Parents, Navigate Adapted Physical Education, IEPs, and 504 Plans

Overview

  • Physical Education (PE) can be adapted in four main ways to support students with disabilities.
  • Federal and state law protects a student with disability’s rights to access (be taught) PE. Adapted PE can be provided as a special education service in a student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP). It can also be included in a Section 504 plan.
  • Changes in WA State regulations mean that more teachers will qualify to design and teach Adapted Physical Education. These regulations are in effect as of May 1, 2024.
  • The Updated Guidance on Adapted Physical Education from the Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) quoted in this article gives more information about Adaptive PE and how it fits into special education in WA State. Download or read Updated Guidance on Adapted Physical Education.

Full article

Physical Education (PE) is part of school for all students and may be particularly important for your student with a disability. What are the ways in which PE (general curriculum or Adapted PE) can improve their quality of life, now and into their adult years? This short list may give you ideas for your student’s IEP or 504 plan, and to discuss with your student for them to bring to a meeting with the IEP/504 team.

Classes teach students to care for their body and develop physical, mental, and emotional skills that include:

  • Motor skills (training to use muscles for a specific task, such as swinging a baseball bat to hit a ball, or running very hard in a race)
  • Physical fitness (keeping healthy and strong by exercising the body)
  • Social-emotional skills, teamwork, social play skills
  • Skills for athletics like team sports like soccer or basketball or individual athletics like gymnastics or dance
  • Skills for recreation like biking, swimming, hiking, throwing frisbees,

How Adapted PE works:

Access or accessible means how easy it is to do, to get, or understand something.

There are four main areas where adjusting or changing the general PE curriculum (school courses) may help students with disabilities access PE. Some of these changes will benefit ALL students using the general PE curriculum.

  • The physical space can be adjusted to work well for all students:
  • The size of the space and the number of other students can affect how accessible the PE class is for some students
  • Lighting, sound, and what someone can see may all affect comfort in a class.. Making thoughtful changes to these things can make a PE class more accessible.
  • Teaching: the teacher gathers information about individual students to ensure they use teaching methods accessible to everyone. This might mean spoken instructions, movements, pictures, written words, showing how to do something, or videos.
  • Equipment: depending on a student’s disability, some students might need PE equipment to move more slowly, be bigger or smaller, more tactile (easier to feel), be easier to see, and similar changes.
  • Rules: to make sure PE is inclusive, rules of the game may need to be added or taken away.

The information-gathering process above is a good place for you and your student to provide information about your student’s supports such as doctors, therapists, and interests outside of school that might be supported by Adapted PE. This information can be offered to the entire IEP/504 team, to give a well-rounded view of your student. You might want to review PAVE’s articles for students in the References section, below. It’s a good start for your student to self-advocate and practice self-direction.

Examples of Adapted PE

The point of Adapted PE is to change the general PE curriculum so that it is accessible for all students based on their individual strengths and needs. How it looks varies a lot depending on the student, but here are a few examples of Adapted PE in action:

  • A third grader with autism spectrum disorder uses a play script on her communication device to invite other students to play tag with her.
  • A high-school senior with Down syndrome is introduced to adult recreation opportunities in his community so he can continue building healthy habits beyond graduation.
  • A seventh grader with Cerebral Palsy attends general PE class. The Adapted PE teacher, general PE teacher, and the physical therapist collaborate to create an exercise plan to strengthen the student’s legs while using their gait trainer (walker).

Adapted Physical Education teachers are trained to make changes to the general education PE curriculum to make it accessible to students with disabilities.

IEPs can include Adapted PE as a service

Eligibility for an Individualized Education Program (IEP) uses an evaluation. The process helps to decide whether a student has a disability, whether the disability has a significant impact on (really affects) learning, and whether the student needs Specially Designed Instruction (SDI) and/or related services to access a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). FAPE is the right of any student, ages 3-21, who is eligible for school-based services delivered through an IEP.

If a student’s access to PE really affects learning and the student needs the school’s PE course to be individualized, then Adapted PE can be given as an IEP service. IEP teams discuss how Specially Designed Instruction (SDI) is delivered for each individual student.

When Adapted PE is part of the IEP, there is a range of options for placement. A student might be in a general PE class, with or without accommodations. Additional aids, services, and modifications may be added depending on what the student needs. Get more details in the Updated Guidance on Adapted Physical Education.

This is a great opportunity for a student to share their goals and needs about physical activities with their IEP team. The topic might be a way to interest your student in IEP meetings even before the required age for planning their life after high school. See the Resources section below for information about students attending or leading their IEP team.

Rules changed and removed some difficulties with getting Adapted PE

Until spring of 2024, Adapted PE was not recognized as a separate subject matter area or specialty that the state would endorse (add to the training listed on a teacher’s professional certificate). This meant a shortage of teachers who could design Adapted PE for students. It made it difficult for some students with disability in Washington State to get SDI in physical education.

As of May 1, 2024, qualifying[1] teachers in Washington State can be trained for and receive a specialty endorsement in Adapted Physical Education. The endorsement shows the teacher has specific skills and knowledge in both PE Learning Standards and special education competencies. As more teachers are taught this specialty, it will be easier to find teachers with Adapted PE training in Washington State.

The OSPI Updated Guidance says that in addition to teachers with an Adapted PE endorsement, SDI for physical education can be provided by “any other appropriately qualified special education endorsed teacher, or an “appropriately qualified Educational Staff Associate (ESA) such as an Occupational Therapist (OT) or a Physical Therapist (PT).”

Summary:

  • Physical Education (PE) is an important part of school. Students with disabilities have the right to be taught physical education.
  • Adapted Physical Education (APE) is when the general PE curriculum is changed or adjusted to accommodate the individualized needs of a student with disability.
  • Adapted PE can be included in an Individualized Education Plan or a Section 504 plan.
  • If a student needs Adapted PE, it’s important to include someone on the IEP team who is qualified to design individualized adapted PE, as well as the teacher or other school personnel who will be teaching the student.
  • Only certain qualified education professionals can design and supervise other educators and school staff teaching Adapted PE. Changes in WA State rules in 2024 allow more education professionals to qualify in Adapted PE.

Resources:

Updated Guidance on Adapted Physical Education  (WA State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI))

Attention Students: Lead your own IEP meetings and take charge of your future (PAVE)

Students: Get Ready to Participate in Your IEP Meeting with a Handout for the Team (PAVE)

Who’s Who on the IEP Team (PAVE)

Student Rights, IEP, Section 504 and More (PAVE)

A previous version of this article was based on information provided by two experts in the field of Adapted Physical Education, Toni Bader, and Lauren Wood, who are Adapted Physical Education teachers in the Seattle area:

  • Toni Bader, M.Ed., CAPE – SHAPE Washington, Adapted Physical Education, Seattle Public Schools (tonibader24@hotmail.com)
  • Lauren Wood, NBCT, Adapted Physical Education Teacher, Highline Public Schools, and SHAPE Washington Board Member (lauren.wood@highlineschools.org)

[1] “Certificated teachers who hold any special education endorsement or a Health/Fitness endorsement are eligible to add the APE specialty endorsement to their certificate”  –OSPI Updated Guidance

Youth, Explore Adapted Physical Education in Your IEP or 504 Plan

Overview

  • Physical Education (PE) can be adapted (changed) in four main ways to support students with disabilities.
  • Federal and state law protects your rights to be taught PE. Adapted PE can be included in your Individualized Education Program (IEP). It can also be included in a Section 504 plan.
  • Taking part in IEP and 504 meetings is important when looking at adapted physical education. It lets you share your needs, preferences, and goals. This helps create a physical education program that fits your abilities, supports your well-being, and creates a positive and inclusive environment. (Click on the links in the reference section to learn more about going to IEP and 504 meetings.)
  • Changes in WA State rules mean that more teachers will qualify to design and teach Adapted Physical Education. These rules are in effect as of May 1, 2024.
  • The Updated Guidance on Adapted Physical Education, from the Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) quoted in this article gives more information about Adaptive PE and how it fits into special education in WA State. Download or read Updated Guidance on Adapted Physical Education.

Full article

Why is physical education important? How is it helpful to me, as an individual with a disability?

Classes can teach you to care for your body and learn physical, mental, and emotional skills that include:

  • Motor skills (training to use your muscles for certain things, such as swinging a baseball bat to hit a ball, or running very hard in a race)
  • Physical fitness (keeping healthy and strong by exercising your body)
  • Social-emotional skills, teamwork, social play skills
  • Skills for athletics like team sports like soccer or basketball or individual athletics like gymnastics or dance
  • Skills for recreation like biking, swimming, hiking, throwing frisbees, playing games with friends

How Adapted PE works:

Access or accessible means how easy it is to do, to get, or understand something.

There are four main areas where changing general PE curriculum (school courses) may help you access PE. Some of these changes will benefit ALL students using the general PE curriculum.

