cues: Give verbal or visual reminders and cues to help with task initiation
    or transitions.
  7. Preference for Seating: Allow the student to choose their seating arrangement to optimize
    learning conditions.

Modifications

  1. Modified Grading: Adjust grading criteria to reflect the student’s individual progress and
    abilities.
  2. Altered Assignments: Modify the content or format of assignments to match the student’s
    skill level.
  3. Individualized Goals: Develop personalized learning objectives based on the student’s
    unique needs and abilities.
  4. Support from Specialized Staff: Utilize the expertise of special education teachers,
    speech therapists, or occupational therapists to provide additional support

*Remember that the specific accommodations and modifications included in an IEP should
be based on the student’s individual needs and goals. Regular IEP team meetings and
ongoing communication with teachers and specialists are essential to ensure that the plan
remains effective and responsive to the student’s changing needs.

This article forms part of the 3-5 Transition Toolkit

Your Child has Met the Eligibility for an IEP – Preparing for the IEP Meeting

Use this checklist to prepare for the meeting to discuss special education and related services with your child’s IEP team.

This article forms part of the 3-5 Transition Toolkit

What You Need To Know About My Child

Using the guiding questions below, prepare a one-pager of skills, challenges, concerns, and interests of your child on the next page. Make your own print friendly one Pager.

Hello My Name is (Insert name)

I am (insert age) years old.

My strengths are…Some important things you should know about me are…I respond well to…
What does your child do well
(i.e. feeds self, imitates
modeled behaviors)?

What skills does your child
have (i.e. knows their
colors)?

What characteristics help
them to be successful with
difficult tasks or
nonpreferred activities?

Which personality traits do
you appreciate in your child
(i.e. very social, a thinker)?
Attach a picture of your childWhat behavioral strategies
are working at home?

What visual or physical
supports have been
successful in the past?

What do you do to ease
transitions at home and in
other settings (i.e. two minute warning)?

What are some methods to
make challenges easier (i.e.
setting a timer, playing
music)?
Things that challenge me (but I am still working on) are…Some Important things you should know about me are…My likes and interests are…
What are some things you
are working on at home or in
other settings (i.e. making
eye contact, responding to
my name)?

What skills are starting to
show, but still need work (i.e.
turn-taking, signing/speaking
to indicate a need or want)?

What are some current
problem behaviors and how
are you addressing them (i.e.
stuffing too much food in
mouth – giving a handful at a
time)?
What are the most
concerning behaviors or
needs (i.e. wander risk, no
fear of danger or pain)?

What should a caretaker
know before being left alone
with your child (i.e. allergies,
health concerns)?

What behaviors does your
child do that might be
misunderstood (i.e. echoes a
question when they don’t
understand)?
What does your child like
that can be used as
reinforcement for expected
behaviors (i.e. bubbles,
tickling, trains)?

What might your child find
comforting during or
following an upset (i.e.
preferred character or
item)?

What causes your child to
self-stimulate (stim) (i.e.
magnets, stacking blocks,
twinkle lights)?

Sample Letter to the IEP Team – Today Our Partnership Begins

This sample letter introduces a child to members of the IEP team by highlighting their strengths and individual personality, while also providing strategies and information about their disability. Use the Today Our Partnership Begins Worksheet to write an introductory letter for your child.

Dear Mr./Mrs./Mx. Teacher,

Today, our partnership begins.

Here are some things about (NAME) that you may not otherwise learn about him/her from his/her file. I invite you to contact me by phone (###-###-####) or email (email@domain.com), anytime you have questions about and how best to reach him/her.

(NAME) is (describe his/her culture and heritage). He/She has lived in Washington State for # months/years. (If you are new to the state, describe where your child has been raised up until this point.)

(If you are a military family, include information about your branch of service and how military moves or operations have impacted your child.)

(NAME) is actively involved in his/her community and he/she enjoys (describe any community participation groups, clubs, activities, or events). Outside of school, (NAME) is interested in (provide a short list of main hobbies, skills, and interests).

Some of my favorite things about (NAME) are his/her (personality and character traits). When he/she has trouble with something, he/she (describe your child’s strengths and existing coping strategies).