  • The physical space can be changed to work well for all students:
  • The size of the space and the number of other students can affect how accessible the PE class is for you.
  • Lighting, sound, and what you see can all affect your comfort in a class. Making thoughtful changes to these things can make a PE class more accessible.
  • Teaching: the teacher gathers information about individual students to make sure that they use teaching methods that are accessible to everyone. This might mean spoken instructions, movements, pictures, written words, showing how to do something, or videos.
  • Equipment: depending on your disability, you might need PE equipment to move more slowly, be bigger or smaller, easier to feel, be easier to see and other changes like those.
  • Rules: to make sure PE includes everyone, rules of the game may need to be added or taken away.

Examples of Adapted PE

The point of Adapted PE is to change the general PE curriculum so that it is accessible for you or any other student with a disability. The changes can be individualized, which means it is designed for one individual student with disability. Changes will depend on what your needs are and will be different from student to student. Here are some examples:

  • A third grader with autism spectrum disorder uses a play script on her communication device to invite other students to play tag with her.
  • A high-school senior with Down Syndrome is introduced to adult recreation choices in his community so he can continue building healthy habits after graduation.
  • A seventh grader with Cerebral Palsy attends general PE class. The Adapted PE teacher, general PE teacher, and the physical therapist work together to create an exercise plan to strengthen the student’s legs while using their walker.
  • Design a unified team for sport activities and competitions, so a high school student with disabilities can play in the same team with students without disabilities
  • Adapted Physical Education teachers are trained to make changes to the general education PE curriculum to make it accessible to students with disabilities.

IEPs can include Adapted PE as a service

To get an Individualized Education Program (IEP) you need an evaluation. This process helps to decide if a student has a disability, if the disability has a significant impact on (really affects) learning, and if you need Specially Designed Instruction (SDI) and/or related services to access a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). FAPE is the right of any student, ages 3-21, who is eligible for school-based services delivered through an IEP.

If a student’s access to PE affects learning and needs the school’s PE course to be individualized, Adapted PE can be given as an IEP service. IEP teams discuss how Specially Designed Instruction (SDI) is delivered for each individual student.

If you have Adapted PE in your IEP, there is a range of options for placement. You might be in a general PE class, with or without accommodations. Additional aids, services, and modifications may be added depending on what you need. Get more details in the Updated Guidance on Adapted Physical Education.

You can go to IEP and 504 meetings to let the team know what you want and need.  Beginning at age 14, you can participate in IEP and 504 meetings. You do not have to be invited by the school or your parents, but it’s a good idea to let your parents know you want to go, and to get ready before the meeting. When you are at these meetings, you can show other team members what is important to you about your learning, including Physical education. (Click on the links in the reference section to learn more about going to IEP and 504 meetings.)

All of you on the team can work out a PE plan, which may include Adapted PE, and put it in your IEP. There are two articles in the References section at the end about going to your IEP meeting.

Rules changed and removed some difficulties with getting Adapted PE

Until spring of 2024, Adapted PE was not accepted as a specialty that the state would endorse (add to the training listed on a teacher’s professional certificate). This caused a shortage of teachers who could design Adapted PE for students. It made it difficult for some students with disability in Washington State to get SDI in physical education.

As of May 1, 2024, qualifying[1] teachers in Washington State can be trained for and receive a specialty endorsement in Adapted Physical Education. The endorsement shows the teacher has specific skills and knowledge in both PE Learning Standards and special education competencies. As more teachers are taught this specialty, it will be easier to find teachers with Adapted PE training in Washington State.

The OSPI Updated Guidance says that in addition to teachers with an Adapted PE endorsement, SDI for physical education can be provided by “any other appropriately qualified special education endorsed teacher, or an “appropriately qualified Educational Staff Associate (ESA) such as an Occupational Therapist (OT) or a Physical Therapist (PT).”

Summary:

  • Physical Education (PE) is an important part of school. Students with disabilities have the right to be taught physical education.
  • Adapted PE is when the general PE school course (curriculum) is changed to accommodate (meet the needs) of an individual student with disability.
  • Adapted PE can be included in an Individualized Education Plan or a Section 504 plan.
  • If a student needs Adapted PE, it’s important to include someone on the IEP team who is qualified to design adapted PE, as well as the teacher or other school staff who will be teaching the student.
  • Only certain qualified education professionals can design and supervise other educators and school staff teaching Adapted PE. Changes in WA State rules in 2024 allow more education professionals to qualify in Adapted PE.

Resources:

Updated Guidance on Adapted Physical Education  (WA State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI))

Attention Students: Lead your own IEP meetings and take charge of your future (PAVE)

Students: Get Ready to Participate in Your IEP Meeting with a Handout for the Team (PAVE)

Who’s Who on the IEP Team (PAVE)

Student Rights, IEP, Section 504 and More (PAVE)

A previous version of this article was based on information provided by two experts in the field of Adapted Physical Education, Toni Bader, and Lauren Wood, who are Adapted Physical Education teachers in the Seattle area:

Toni Bader, M.Ed., CAPE – SHAPE Washington, Adapted Physical Education, Seattle Public Schools (tonibader24@hotmail.com)

Lauren Wood, NBCT, Adapted Physical Education Teacher, Highline Public Schools, and SHAPE Washington Board Member (lauren.wood@highlineschools.org)


[1] “Certificated teachers who hold any special education endorsement or a Health/Fitness endorsement are eligible to add the APE specialty endorsement to their certificate”  –OSPI Updated Guidance

Autism Spectrum Disorder: Information and Resources for Families

A Brief Overview

  • Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a spectrum condition with varied signs and symptoms. It involves challenges in multiple areas, including social skills, emotional regulation, communication, and behavior.
  • ASD can appear differently from one person to the next, and as a child develops from infancy through adulthood. Families concerned about a child’s development can call the state’s Family Health Hotline at 1-800-322-2588. This toll-free number offers help in English, Spanish and other languages.
  • Parents of infants and toddlers aged 0-3 with developmental concerns may benefit from the services provided by the Early Support for Infants and Toddlers (ESIT) program, which provides specialized services and support that are crucial during the early and highly formative years of a child’s life.
  • Students with ASD may qualify for school-based services through an Individualized Education Program (IEP) if their disability significantly impacts educational access. These services are determined through evaluations that can include various related conditions. A medical diagnosis is not required for school-based evaluations or interventions.
  • The Developmental Disabilities Administration (DDA) accepts diagnoses from Autism Centers of Excellence (COEs) as a component of DDA services eligibility, with the exception of naturopathic providers.
  • Connecting with other families to share and learn from experiences is invaluable, and there is a wealth of resources available to assist those seeking support and information in Washington State. Parent to Parent (P2P) programs across various counties provide free training and support, with support groups tailored to cultural and linguistic communities such as Spanish-speaking and Black & African American families.
  • PAVE provides support to families navigating various healthcare systems related to disability. Fill out a Helpline Request for direct support and click on the “Health and Wellness” link to be directed with individual support.

Full Article

Parents of individuals with autism have many different experiences when watching their child’s development, navigating school years and relationships, and building community and belonging. When developmental milestones aren’t met in typical timeframes, families may seek a diagnosis, medical interventions, and/or support from school.

CDC numbers show that 1 in 36 children have ASD and 2.8% of 8-year-old children have a diagnosis of ASD. According to Washington’s Department of Health (DOH), between 23,000-48,000 of the state’s children have some form of diagnosed ASD.

April is Autism Acceptance Month, providing an opportunity to consider challenges and celebrations for individuals who experience neurodiversity, which is a word used to capture a range of differences in the ways that humans function and experience the world. Much of the Autistic community rallies to honor neurodiversity, uplift the voices of self-advocates, and forward the movement of civil and social rights.

To promote dignity, neurodiversity, and empowerment, many autistic self-advocates prefer identity-first language, such as “autistic person” instead of person-first language like “person with autism”. This approach recognizes autism as an integral and inseparable part of an individual’s identity.

What is Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)?

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is referred to as a “spectrum”, which means that signs and symptoms vary among individuals. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) as “a developmental disability that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges.

“There is often nothing about how people with ASD look that sets them apart from other people, but people with ASD may communicate, interact, behave, and learn in ways that are different from most other people. The learning, thinking, and problem-solving abilities of people with ASD can range from gifted to severely challenged. Some people with ASD need a lot of help in their daily lives; others need less.”

A diagnosis of ASD includes several conditions that were formerly diagnosed separately, including autistic disorder, pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), and Asperger syndrome. A short YouTube video by Osmosis.org provides an overview of ASD.

Autism Indicators and Markers Across the Lifespan

People with ASD may struggle with social, emotional, and communication skills. They might repeat certain behaviors or have rigid ideas about routines.  Indicators of ASD often begin during early childhood and typically last throughout life. Professor and autism self-advocate, Dr. Stephen Shore said, “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.” ASD can appear differently from one person to the next, and as a child develops from infancy through adulthood.  There are services and supports available at each stage of development and life.

Early Childhood Indicators and Supports

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all children have a developmental screening at every well-child check-up, with an autism screening at 18 months of age and again between ages 2 and 3. To encourage early screening and intervention, the CDC provides developmental milestone trackers for children Birth-5, including a Milestone Tracker App. State-specific information about early screening recommendations and guidance is available from the Washington Department of Health (DOH).  Families concerned about a child’s development can call the state’s Family Health Hotline at 1-800-322-2588. This toll-free number offers help in English, Spanish and other languages.

Some early childhood indicators of ASD include:

  • Not pointing at objects, such as an airplane flying overhead, or looking when someone else points
  • Not wanting to be held or cuddled
  • Repeating or echoing words, phrases, or actions

Several state agencies collaborated to publish Early Learning and Development Guidelines. The 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, Somali, and Spanish on the Washington State Department of Children, Youth & Families (DCYF) website. An English translation is also available on the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) Early Learning Resources page.

Parents of infants and toddlers aged 0-3 with developmental concerns may benefit from the services provided by the Early Support for Infants and Toddlers (ESIT) program, which provides specialized services and support that are crucial during the early and highly formative years of a child’s life. Early intervention services through ESIT not only supports the child’s immediate developmental needs but also lays a foundation for their future learning and adaptation. ESIT provides the following:

Early Evaluation and Identification: ESIT helps in the early identification of developmental delays or disabilities, including autism, through assessments conducted by a team of professionals. These evaluations focus on key developmental areas such as motor skills, cognition, communication, social interaction, and self-help skills. Early diagnosis is crucial for autism, as it can lead to early intervention, which is shown to improve outcomes.

Services and Supports: Once a child is evaluated and deemed eligible, they receive an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) under Part C of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This plan is tailored to meet the unique developmental needs of the child and also considers the family’s resources, priorities, and concerns. The IFSP includes detailed information on the child’s current development levels, the specific interventions planned, and the expected outcomes. Through ESIT, children can access a wide range of early intervention services designed to address specific developmental needs associated with ASD.

Family-Centered Approach: The family plays a crucial role in the development and implementation of the IFSP. Family Resource Coordinators (FRCs) assist families in understanding their child’s needs, the available services, and the implementation of the intervention plan. This inclusive approach ensures that the family’s needs and goals are addressed, promoting a supportive environment for the child.

The ESIT website includes videos to guide family caregivers and a collection of Parent Rights and Leadership resources, with multiple language options.

Parents may also contact their local school district for evaluation.  Regardless of whether a student is medically diagnosed with ASD, a school district has the affirmative duty to seek out, evaluate and serve—if eligible—any child within its boundaries who has a known or suspected disability condition that may significantly impact access to learning (Child Find Mandate). Child Find applies to IDEA’s Part B IEP services for children ages 3-21 and to IDEA’s Part C early intervention services for children Birth-3.  See PAVE’s article about early intervention services for more information.

Supporting a Student with ASD

Children and youth in adolescence may demonstrate the following characteristics of ASD:

  • Avoiding eye contact or making excessive eye contact
  • Uncertainty in understanding what facial expressions or tones of voice mean
  • Not understanding sarcasm, figures of speech, or metaphors

Autism is an eligibility category for a student to receive school-based services through an Individualized Education Program (IEP). The categories are defined by the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). State law further defines the categories and criteria for intervention.  

The Washington Administrative Code that describes IEP eligibility (WAC 392-172A-01035) describes autism as “a developmental disability significantly affecting verbal and nonverbal communication and social interaction, generally evident before age three, that adversely affects a student’s 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.”

Schools have specific evaluation tools to determine how the features of an autistic disorder might impact school. Evaluations can also determine eligibility based on health impairments (for example, ADHD), speech delays, learning disabilities, or emotional behavioral conditions that might co-occur with autism. See PAVE’s article about evaluation process for more information, including a list of all IDEA eligibility categories.

In short, a student is eligible for an Individualized Education Program (IEP) if the evaluation determines:

  • The student has a disability
  • The disability significantly impacts access to education
  • The student requires Specially Designed Instruction (SDI) and/or Related Services

Not every student with ASD is eligible for school-based services through an IEP. Some may have “major life activity” impacts to qualify for a Section 504 Plan, which can accommodate a student within general education. Section 504 provides anti-discrimination protections as part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Keep in mind that students with IEPs have disability-related protections from IDEA and Section 504. Additional protections are part of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). See PAVE’s article about disability history for additional information.

A diagnosis is not required to provide special education or related services. If the school district requires a comprehensive medical evaluation, they may request permission from the parent to have the child evaluated at the district’s expense (WAC 392-172A-03020).

Where to Begin to Obtain Supports

Families whose children experience autism may need services beyond school. Speech, Occupational Therapy, Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) therapies, and other services may be available through insurance if they are determined to be medically necessary. The state Health Care Authority provides information about ABA resources and how to seek approval from public insurance (Apple Health) for specific therapies. HCA also hosts a list of Contracted ABA providers in Washington State.

Diagnosing ASD can be difficult since it can appear differently from one person to another, and indicators change depending on the chronological and developmental age of the individual. Doctors look at the person’s behavior and development to make a diagnosis.  The diagnostic process usually takes a while, lasting years in some cases. In addition to working through insurance and health systems, you may encounter barriers when identifying providers who can diagnose within the age range of the individual.

Medical diagnoses in Washington are provided by Autism Centers of Excellence (COEs). An Autism COE may be a health care provider, medical practice, psychology practice, or multidisciplinary assessment team that has completed a certification training authorized by the state’s Health Care Authority (HCA). Physicians, nurse practitioners, and pediatric primary care naturopaths are eligible to apply for COE training and endorsement. The Developmental Disabilities Administration (DDA) accepts diagnoses from COEs as a component of DDA services eligibility, with the exception of naturopathic providers.

Locate screening and diagnostic services in your location at ParentHelp123. If insurance doesn’t cover the full cost of diagnosis, check with the diagnostician to identify sliding scale or other payment options.

PAVE provides support to families navigating various healthcare systems related to disability. Fill out a Helpline Request for direct support and click on the “Health and Wellness” link to be directed with individual support. 

 Building Community Connections

Connecting with other families to share and learn from experiences is invaluable, and there is a wealth of resources available to assist those seeking support and information in Washington State. These resources include various programs and organizations tailored to meet specific needs, with some services focusing on race, cultural identity, and language. By tapping into these resources, families and individuals can find not only support but also a sense of belonging within a community that understands their unique challenges and perspectives.

Parent to Parent (P2P) of Pierce County, a program of PAVE, partners with Pierce County Human Services and The Arc of Washington State to provide No Cost training and support. PAVE’s Pierce “Parent 2 Parent Support Groups” offers a nurturing space for caregivers to connect, share experiences, and find guidance. Support groups specific to a cultural and linguistic community (Spanish-speaking, and Black & African American families) will be supported by a PAVE facilitator that is a cultural/linguistic match for the families served.

Parent to Parent (P2P) programs across various counties provide free training and support, with support groups tailored to cultural and linguistic communities such as Spanish-speaking and Black & African American families. P2P of Yakima, Walla Walla, Chelan/Douglas, Benton/Franklin, Skagit, Snohomish, Whatcom, Grays Harbor/Pacific, Clark, Klickitat, Lewis, Skamania, and Grant counties provide Spanish-speaking support, events, and resources. P2P King County supports Spanish-speaking and African American families.

Informing Families provides navigational supports for all ages, including referral to culturally responsive programs and services, such as Vietnamese Family Autism Advisory Board (VFAAB), Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic (OBCC), and Families of Color Seattle (FOCS).

The South Sound Autism Partnership is a collaborative network dedicated to raising awareness, acceptance, and advocacy for autism. SSAP aims to support and enact positive change within the community through monthly online meetings. Recordings of guest speakers at previous meetings and meeting notes are available on the SSAP website.

Additional Resources

The downloadable Autism Guidebook for Washington State, published by a dedicated Autism Task Force in collaboration with the DOH and other agencies, offers a comprehensive resource for families, educators, medical professionals, and care providers. It features a detailed Autism Lifespan Resource Directory, diagnostic and special education eligibility criteria, and recommended intervention.

Another guidebook, the Pierce County Parent Coalition (PC2) Resource Guide, contains clickable and searchable links to services throughout the state.

The University of Washington Autism Center provides a manageable place to begin with a small collection of resource categories that include online tools, early recognition, organization, and neurodiversity. Within its online tools, UW maintains lists of organizations that provide advocacy, assessments, intervention services, and research/training.

Washington Autism Alliance (WAA) provides free support for families navigating insurance and medical systems and can help with DDA applications. WAA’s website requests families to join the agency by providing basic information before they navigate to request an intake. Note that while basic services are free from WAA, the agency may charge a fee based on a sliding scale if families request legal services from an attorney.

The Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) shares resources by autistic individuals with lived experience for people who have autism spectrum disorders, including a welcome kit for newly diagnosed individuals: Welcome to the Autistic Community!

The DOH website links to family supports and services for individuals of all ages, including links to Regional Genetic Clinics.