(NAME) has (name of disability), which affects him/her by (describe symptoms, challenges, and limitations). He/she has trouble with (list activities and skills that are impacted as a result of the disability). (Use this section to address common assumptions or miscommunications about the diagnosis, such as, “When it seems like he/she is being rebellious, it is really his/her way of showing he/she needs an opportunity to move around for sensory regulation.”)

At home, (NAME) responds well to (explain strategies for supporting your child’s needs, behaviors, sensory regulation, etc.).

I share this with you to start a conversation and share with you what our family has found helpful. We appreciate what you will bring to (NAME)’s life and we want to partner with you to make this a successful school year!

Thank you for taking the time to read this letter and get to know (NAME) a little better. Please feel free to reach out at any time and know that I will contact you as well when I have questions or concerns.

Sincerely

Parent’s Name

Phone number

Email

Steps to Read, Develop, and Understand an IEP Worksheet

The IEP document is a lot to absorb. You will be better prepared to support your child when you review the IEP draft before meeting with the IEP team for the first time. A child’s education is worth taking time to read for understanding.

  1. Identify Your Child’s Eligibility Category
    • Take note of the eligibility category that entitles the student to an IEP. The eligibility category is listed on the “Cover Page” of the IEP document, near the name, birth date, and other personal details about the student. This category is decided during the evaluation review meeting.
      • My child’s eligibility category is:
  2. Read the IEP Draft Before the IEP Meeting
    • Be sure to ask for a copy of the IEP draft with enough time to look it over before the meeting.
      • I requested the copy of the IEP draft on:
    • Remember, the school’s first version is a DRAFT IEP, and family members of the IEP team have the right to participate in program development.
    • The amount of time a family needs for review also might depend on whether the document is translated into a a language besides English. Under state and federal law, parents have the right to information about their child’s education in a language they can understand.
      • Yes, I require that the IEP be translated to: (insert language)
        • I requested the translation of the IEP on (insert date)
      • No, I do not require that the IEP be translated to another language
  3. Review the Service Matrix
    • Located halfway through the IEP, the Service Matrix looks like a chart or grid. These are the suggested services and they are how a student receives Specially Designed Instruction (SDI) in each area where the student has significant deficits that make them eligible for special education.
    • How many minutes are being offered to support the student in each area of specially designed instruction? (The SDI supports at least one goal for each subject area.)
      • For example: you will see three columns with the following
SubjectServiceMinutes

What Related/Ancillary Services is your child eligible to receive? These are therapeutic services, such as occupational, physical, or speech therapy. Mental health counseling and parent training may be listed as Related Services.

ServiceFrequencyMinutes

Sometimes Related Services are offered through “consultation,” meaning that a specialist will make recommendations to school staff but won’t work directly with the student. Are any of your child’s services being provided through consultation?

ServiceFrequencyMinutes

4. Review the Present Level Statement

The Present Levels of Academic Achievement and Functional Performance (PLOP for short) are with in the first few pages of the IEP. This Section of the IEP explains why the student needs services.

Does the information in the present level statement reflect your student’s current abilities and needs?

  • Yes
  • No
  • What, if anything should be added?

5. Review the proposed goals:

Are the goals Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound (SMART)?

  • Yes
  • No
  • *Highlight goals that are not written as SMART goals to discuss during the IEP meeting.

Are any of the goals too easy for your child?

  • Yes
  • No
  • *Highlight goals that are too easy to discuss with
    the IEP team.

6. Review the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) Statement: Read and review information about where your child will spend their day. *Note any concerns or feedback to discuss with the team.

7. Review the Accommodations and Modifications: Read and review information about accommodations and modifications. *Note anything that may need to be added and any questions you have about how they will be provided in the educational setting.

Learn more about Steps to Read, Develop, and Understand an Initial IEP

This article also forms part of the 3-5 Transition Toolkit

Differences Between Part B and Part C Services

The Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) ends when a child turns 3. Transitioning to a services under an Individualized Education Program (IEP) requires a new evaluation and is a team-led process. Let this handout serve as your cheat sheet for the differences between the IFSP and IEP.