Ready for Work: Vocational Rehabilitation Provides Guidance and Tools

A Brief Overview

  • Vocational rehabilitation (VR) is a federal right. Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS) are one way to get support. Another is through 1:1 counseling and an Individualized Plan for Employment (IPE).
  • In Washington State, the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR) provides Pre-ETS and VR services. To seek support for a student still working toward a diploma, contact the DVR counselor assigned to the student’s school. DSHS maintains an interactive map: Find a School Transition Counselor.
  • Individuals with vision impairment and blindness are served through a separate vocational rehabilitation agency in Washington State, the Department of Services for the Blind (DSB).
  • After graduation, a student with a tribal affiliation may be eligible for support from Tribal Vocational Rehabilitation (TVR). Each TVR agency operates independently. Contact information is listed on a TVR website page, within DVR’s website.
  • Graduating seniors can seek DVR, TVR, or DSB services now!

Full Article

Teenagers and young adults with disabilities have additional considerations when deciding what life looks like after high school. The transition planning process begins in middle school, when all Washington State students work with counseling staff to begin their High School and Beyond Plan.

For students with disabilities, that lengthy planning process is enhanced when the Individualized Education Program (IEP) adds a Transition Plan, required by the school year when a student turns 16.

Vocational rehabilitation agencies can be part of that process and support a warm hand-off into the world of work. PAVE provides an infographic Transition Triangle with more about the way these services can wrap around a student as they move through school and beyond.

Vocational Rehabilitation services are a civil right

The right to vocational rehabilitation (VR) services is an aspect of Title 1 of the amended Rehabilitation Act of 1973. In 2014, the Rehabilitation Act, which guarantees equitable access to public spaces and programs, was further amended to include the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA).

Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS) were already an aspect of the Rehabilitation Act, but WIOA further defines Pre-ETS and requires that VR agencies set aside 15 percent of their funding to provide or arrange for the provision of Pre-ETS.

Note that Section 504 is also a feature of the Rehabilitation Act. Section 504 guarantees the right to accommodations for equitable access in public facilities and programs.

Section 504 is the basis for a student’s “504 Plan” that provides accommodations, modifications, and anti-discrimination measures for educational access. Section 504 protections aren’t limited to school: Like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Section 504 protects a person in higher education, work, and elsewhere throughout the lifespan. Students with IEPs also have Section 504 protections.

In other words, the accommodations from a student’s 504 Plan or IEP travel with them into higher education, work, and more. Section 504 and the ADA protect an individual with disabilities throughout their life. Denial of accommodation is considered discrimination under these civil rights laws.

In Washington State, vocational rehabilitation services are provided by the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR), which is housed within the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS).

After graduation, a student with a tribal affiliation may be eligible for support from Tribal Vocational Rehabilitation (TVR). TVR agencies operate with sovereignty; contact information is included within DVR’s website, on a TVR website page.

Individuals with vision impairment and blindness are served through a separate vocational rehabilitation agency in Washington State, the Department of Services for the Blind (DSB).

Pre-ETS help students look ahead to their job options after graduation

Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS) include job exploration, work-based learning, counseling about further educational options, workplace readiness and self-advocacy training.

Summer programs are available in some areas. To find the forms to enroll in Pre-ETS and for information about programs and regional counselors in your area, visit DVR’s website page called High School Transition.

Pre-ETS include five required services. Each service in this list is linked to a resource for further investigation. DVR counselors can provide additional resources to suit an individual’s unique circumstances:

  1. Job exploration counseling: career speakers, interest and ability inventories, investigation of labor market statistics and trends, and more
  2. Work-based learning experiences: in-school or after school opportunities, including internships, provided in an integrated environment to the maximum extent possible. According to the Brookings Institution, work-based learning is predictive of future job quality.
  3. Counseling on opportunities for further education: How to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) and how to locate disability resource centers at colleges and universities are part of college readiness.
  4. Workplace readiness training to develop social skills and independent living
  5. Instruction in self-advocacy, which may include peer mentoring, training in disability disclosure, and more

Order of Selection impacts access to 1:1 DVR support

The Individualized Plan for Employment (IPE) is a DVR program that is separate from Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS). The IPE is supported 1:1, whereas pre-employment services are generally provided to groups of students.

DVR operates with Order of Selection when clients apply for individualized vocational rehabilitation (VR) counseling. Through Order of Selection, individuals with the highest needs for support are prioritized.

When developing an IPE, the client and counselor establish a goal for employment; the counselor provides coaching, logistical and sometimes financial support to help make that happen. The case remains open until the employment goal is met if the client remains meaningfully engaged in the process. IPE services might include educational support if further education is needed to achieve a job goal.

Can a student get Pre-ETS and 1:1 help?

A student might receive services through both programs—Pre-ETS and the Individualized Plan for Employment (IPE). However, families should be aware that there are some specific rules related to Order of Selection.

  • If a student is already participating in Pre-ETS, the student can apply for an IPE and Order of Selection will not impact the student’s ongoing engagement in Pre-ETS.
  • If the student applies for an IPE first and is put on a waiting list, then the student also will have to wait to begin Pre-ETS.
  • A student will have more access to DVR services by engaging with the Pre-ETS first and then considering whether to also apply for individualized support.

Resources for more information

Research shows that access to an array of collaborative services during high school improves post-secondary outcomes, especially when school staff and service providers get to know one another and there are “warm hand-offs” between individuals who develop trusted relationships with the young person, according to data shared by the National Technical Assistance Center on Transition (NTACT). Another place for data and detail about WIOA is the Workforce Innovation Technical Assistance Center (WINTAC).

Engagement with vocational rehabilitation services is supported by initiatives endorsed by the U.S. Department of Labor and its Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP). These federal agencies promote the concept of Employment First, a framework for systems change centered on the premise that all citizens, including individuals with significant disabilities, are capable of full participation in integrated employment and community life. 

The PACER Center, a Minnesota-based agency founded in 1977 to promote a “parents helping parents” philosophy, supports the National Parent Center on Transition and Employment, which offers a collection of materials with more information about vocational rehabilitation and how to benefit from pre-employment and employment services. Included in the PACER Center’s materials is a booklet for parents to help young people prepare for college and careers.

Washington’s DVR program provides a video about the school-to-work transition with young people talking about their experiences with the agency and how it helped.

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:

Dyslexia Screening and Interventions: State Requirements and Resources

A Brief Overview

  • Dyslexia is a common condition that makes it hard to work with language. Reading difficulties are one sign of dyslexia.
  • Washington passed a law in 2018 requiring schools to screen young children for indicators of dyslexia. The law took effect in the 2021-22 school year.
  • Dyslexia isSpecific Learning Disability. Students with learning disabilities are eligible for an Individualized Education Program (IEP) if they demonstrate a need for Specially Designed Instruction (SDI). SDI is key when a student isn’t keeping up with grade-level work and standard teaching strategies aren’t working.
  • The Revised Code of Washington (RCW 320.260) requires schools to support literacy with “multi-tiered” programming. That means schools provide different levels of help for all students who need it, regardless of special education eligibility.
  • Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) has handouts about dyslexia screening and supports in WA Schools, some in multiple languages.
    [ ខ្មែរ (Khmer), 한국인(Korean), ਪੰਜਾਬੀ (Punjabi), Русский (Russian), Soomaali (Somali), Español (Spanish), Filipino/Tagalog, 中國人(Traditional Chinese), and Tiếng Việt (Vietnamese)] They are listed at the end of this article.

Full Article

A child who struggles to read can quickly fall behind in school. Nearly every learning area includes some reading, and children might become confused or frustrated when they don’t get help to make sense of their schoolwork. Behavior challenges can result, and sometimes schools and families struggle to understand why the student is having a hard time. Reading difficulties affect a student’s literacy. One definition of literacy is the ability to read, write, speak and listen in ways that let people communicate well. The Revised Code of Washington (RCW 320.260) requires schools to support literacy with “multi-tiered” programming to help with reading difficulties.

One cause of difficulty with reading is a specific learning disability called dyslexia. The state’s definition of dyslexia, adopted in 2018, is similar to a definition promoted by the International Dyslexia Association. According to Washington State’s definition:

“Dyslexia is a specific learning disorder that is neurological in origin and that is characterized by unexpected difficulties with accurate or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities that are not consistent with the person’s intelligence, motivation, and sensory capabilities.”

Understood.org provides a video and additional materials to learn about dyslexia. Here’s their plain language definition: “Dyslexia is a common condition that makes it hard to work with language.”

Washington State requires dyslexia screenings (tests to find out if a student may have or be at risk for dyslexia) and interventions (help with reading). Lawmakers in 2018 passed Senate Bill 6162 to require schools to screen children from kindergarten through second grade using state-recommended literacy screening tools. The law took effect in 2021-22.

Since reading is used in almost every learning area, this law means schools have a duty to identify students who show signs of possible dyslexia while they are in their early reading years. The law also requires schools to provide “interventions” (help) to students identified through the screening.

OSPI offers a Fact Sheet about the screening in multiple languages. It includes the reason for the screening, who gives the screening, the skills that are screened, the process, and information about dyslexia.

What happens if the screening shows indicators (signs) of dyslexia?

The law requires the school to:

  • Notify the student’s family of the identified indicators and areas of weakness
  • Share with the family the school’s plan for multitiered systems of support to provide supports and interventions (help with reading)
  • The notice should include resources and information about dyslexia for the family’s use.
  • Update families regularly on the student’s progress

How can families tell if a student has trouble, or may have trouble with reading and language? Families can look for these signs in children who are toddlers and pre-kindergarten:

  • Trouble learning simple rhymes
  • Speech delays
  • following direction
  • Difficulty reading short words or leave them out
  • Trouble understanding the difference between left and right
    -Child Mind Institute Parent Guide to Dyslexia.

Screening happens in kindergarten through grade 2. If a student is already older than that, families can check for these signs of reading and language difficulty at home.

Understood.org states: “Dyslexia can also cause trouble with spelling, speaking, and writing. So, signs can show up in a few areas, not just in reading.” Understood.org lists these signs for students older than grade 2: Signs a Student May Have Dyslexia (handout)

The Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) offers a Family and Caregiver Discussion Guide that may help when families are planning to speak to their child’s teacher or school administrators about their student’s reading difficulties, behavior, or other concerns.

What happens if the screening shows a student has signs of dyslexia, or if families or teachers notice signs and want a student to get help?

The school puts multi-tiered systems of support (MTSS) into action. “Multi-tiered systems” usually means beginning reading help as part of regular classroom reading instruction. If a student’s reading difficulties continue, the student may get more intensive instruction in smaller groups, and perhaps move up to intensive one-on-one time with a reading instructor. For any of these levels, the reading instruction must be “evidence-based” methods which means the methods have been tested and shown to be useful in helping with reading difficulties.

This guide for schools from OSPI has details about MTSS.

These more intensive levels of reading help may work very well. Not every reading difficulty is due to dyslexia, and not every person with dyslexia has the same level or type of reading difficulty.

At any point during these interventions, families or teachers may see a student is not making progress and ask that the student be evaluated for special education to see if the student qualifies for an Individualized Education Program (IEP). An IEP can provide Specially Designed Instruction (SDI), which means instruction will be based on the student’s unique needs and provide extra instructional time, assistive technology, and other supports.

The federal law that provides special education eligibility and funding is called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). According to the IDEA, Dyslexia is a Specific Learning Disability. Specific Learning Disability is a category of eligibility for an Individualized Education Program (IEP). IDEA states that students have the right to a Free, Appropriate Public Education (FAPE), and the IEP is a key factor in a student having FAPE.

What types of help can a student get with reading and literacy?

Multi-tiered systems of support (MTSS) use instruction methods that have been proven to work for many students, starting with help in the general (regular) classroom. If a student doesn’t make progress that way, the student may join a smaller group for that gives each student more time with a teacher or reading specialist and even move on to one-to-one instruction with a reading specialist. These options are available to any student who shows signs of dyslexia or reading difficulty. OSPI offers Dyslexia Guidance (for schools): Implementing MTSS for Literacy with more specific information.


IEP: Students can get Specially Designed Instruction (SDI) based on their unique needs, such as particular areas of language and literacy where they have difficulties. Reading programs offered by the school can be included in an IEP. IEPs can include accommodations, which may include texts and instructions in audio format, text-to-speech/speech to text software, recording oral answers to assignment or test questions, access to distraction-free location for reading, allowing extra time to complete work or tests, and many more. Accommodations for Students with Dyslexia by the International Dyslexia Association lists many other options.

Section 504 Plan: Section 504 plans don’t include Specially Designed Instruction. They do include accommodations.

The National Center on Improving Literacy has information on when a Section 504 plan may make sense for a student with reading difficulties or dyslexia. They note that Section 504 Plans, which fall under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, do not provide for Specially Designed Instruction. If a student’s reading has improved without an IEP by receiving multitiered systems of support, a Section 504 plan may offer Assistive Technology options, spelling checks, extended time on assignments and testing and other accommodations.

PAVE has articles and a video with more information about special education, IEPs, and Section 504 plans.

Interventions (help with reading) are schoolwide

Not all students who need reading support will need IEPs or a Section 504 Plan. The Revised Code of Washington (RCW 320.260) requires schools to support literacy through “evidence-based multi-tiered” programming. That means schools provide different levels of support for all students who need help, whether or not the student has an IEP or Section 504 Plan.

Some schools have reading programs funded by Title 1, which is part of a federal law called Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Title 1 is funded to close opportunity gaps related to poverty and other measures.  

TIP: Ask about all options for reading support at your school. If a student with an IEP participates in a schoolwide reading program, then the IEP can list that program as part of the student’s services.

Dyslexia can be identified and helped without a diagnosis

Students do not need a diagnosis of dyslexia to be evaluated (tested) for special education eligibility. If the family has concerns, they can ask the school to evaluate the student. Requests should be in writing. PAVE provides a sample letter to help families request an educational evaluation.

Here’s a sentence to include in the evaluation request letter:

“I need my child tested for a specific learning disability. I believe there is a problem with reading that is disability related.”

TIP: When a student’s need for reading help qualifies for an IEP, there are important things that families need to know about how IEPs work, what the goals are for the student’s reading abilities, what type of reading help will be given, where the Specially Designed Instruction will take place, and what the parent’s and student’s roles and responsibilities are when their student has an IEP. These are the basics:

  • IEP Eligibility is based on a student’s needs
  • Specially Designed Instruction (SDI) serves the identified needs
  • The IEP tracks learning progress with specific goals in each area of SDI

What options do families have if they disagree with a school’s decisions about their student’s reading supports or other decisions?

  • If a student has not been screened for signs of dyslexia and the family has concerns, a first step is to meet with the student’s teacher. This article by the International Dyslexia Association offers specific steps families can take.
  • Families can request an evaluation to see if the student qualifies for an IEP or a Section 504 Plan.
  • If families disagree with the evaluation, they can request an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE) from a provider outside the school. This article from PAVE gives steps and a sample letter to request and IEE: Evaluations Part 2: Next Steps if the School Says ‘No’
  • If the student has an IEP, this article gives specific steps to follow: Parents as Team Partners: Options When You Don’t Agree with the School.
  • For students with a Section 504 Plan, OSPI recommends:
    “The Section 504 coordinator in each district makes sure students with disabilities receive the accommodations they need and respond to allegations of discrimination based on disability. [Section 504 coordinators are members of a school’s Section 504 team which develops 504 Plans to accommodate a child’s needs]. A discussion with your school principal, or Section 504 coordinator at the school district, is often the best step to address your concerns or disagreements about Section 504 and work toward a solution. Share what happened and let the principal or coordinator know what they can do to help resolve the problem. If you cannot resolve the concern or disagreement this way, you can file a complaint.”

What else to know:

Keep in mind that families and schools don’t need to use the term dyslexia at all. They can talk about a student’s learning disability in reading, writing, or math in broader terms such as “Specific Learning Disability.” Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), dyslexia is a Specific Learning Disability that qualifies a student for special education.

Specific Learning Disability is defined by the Washington Administrative Code (WAC 392-172A-01035):
“Specific learning disability means a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, that may manifest itself in the imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or to do mathematical calculations, including conditions such as perceptual disabilities, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia, that adversely affects a student’s educational performance.”

The state’s definition of learning disability excludes “learning problems that are primarily the result of visual, hearing, or motor disabilities, of intellectual disability, of emotional disturbance, or of environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantage.”

Here’s a handout on Accommodations and Modifications for Students with Dyslexia.

Resources

From PAVE:

Special Education is a Service, Not a Place
Student Rights, IEP, Section 504 and More (video)
Steps to Read, Understand, and Develop an Initial IEP
Supporting literacy: Text-to-Speech and IEP goal setting for students with learning disabilities
IEP Tips: Evaluation, Present Levels, SMART goals
Section 504: A Plan for Equity, Access and Accommodations
Evaluations Part 2: Next Steps if the School Says ‘No’
There’s more: just type “Special Education,” “IEP” or “504” in the search bar

From OSPI:

Family and Caregiver Discussion Guide with Educators and Schools
Understand Literacy Screening: Parents and Families
Available in ខ្មែរ (Khmer), 한국인(Korean), ਪੰਜਾਬੀ (Punjabi), Русский (Russian), Soomaali (Somali), Español (Spanish), Filipino/Tagalog, 中國人(Traditional Chinese), and Tiếng Việt (Vietnamese)
Best Practices for Supporting Grades 3 and Above
Section 504 & Students with Disabilities (web page)
Dyslexia Guidance (for schools): Implementing MTSS for Literacy

Dyslexia awareness is promoted by the National Center on Improving Literacy (NCIL), which provides resources designed to support families, teachers, and policy makers. On its website, the agency includes state-specific information, recommends screening tools and interventions and provides research data about early intervention.

The International Dyslexia Association has many detailed resources for families.