Individualized Family Service Plan
(IFSP)
Individualized Education Program
(IEP)
Ages: Birth (0) to 3 years old
Governed by: Individuals with Disabilities
Education Act (IDEA), Part C
Also known as early intervention services (EIS)
Ages: 3-21 years old
Governed by: Individuals with Disabilities
Education Act (IDEA), Part B
Also known as special education services
Eligibility CriteriaEligibility Criteria
Division 125% or 1.5 SD (Standard Deviation) below the
mean in one or more of the following areas of
development:

1. Cognitive
2. Physical (fine or gross motor)
3. Communication (receptive or expressive language)
4. Social or Emotional
5. Adaptive

or –
Diagnosed physical or medical condition that
has a high probability of resulting in delay, such
as but not limited to:

Chromosomal abnormalities
Genetic or congenital disorders
Sensory impairments
Inborn errors of metabolism
Disorders reflecting disturbance of the
development of the nervous system
Congenital infections
Severe attachment disorders
Disorders secondary to exposure to toxic
substances, including fetal alcohol
syndrome
2 SD (Standard Deviation ) below the mean in
one or more areas of development
or –
1.5 SD below the mean in two or more areas of
development
meaning –

Has one or more of the following disabilities

1. Developmental Delay (ages 3-8)
Upon his/her 8th birthday, your child must
be eligible under a different category
2. Specific Learning Disability
3. Intellectual Disability
4. Autism
5 Hearing Impairment
6. Emotional Disturbance
7. Deaf-blindness
8. Multiple Disabilities
9. Orthopedic Impairment
10. Other Health Impairment
11. Deafness
12. Speech/Language Impairment
13. Traumatic Brain Injury

and –
The disability/disabilities adversely affect
his/her educational performance
and –
His/her unique needs cannot be addressed
through education in general education classes
alone, with or without individual
accommodations, and require specially
designed instruction (SDI)
Administered by: Early Support for Infants and ToddlersAdministered by: Washington Office of
Superintendent of Special Instruction (OSPI)
Focus Subject of ServicesFocus Subject of Services
The IFSP outlines the family’s needs in
supporting the child’s developmental progress.
During the first three years of development,
the child’s needs are closely related to the
needs of the family. Recognizing parents as
major contributors in development, the IFSP
builds upon the individual strengths of the
family to address the needs of the child.
The IEP is a comprehensive plan for school-age
children, addressing their educational needs
and academic goals. The IEP specifies the
special education services, goals, and
accommodations necessary for the child’s
education. Goals are typically related to
academic, functional, and behavioral areas.
Location of ServicesLocation of Services
Infants and toddlers usually spend their days
at home or in childcare settings. These are
their “natural environment”. By receiving their
IFSP services in the natural environment, the
family learns to use natural learning
opportunities (like playtime, meals, or baths) to
create countless opportunities for the child to
practice and develop delayed skills. It also
includes the family’s social and cultural
networks, promoting full participation in
community life.
At age 3, a child becomes eligible for special
education and related services. They may
receive services through a preschool, center based and family
childcare center, Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program
(ECEAP)
, or Transitional Kindergarten. IEP
services must be provided in the “least
restrictive environment”, meaning that the
child should be with typically developing peers
(those without disabilities) as much as the team
agrees is appropriate for the child.
Frequency of Review and Re-EvaluationFrequency of Review and Re-Evaluation
The IFSP has two different types of reviews:

The periodic review occurs at least every six
months, or more frequently if necessary for
the child’s condition. During the review,
the team discusses progress toward family
outcomes (goals), any new assessment
information, and whether the IFSP needs to
be changed or updated.

At the annual meeting, the team will update
the present levels of development, develop
new outcomes bearing in mind the family’s
priorities, and consider services that will be
needed and provided moving forward.
The IEP must be reviewed, at a minimum,
yearly. This annual review allows the IEP team
to assess the student’s progress, make any
necessary adjustments to goals and services,
and ensure that the IEP continues to meet the
student’s needs.
Every three years, a reevaluation is conducted
if deemed necessary. This reevaluation can
help determine if the student’s disability and
needs have changed and if the services and
goals in the IEP need modification.
*Parents may request an IEP meeting at any
time.

This article can be found as pages 5 and 6 of the 3-5 Transition Toolkit

Pathways to Support: Where to Begin If Your Child Receives Services Through Early Support for Infants and Toddlers (ESIT)

When an infant or toddler receiving early intervention services from Washington’s Early Support for Infants and Toddlers (ESIT) program approaches the age of three (3), the Family Resource Coordinator (FRC) begins transition planning for when the child will age out of early intervention services on their third birthday. If the child is potentially eligible for special education and related services, the transition includes evaluation and development of an Individualized Education Program (IEP). Each plan is unique and designed to respond to individual needs.

Transition begins 6-9 months before your child’s third birthday

Transition Planning BeginsTransition ConferenceEvaluation for an IEP
FRC starts talking about transitionScheduled by the FRC for 90 days before your child’s third birthdayBegins with parent’s signature of consent for evaluation
FRC transmits your child’s records to the school system, with your written consent, including the most recent IFSP and evaluations/ assessmentsExplanation of parents rights in special educationSchool receives the records from ESIT
FRC identifies and shares community resourcesDiscussion of options for early childhoods special education and other appropriate servicesFamily provides information and concerns
Development of a transition timelineChild is evaluated for eligibility for an IEP
Writing transition plan into the IFSPEligibility meeting is held within 35 school days

Not all children who qualified for early-learning support will qualify for an IEP. Children who are not eligible for IEP services might be eligible to receive accommodations and support through a Section 504 Plan.

If your child needs support to prepare for school readiness

If a student is having a hard time at school and has a known or suspected disability, the school evaluates to see if the student qualifies for special education, through a process called Child Find. Washington State requires special education referrals to be in writing (WAC 392-172A03005). Anyone with knowledge of a student can write a referral. The state provides a form for making a special education referral, but the form is not required—any written request is valid.

  • Complete the Sample Letter to Request an Evaluation.
  • Make a copy for your records.
  • Call your local school district or go on their website to identify the correct office, person, and address to mail (signed, return receipt requested), email, or hand-deliver your request.
  • Refer to the IEP Referral Timeline to track your child’s progress through the evaluation process.
  • This article forms part of the 3-5 Transition Toolkit

Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP), Part 2: How Does EFMP Benefit Military Families?

A Brief Overview

  • This is part of a two-part series on this topic of the Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP). This article continues from Part 1: What Makes a Military Family Exceptional?
  • EFMP consists of three parts that work together for identification and enrollment, assignment coordination, and family support.
  • An off-site centralized office within the branch of service determines eligibility for EFMP and level of need.
  • Enrollment should be updated when there is new medical or educational information, and at least every three years.
  • EFMP enrollment ensures the family member’s needs are considered in the assignment process, although the military requirements take priority.
  • EFMP Family Support provides nonmedical case management, information, resources, and support.
  • Beginning in 2023, eligible families may access 20-32 hours of EFMP respite care per month through their branch of service, depending on level of need and availability of services.
  • Get the most from EFMP by contacting the installation’s Family Support office for information, resources, and support.

Full Article

The Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP) is a mandatory program for all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces that helps military dependents with special medical or educational needs. The Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Space Force each have an Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP). The Coast Guard, which operates under the authority of the Department of Homeland Security, has a similar program called the Special Needs Program (SNP).

EFMP is made up of three parts that work together to provide:

  1. Identification and Enrollment
  2. Assignment Coordination
  3. Family Support

Identification and Enrollment 

This is the entry point for EFMP. When the service member turns in the enrollment forms, they are sent for processing to an off-site centralized office within the branch that will determine eligibility and the level of need. The decisions are made by medical document reviewers who do not meet or speak with the dependents. Upon completion, the servicemember will receive a letter of verification from the EFMP program for their branch of service.

The same office will determine eligibility for TRICARE’s Extended Care Health Option (ECHO) supplemental medical insurance plan.