Starting School: When and How to Enroll a Student in School

A Brief Overview

  • Compulsory attendance begins at 8 years of age and continues until the age of 18 unless the student qualifies for certain exceptions.
  • Infants and toddlers receiving early intervention services may be eligible to start preschool as early as 3 years old to continue receiving specialized instruction and related services.
  • A student aged 4 years old by August 31 may be screened for Transition to Kindergarten (TK), a state program designed for students who need additional support to be successful in kindergarten the following year.
  • A child must have turned 5 years old by August 31 to enroll in kindergarten, and 6 years old to enroll in first grade.
  • When registering your student for school, contact the school to find out what documents are required in addition to those listed in this article.
  • Students with a condition that may require medication or treatment

Full Article

If your child has never enrolled in school, back to school season can be a confusing time. This article answers frequently asked questions about school entrance age, compulsory education, and the enrollment process.  Note that “enrollment” and “registration” are used interchangeably regarding the steps leading up to a student starting school and within the OSPI (Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction) website.

At what age are children required to attend school?

Federal law protects the rights of children and youth to receive a publicly funded education. This is called compulsory education, or compulsory attendance. The age at which a child must begin school varies by state. In Washington state, children must begin attending school full-time at the age of 8 and continue attending regularly until the age of 18 (RCW 28A.225.010).

There are some exceptions to compulsory attendance, including if a child is –

  • enrolled in a private school, extension program, or residential school operated by the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) or the Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF).
  • enrolled in home-based instruction that meets State supervision requirements.
  • excused by the school district superintendent for physical or mental incapacity.
  • incarcerated in an adult correctional facility.
  • temporarily excused upon the request of the parents when the excused absences meet additional requirements under Washington state law (RCW 28A.225.010).

Compulsory attendance is required in Washington until the age of 18, unless the student is 16 years or older and meets additional criteria for emancipation, graduation, or certification (RCW 28A.225.010).

At what age can a student begin attending school?

Students with special needs or disabilities may qualify for early education programs. An infant or toddler with a disability or developmental delay receiving early intervention services may be eligible to start preschool between the ages of 3-5 to continue receiving specialized instruction and related services through the public school district until they reach the minimum enrollment age for kindergarten. Washington’s Transition to Kindergarten (TK) program screens 4-year-olds with a birthday by August 31st to identify those in need of additional preparation to be successful in kindergarten.

Parents may choose to enroll a child in kindergarten at 5 years old, if the birthday occurred before August 31st of the same year, but kindergarten is not required under compulsory education. Similarly, a child must be 6 years of age to enroll in first grade.

Families have the right to choose whether to enroll their students in school until the child turns 8 years old and compulsory attendance applies.

How do I enroll my student in school?

If this is the first time your child will attend this school, call the school and ask what you must bring with you to enroll your child and the best time to go to the school for enrollment. Consider that things will be busiest right before the school day starts, during lunch breaks, and as school is ending. Also find out if there is an on-site school nurse and the best time to reach that person.

A parent or legal guardian must go with the student to the school for registration with the required information and documents. According to the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI)’s Learning by Choice Guide, most schools require the following at a minimum:

  • Proof of age (e.g., birth certificate or passport).
  • Health history, including name, address, and phone number of child’s doctor and dentist.
  • Proof of residency (e.g., utility bill, tax statement).
  • Parent or guardian’s telephone numbers.
  • Child’s immunization records.

If your child has attended another school, also provide:

  • Withdrawal form or report card from the last school attended.
  • Expulsion statement.

Enrollment for Military-Connected Students

A Washington law passed in 2019 (HB 1210-S.SL, School Enrollment-Nonresident Children from Military Families) allows advance enrollment of children of active-duty service members with official military orders transferring or pending transfer into the state. This means that qualifying children must be conditionally enrolled in a specific school and program and registered for courses. The parent must provide proof of residence within fourteen days of the arrival date listed in the military orders before the school will finalize the enrollment. The address on the proof of residency may be a temporary on-base detailing facility; a purchased or leased residence, or a signed purchase and sale or lease agreement; or military housing, including privatized and off-base housing. The child will be conditionally enrolled and registered for courses.

Schools are responsible for the health and safety of students during all school-related activities. If a student has a condition that may require medication or treatment while at school, Washington state law (RCW 28A.210.320 and WAC 392-380) requires additional steps before the student may begin attending school. The parent or guardian must:

  1. Provide the school with a written prescription and/or treatment plan from a licensed health care provider,
  2. Provide the prescribed medication and/or equipment outlined in the treatment plan, and
  3. Create an Individualized Healthcare Plan with the school nurse.

Schools may develop their own forms, so contact your child’s intended school to get the correct forms and provide complete, accurate information.

Download How to Enroll a Student in School Handout

How to Enroll a Student in School Checklist To download the fillable form and get access to the clickable links, download the PDF

Additional Considerations for Military-Connected Students

Children with parents in the uniformed services may be covered by the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunities for Military Children, also known as MIC3, was created with the hope that students will not lose academic time during military-related relocation, obtain an appropriate placement, and be able to graduate on time. MIC3 provides uniform policy guidance for how public schools address common challenges military-connected students experience when relocating, including several issues related to enrollment. Learn more about how to resolve Compact-related issues with this MIC3 Step-by-Step Checklist.

Families who are new to Washington can learn more about navigating special education and related services in this article, Help for Military Families: Tips to Navigate Special Education Process in Washington State.

Additional Information

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

A Brief Overview

  • Mobility (the ability to move around) is important for interacting with the world, developing social relationships, and participating in our community
  • Ableism is when people are treated unfairly because of their body or mind differences. This can make people feel ashamed. It can also make it hard for them to move around because places aren’t accessible. This means they have fewer chances to be mobile.
  • Studies show that when kids with disabilities have self-initiated mobility (can start moving on their own), it helps them grow, make friends, and take part in things. This is true no matter how they move around.
  • Many young children with disabilities lack access to mobility technologies such as wheelchairs or supportive walking devices
  • It is important to spread the word about the benefits of mobility technology, and some of the current barriers that limit access to mobility technologies for children with disabilities
  • We need to tell people about how mobility technology can help kids with disabilities. We need to talk about why it can be hard for families to get this technology and work on making it easier to access these tools.
  • There are many ways for families to try mobility devices for children. They can work with their therapy teams to access the technology they need.
  • This article was developed in partnership with PAVE by Heather A. Feldner, PT, PhD, PCS and Kathleen Q. Voss (ed.),  University of Washington CREATE  (Center for Research and Education on Accessible Technology and Experiences)

Connecting to the World through Mobility

I want to invite you to take 30 seconds and think back to when you were a kid. What did you love to do?​ Why did you love it? How did this contribute to who you were, and how see yourself now? For me, it was playing the 80’s childhood game ‘ghosts in the graveyard’ around my neighborhood in the summer. Ghosts in the graveyard combines tag and hide-and-seek…in the dark. What could go wrong?!  I was with my friends, people I trusted. I was in my own yard, and the yards of my neighborhood. Places I knew well. Sure, there was a bit of risk, or what we thought to be risk in our young minds, but I loved to do it. I felt free and safe at the same time.​

So, what did you think of? Maybe for some of you, it was reading. For others, playing with friends at a playground, or in the sand and water at the beach. Maybe you were a dancer, or an artist. Perhaps you were on a sports team of some sort. Maybe it was none of these things. And regardless of how or where, I imagine we all got into some troublemaking. So, what made it all possible? I would guess that whatever it was, it was possible because of your ability to connect to the world, and objects, and people through mobility. ​

Ableism, Troublemaking, and the Importance of Mobility

Though we may have our own special idea of what mobility means, there’s also likely a lot of common ground, too. Let’s start with how the dictionary defines mobility and locomotion. According to Merriam-Webster, locomotion is defined as ‘the act or power of moving from place to place’. For mobility, we find ‘the ability or capacity to move; the ability to change one’s social or socioeconomic position in a community and especially to improve it.’ What stands out to you when you see these definitions? What is or isn’t included?

Note the definitions don’t talk about how people move or who’s moving. But what they do highlight is that mobility is powerful and social. We know society values some types of movement, like walking, more than others. For those with disabilities, this value judgement can lead to harm. This is ableism at work. It is thinking that being normal means being able-bodied. Ableism leads to unfair treatment of those who function differently. This connects to other ‘isms’ and makes things even harder. Even though there are tools like wheelchairs, walkers, scooters, and gait trainers to help with mobility, ableism affects how we see and value this technology in society. Because of this, people with disabilities wait longer for access, pay more, and have fewer choices. Just exploring these options can cause people to feel shame. Even then, many places are still inaccessible. Our mobility isn’t just about getting from one place to another. It helps us connect with others, make friends, explore new things, and have fun. When the mobility of disabled people is limited, it is an equity issue. For children with disabilities, ableism can take away their chance to be troublemakers.

Parents know that toddlers can be a handful. They touch everything, make messes, and often try to run away. But what if a toddler has a physical disability? How can we help them learn about their bodies and the world around them, especially when they might need help or special equipment to move around? Research shows that when kids start moving on their own, they learn a lot. They get better at understanding space, thinking, talking, and moving. Their relationships with parents and caregivers also improve. They show more emotions and hear more language from adults. These benefits happen for all kids, whether they crawl, use a baby walker, or drive a mobility device.