EFMP enrollment should be updated anytime the family member has new medical or educational information, and at least every three years.

Assignment Coordination

Once a family member is enrolled in the program, personnel and medical departments coordinate future duty assignments with consideration of the family member’s medical or educational needs. Although the family member’s needs are considered in the assignment process, military requirements take priority for assignment decisions. Orders that accommodate the family member’s needs may include:

  • Accompanied assignment only to locations that have services and resources to support the family member’s medical or educational needs.
  • Unaccompanied assignment, in which the servicemember relocates to the new duty station without the dependents, for a shorter duration than standard duty rotations.

If a service member disagrees with the availability or lack of availability of services at their next duty station, Department of Defense (DoD) Instruction 1315.19 (issued June 2023) provides them up to 14 calendar days from the date of the original assignment notification to request a second review and submit updated medical or educational information. A service being “available” does not mean the family won’t encounter a waiting list for these services, providers who are no longer taking clients or patients, or other interruptions in services.

Families enrolled in EFMP should ensure their paperwork is complete and current before assignment and permanent change of station (PCS) to a new duty station. Get ahead of assignment coordination and allow time for updates to be processed by updating the enrollment forms before the servicemember’s window opens for selecting orders.

Enrollment in EFMP does not prevent the service member from deploying or taking an assignment on unaccompanied orders.

Family Support

This is the department that directly serves families with nonmedical case management and support, including:

  • Information about local military and community programs, services, and supports.
  • Partnering with the School Liaison to provide information about early intervention services, special education, and school-based supports for students with disabilities.
  • Assistance with navigating DoD medical, educational, and counseling systems.
  • Local programs and activities for the benefit of families enrolled in EFMP, such as support groups, classes, and regional or installation events.
  • Warm handoffs to EFMP programs and School Liaisons at the next duty station.

Beginning in 2023, EFMP family support providers are required to personally contact each family assigned to their caseload and every family using the respective service’s respite care program at least once annually.

Find your EFMP enrollment or family support. In the drop-down menu for “Program or service”, select “EFMP Family Support” or “EFMP Enrollment”. Then, select your location from the drop-down menu labeled “Location based on”.

Respite Care

Eligibility requirements for EFMP respite care differ by branch of service and availability of services varies by location. The 2023 DoD Instruction 1315.19 standardized the respite care hours to 20-32 hours per month, across all branches of service, depending upon level of need of the eligible family member. It also extended coverage to include adult dependents and added the opportunity for eligible families to request additional services based on exceptional circumstances.

EFMP respite care is not an entitlement program, but a benefit available only to those who qualify. However, families who are ineligible for EFMP respite care may be able to access community-based respite care programs. EFMP respite care is also separate from TRICARE’s ECHO respite and ECHO Home Health Care (EHHC) respite programs, both with their own eligibility requirements.

Getting the most benefit from EFMP

Families enrolled in EFMP can get the most benefit from EFMP by contacting their installation’s Family Support office to:

  • Connect with the Family Support office at the new duty station to facilitate services and supports prior to a PCS
  • Locate resources at the state and local levels, such as civilian respite programs and disability-specific events
  • Identify state and federal benefits for which the enrolled family member may be eligible, such as Medicaid waivers, Vocational Rehabilitation, and scholarships for individuals with disabilities

The DoD developed the EFMP Family Support Feedback Tool as a method for families who have accessed their installation’s EFMP Family Support to provide feedback about their experiences. This information applies to the DoD’s Office of Special Needs’ policy development and program improvements for all branches of services.

Download the EFMP Enrollment Checklist.

Learn More about EFMP

This is part of a two-part series on this topic of the Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP). This article continues from Part 1: What Makes a Military Family Exceptional?

STOMP (Specialized Training of Military Parents) provides information and resources to military families, individuals with disabilities, and both military and civilian professionals serving military families enrolled in EFMP. Register for upcoming STOMP workshops and webinars to learn more about the lifespan of benefits available to military families under federal law and military programs.

Military OneSource is an official DoD website and a information hub for all aspects of military life. EFMP & Me, a companion website managed by Military OneSource, organizes hands-on tools, federal and state information, military and civilian services and resources, and related supports and programs in one place.

Additional Resources

Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP), Part 1: What Makes a Military Family Exceptional?

A Brief Overview

  • This is part one of a two-part series on this topic of the Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP). This article continues in Part 2: How Does EFMP Benefit Military Families?
  • Every branch of the U.S. Armed Forces is required to have a program for dependents of active-duty service members (ADSMs) with special medical or educational needs called the Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP).
  • The Coast Guard is the only branch of service that uses a different name for their program – the Special Needs Program (SNP).
  • Enrollment is mandatory for all dependents of active-duty service members who have a special medical or educational need, regardless of the dependent’s age.
  • The two standardized enrollment forms are available on Military OneSource and, where available, on branch-specific websites.
  • Enrollment support is available on installation at family support centers.

Full Article

The Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP) is a mandatory program for all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces that helps military dependents with special medical or educational needs. The Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Space Force each have an Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP). The Coast Guard, which operates under the authority of the Department of Homeland Security, has a similar program called the Special Needs Program (SNP).

Purpose and Intent

The purpose of the EFMP is to –

  • identify dependents of servicemembers with special education or medical needs,
  • make sure the family’s needs are considered during the assignment process,
  • connect families with resources and assistance wherever they are assigned, and
  • assist with questions, concerns, and resources.

Although the purpose of EFMP and SNP are the same across all branches of service, there are some differences with names, procedures, and forms. There are also differences by installation, such as the availability of respite care providers and services provided by EFMP Family Support.

Eligibility

Enrollment in EFMP is mandatory for eligible dependents of active-duty service members (ASDMs). It is not an age-limited or age-specific program; dependent children and adults, including spouses, incapacitated adults (unmarried adult children with disabilities, parents and parents-in-law, and other adult dependents), must be enrolled in EFMP if they meet one of the following criteria:

  • Have special medical needs, including chronic and/or mental health conditions, that require ongoing treatment from medical specialists.
  • Have significant behavioral health concerns.
  • Are eligible for or receive early intervention services (EIS) through an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) for infants and toddlers (ages 0-3).
  • Are eligible for or receive special education services through an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for students aged 3 through 21.

National Guard and Reserve personnel with family members who have special medical or educational needs may be eligible during the time period when the service member is called for active-duty orders under Title 10 (10 U.S.C.).

Enrollment

Enrollment in EFMP or SNP begins with two enrollment forms that are available for download from Military OneSource:

  • DD Form 2792, “Family Member Medical Summary”: This form must be completed by the family member’s TRICARE-authorized primary care provider. This can be either the primary care manager or a specialty care provider.
  • DD Form 2792-1, “Special Education/Early Intervention Summary”: The instructions state that the child’s IFSP or IEP must also be provided with this form. If the child has an IFSP, is not yet enrolled in school, or is home-schooled, the parents may complete and sign the fields reserved for the educational authority.

Medical providers often require a separate appointment for completing the EFMP paperwork. Ask about the provider’s policy for completing paperwork and how to submit the forms before the visit while scheduling the appointment. The family member’s TRICARE plan and how the provider bills the appointment will determine whether there will be a copay for the visit.

Although all branches of service use the same standardized forms, some of the services have developed website platforms for families to submit the forms electronically.

Save time in the future by keeping a copy of the completed enrollment forms and IFSP or IEP in your home records system. Never give away your last copy!

Help with Enrollment

If this is the first time the family has submitted the EFMP forms, it is a good idea to first take them to the branch-specific military and family support centers on installations for review, including:

Reserve components also have branch-specific military and family support centers.  Learn more about what these programs offer and links to the branch-specific Reserve programs in this article from Military OneSource.

Find your EFMP enrollment or family support. In the drop-down menu for “Program or service”, select “EFMP Family Support” or “EFMP Enrollment”. Then, select your location from the drop-down menu labeled “Location based on”.

Download the EFMP Enrollment Checklist

Learn More about EFMP

This is part of a two-part series on this topic of the Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP). This article continues in Part 2: How Does EFMP Benefit Military Families?

Additional Resources