When kids can’t move on their own, either by using their muscles or with technology, they may have trouble starting to play and interacting with others. They may also have slower development in thinking, seeing shapes, and body awareness. Caregivers may not notice when the child tries to move or talk. Kids with disabilities are often described as quieter and better behaved than other kids. They are often placed near the fun but are not always part of the fun. This is not the child’s fault. It’s because our surroundings, technology, and ways of doing things don’t reflect how important it is for very young children with disabilities to move on their own. Parents and disabilities rights groups have worked hard to make schools more inclusive. But we need to do more to see how technology and design can help kids move and truly take part in things. As a pediatric physical therapist for kids and a technology researcher, my goal is to help kids with disabilities have more chances to be movers, shakers, and troublemakers.

Spreading the Word about the Importance of Self-Initiated Mobility

I work at the University of Washington as a researcher and associate director of an accessibility center called CREATE- The Center for Research and Education on Accessible Technology and Experiences. Our center has researchers from many different fields. We all focus on accessibility in different ways. My focus is on helping kids with disabilities access mobility technology. Our team works with children ages 1-5 who have trouble moving because of conditions like cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, spina bifida, muscular dystrophy, spinal muscle atrophy, and genetic conditions. Some kids will learn to walk. But it’s important for them to have other ways to move around while they practice. Sometimes people think using mobility technology keeps children from developing motor skills like walking. This isn’t true. Research shows that using technology can even help kids learn to walk and do other things better! Our work at CREATE is to learn more about how kids use technology to move and to explore new technology together with the disabled community. We want to share how mobility technology helps kids grow and interact with their world.

Trying Out or Obtaining Mobility Technology

  • We know it’s important for kids with disabilities to be able to move around on their own. Mobility technology can help them do that. If families want to try out or get this technology, how can they start? Here are some important things to think about:
  • Talk with your therapy team to see if they have any devices at the clinic that you can try or borrow
  • If they do not have any devices you can try, ask to be put in touch with a local durable medical equipment supplier. In Washington, you can also contact NuMotion, Bellevue Healthcare, or Olympic Pharmacy and Healthcare.
  • Regional equipment lending libraries may mobility technology for children. It is always worth asking. In Washington, Bridge Disability Ministries has locations in Tukwila and Bellevue, The Washington Technical Assistance Program (WATAP) ships mobility technology accessories (not devices themselves) across the state. There are many other libraries throughout the state that are grouped together on the Northwest Access Fund loan program website.
  • When buying mobility technology, there are many things to consider. Think about the size and weight of the device and your transportation needs. Also think about how your home is set up and how your child will grow. An equipment clinic at a local hospital or therapy center can help. They have staff that can help you find the best equipment for your child as they grow.
  • Some people buy mobility technology themselves, but most get it through public or private funding. To get funding, you need a letter from a doctor saying your child needs the equipment. The letter must explain why the equipment is a good match for your child’s needs, how much it costs, and how it will be used at home and in the community. Staff at equipment clinics usually write the letter and send it to the doctor to sign. Then they send it to the funding agency.
  • It can take 3-12 months to get approved for mobility technology, depending on how you’re paying for it. Sometimes the first request is denied, and you have to appeal. It’s important for you and your equipment clinic team to keep fighting for your child’s needs.
  • You can also make your own mobility technology through the University of Washington Go Baby Go! program. This program changes battery-powered toy cars so kids with disabilities can use them. The cars are changed with a switch and special seats to help kids move around on their own. The program is for young kids from 9 months to 5 years old and is free for families.

Families can learn more about mobility technology by taking part in research. This can help them find out what types of technology are available and get practice using it. For example, at CREATE, we have done studies on how kids with Down syndrome move and explore, how young kids learn to use powered mobility devices, and how families use adapted toy cars. Taking part in research is always up to the family. Parents must give permission for their kids to join. Research studies are usually advertised on university websites and at therapy clinics. You can also join a research registry or ask your therapy team for help finding local researchers. Research centers like CREATE partner with people with disabilities and families to find out what research is most important to them.

In conclusion, being able to move around on your own is a basic human right. It is also really important for kids’ development and social life, no matter how they do it! Mobility technology can help children with disabilities, but it can be hard for families to get. Trying out equipment through therapy providers or lending libraries, buying equipment, or taking part in research can all help your child experience the benefits of mobility technology. These benefits can help your child grow, make friends, and take part in things.

References and Additional Resources:

Sabet, A., Feldner, H., Tucker, J., Logan, S. W., & Galloway, J. C. (2022). ON time mobility: Advocating for mobility equity. Pediatric Physical Therapy, 34(4), 546-550.

Feldner, H. A., Logan, S. W., & Galloway, J. C. (2016). Why the time is right for a radical paradigm shift in early powered mobility: the role of powered mobility technology devices, policy and stakeholders. Disability and Rehabilitation: Assistive Technology, 11(2), 89-102.

UNICEF Assistive Products and Inclusive Supplies

Family Information Guide to Assistive Technology

Oregon Family to Family Health Information Center – Wheelchairs for Children and Youth. Safe and Practical Options that Support Dignity and Community Inclusion

Washington State Department of Social and Health Services – Assistive Technology Services

Center for Research and Education on Accessible Technology and Experiences CREATE

Back To School Checklist!

Late summer is the time to gather school supplies, find out what time the school bus will pick up and drop off, and prepare to find new classrooms and meet new teachers. Parents of students with disabilities have some additional things to check off the list to be ready for the year ahead. As August is National Immunization Month, we are adding updated immunizations and flu and covid boosters to the reminders. These are fully covered medical expenses whether you have insurance or not and can go a long way to keeping your child and your family healthy as we move into the fall and winter months. There are multiple events across our state where families can go to for immunizations.  

Super important: As school begins, make sure you know what’s included in your child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP), Section 504 Plan, and/or Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP). For more, see PAVE’s article: Tips to Help Parents Plan for the Upcoming School Year

If you are new to Washington State, perhaps because of military service, you also may want to review some basic information about how education and special education are structured and delivered here. PAVE provides an article: Help for Military Families: Tips to Navigate Special Education Process in Washington State. 

Here’s a checklist to help you get organized:

  1. Create a one-pager about your child to share with school staff
    • Include a picture
    • List child’s talents and strengths—your bragging points
    • Describe behavioral strategies that motivate your child
    • Mention any needs related to allergy, diet, or sensory
    • Highlight important accommodations, interventions, and supports from the 504 Plan, IEP, or BIP
  2. Make a list of questions for your next meeting to discuss the IEP, BIP, or 504 Plan
    • Do you understand the goals and what skills your child is working on?
    • Do the present levels of performance match your child’s current development?
    • Do accommodations and modifications sound likely to work?
    • Do you understand the target and replacement behaviors being tracked and taught by a Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP)?
    • Will the child’s transportation needs be met?
  3. Mark your calendar for about a week before school starts to visit school and/or send an email to teachers, the IEP case manager, and/or your child’s counselor
    • Share the one-pager you built!
    • Ask school staff how they prefer to communicate—email, phone, a notebook sent back and forth between home and school?
    • Get clear about what you want and need, and collaborate to arrange a communication plan that will work for everyone
    • A communication plan between home and school can be listed as an accommodation on an IEP or 504 Plan; plan to ask for your communication plan to be written into the document at the next formal meeting
  4. Design a communication log book
    • Can be a physical or digital notebook
    • Plan to write notes every time you speak with someone about your child’s needs or services. Include the date, the person’s full name and title, and information about the discussion
    • Log every communication, whether it happens in the hallway, on the phone, through text, via email, or something else
    • After every communication, plan to send an email thanking the person for their input and reviewing what was discussed and any promised actions—now that conversation is “in writing”
    • Print emails to include in your physical log book or copy/paste to include in a digital file
    • Having everything in writing will help you confirm what did/didn’t happen as promised: “If it’s not written down, it didn’t happen.”
  5. Consider if you want to request more information about the credentials of teachers or providers working with your child. Here are some things you can ask about:
    • Who is providing which services and supports?
    • Who is designing the specially designed instruction (SDI)? (SDI helps a child make progress toward IEP goals)
    • What training did these staff receive, or are there training needs for the district to consider?
  6. Ask  the special education teacher or 504 case manager how you can share information about your child, such as a one-pager, with school team members. This includes paraprofessionals or aids and other members of the school team.
    • Parents have important information that benefit all school team members. Ask who has access to your child’s IEP or 504 Plan and how you can support ensuring team members receive information
  7. Have thank you notes ready to write and share!
    • Keep in mind that showing someone you appreciate their efforts can reinforce good work
  8. Celebrate your child’s return to school
    • Do the bus dance on the first morning back to school!
    • Be ready to welcome your child home with love and encouragement. You can ask questions and/or read notes from your child’s teachers that help your loved one reflect on their day and share about the new friends and helpers they met at school

Below is an infographic of the above information.

Tip! you can click on the image and access an accessible PDF to print and keep handy.

Back to School Checklist click to find the accessible PDF

Click to access an accessible PDF of the infographic above

School to Adulthood: Transition Planning Toolkit for High School, Life, and Work

Looking to the future can feel exciting, hopeful, confusing, overwhelming—or all emotions at once. For families supporting a young person with a disability, it’s never too soon to begin planning to ensure a smooth process from the teen years toward whatever happens next. This toolkit supports families as they organize this multiyear project.

Presenting our newest resource – the Planning My Path Practical Tips and Tools for Future Planning. This toolkit encompasses a collection of our informative articles, complemented by easy to understand timeline charts to provide you with a solid foundation as you navigate through this crucial transition period. Taking some time to look through it may answer some questions that pop up as you get closer to your high school graduation.

Learn the Words

A good place to begin is a Glossary of Key Terms for Life After High School Planning, which provides vocabulary building and an overview of topics relevant to this important phase of life. 

Earning a Diploma

To earn a high-school diploma in Washington State, students must:

OSPI provides a two-page summary of graduation requirements to support families and students. Included is this statement: “Students who receive special education services under an Individualized Education Program (IEP), also have an IEP Transition Plan, which begins by the school year when a student turns 16 or sooner. The HSBP is required to align with their IEP Transition Plan to ensure a robust planning process toward post-high school goals.”

Various state agencies collaborated to provide a guidebook: Guidelines for Aligning High School & Beyond Plans (HSBP) and IEP Transition Plans.

The state’s 2019 legislature changed graduation requirements (HB 1599). Students may earn a Certificate of Academic Achievement (CAA) or a Certificate of Individual Achievement (CIA) to graduate. How a student earns a CIA is determined by their IEP team.

Students with disabilities seeking a diploma through General Educational Development (GED) testing may be eligible for testing accommodations. A website called passged.com lists a variety of disability conditions that might make a person eligible for testing supports.

Commencement Access

Regardless of when a diploma is earned, a student can participate in Commencement at the end of a traditional senior year, with peers, under a Washington provision called Kevin’s Law. Families may want to plan well in advance with school staff to consider how senior year events are accessible to youth with disabilities.

The Big Picture

The right to a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) includes the right to school-based services that prepare a young person with a disability for adult life.

Here are links to a training video, infographic, and article:

Various state agencies collaborated to provide a downloadable guidebook: Guidelines for Aligning High School & Beyond Plans (HSBP) and IEP Transition Plans. Included are career-planning tools and linkages to current information about Graduation Pathways, which changed in 2019 when the Washington State Legislature passed House Bill (HB) 1599.

Student Self-Advocacy

As they move toward adulthood, many students benefit from opportunities to practice skills of self-advocacy and self-determination. One way to foster those skills is to encourage youth to get more involved in their own Individualized Education Programs (IEPs). To support that, PAVE provides this article: Attention Students: Lead your own IEP meetings and take charge of your future. Included is a handout that students might use to contribute to meeting agendas.

The RAISE Center (National Resources for Advocacy, Independence, Self-determination and Employment) provides a blog with transition related news, information, ideas and opinions. Topics in 2020-21 include how to “Be the Best You,” how issues of race and disability intersect with equity, and how “The Disability Agenda Could Bring Unity to A Fragmented Society,” by RAISE Center co-director Josie Badger, who is a person living with disability.

Student Rights after High School

An Individualized Education Program (IEP) ends when a student leaves secondary education. The protections of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 are ongoing throughout the lifespan.

These laws provide for appropriate accommodations in public programs and facilities. To support these disability protections, The IEP accommodations page or a Section 504 Plan can travel with a student into higher education, a vocational program, or work. Often a special services office at an institution for higher learning includes a staff member responsible for ensuring that disability rights are upheld. PAVE provides an article with general information about Section 504 rights that apply to all ages: Section 504: A Plan for Equity, Access and Accommodations.

Universal Design supports everyone

Asking for rights to be upheld is not asking for special favors. A person living with disability, Kyann Flint, wrote an article for PAVE to describe how Universal Design supports inclusion. Her article can provide inspiration for young people looking for examples of what is possible, now as ever: COVID-19 and Disability: Access to Work has Changed.

Agencies that can help

Washington State’s Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR) provides services for high-school students engaged in transition planning as well as adults seeking employment. PAVE provides an article that describes Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS) and more: Ready for Work: Vocational Rehabilitation Provides Guidance and Tools.

DVR’s website includes a section with information about Tribal Vocational Rehabilitation (TVR), which is available for people with tribal affiliations in some areas of the state. Each TVR program operates independently. Note that some TVR programs list service areas by county but that sovereign lands are not bound by county lines. Contact each agency for complete information about program access, service area, and eligibility.

Services for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing are provided by Washington’s Center for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Youth (CDHY), which was formerly called the Center for Childhood Deafness and Hearing Loss (CDHL). This statewide resource supports all deaf and hard of hearing students in Washington, regardless of where they live or attend school.

Services for individuals who are blind or living with low vision are provided by Washington’s Department of Services for the Blind (DSB). Youth services, Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS), Vocational Rehabilitation, Business Enterprise Program, and mobility and other independent-living skills are served by DSB.

The Developmental Disabilities Administration (DDA) also has a variety of school-to-work and waiver programs that support youth. PAVE provides a video to support families through the DDA eligibility process. An article provides further detail: How to Prepare for a DDA Assessment.

Not all youth with disabilities are able to access employment-related services through DVR, TVR, DSB, or DDA. A limited additional option is Goodwill, which provides access to a virtual learning library. Students can take classes at their own pace for skills development. Employment skills, workplace readiness, interviewing skills and more are part of the training materials. To request further information, call 253-573-6507, or send an email to: library@goodwillwa.org.

Graduation’s over: Why is school calling?

Schools are responsible to track the outcomes of their special education services. Here’s an article to help families get ready to talk about how things are going: The School Might Call to Ask About a Young Adult’s Experience After High School: Here’s Help to Prepare

Benefits Planning

A consideration for many families of youth with disabilities is whether lifelong benefits are needed. Applying for social security just past the young person’s 18th birthday creates a pathway toward a cash benefit and enables the young person to access Medicaid (public health insurance) and various programs that depend on Medicaid eligibility.

The Washington Initiative for Supported Employment (gowise.org) provides benefit planning information and resources through a program called BenefitU.

When a person 18 or older has a disability, family members may want to stay involved in helping them make decisions. Supported Decision Making (SDM) is the formal name for one legal option. Washington law (Chapter 11.130 in the Revised Code of Washington) includes Supported Decision Making as an option under the Uniform Guardianship, Conservatorship, and Other Protective Arrangements Act. The law changed in 2020 when the state passed Senate Bill 6287. The changes took effect Jan. 1, 2022. PAVE’s article about Supported Decision Making has more information about this and other options for families to support an adult with a disability.

The Importance of Fathers and Father Figures

A Brief overview

  • Parents are children’s first and primary teachers.
  • Every parent has a unique way of caring for and interacting with his/her/their child, with mothers and fathers typically interacting with their children in different ways.
  • Male family members and father figures serve key roles in the healthy development of children and youth.
  • Fathers and father figures can experience barriers in supporting their children, including the myth that there are no barriers.
  • Resources are available to support fathers and father figures on their parenting journey.

Full Article

Parents are children’s first and primary teachers. Every parent has their own way of caring for and interacting with his/her/their child, with mothers and fathers typically interacting with their children in different ways.

Who are fathers and father figures?

Fathers and father figures play an important role in supporting a child’s growth and development across the lifespan. The term “father figure” is sometimes used broadly to describe males who are important in the life of a child. Father figures can include adoptive fathers, foster fathers, loving male relatives, godfathers, uncles, legal guardians, even mentors and older friends.

Research has shown in the early years, fathers support school readiness and the overall well-being of the family.

What are some barriers fathers have to full involvement with their children?

In addition to the many challenges families of children with disabilities face when navigating education and healthcare, there are additional obstacles which may include:

  • Complex legal systems that historically demonstrated bias against males.
  • Lack of confidence in parenting.
  • Conflicts in cultural values that may view caregiving as the role of the mother.
  • Systems that may favor or support mothers’ involvement as a priority.
  • Overall lack of adequate resources to support fathering.
  • Challenges in communication when parents are parenting apart.

The lack of support is often connected to the myth that fathers and father figures are not in need of specialized assistance. When fathers and father figures are seen, supported, and engaged with their children, the child and the whole community benefits. There are many resources available to schools, community organizations, and agencies who are serving or interested in supporting strong fathers and families.

Additional Resources:

LGBTQ+ and Disability Rights in School

A Brief Overview

  • Youth and young adults with disabilities may also have diverse sexualities and gender identities.
  • Students can experience discrimination based on disability, and face discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression.
  • LGBTQ+ is an acronym that stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (or sometimes questioning), and others. The “plus” represents other gender identities including pansexual and Two-Spirit.
  • LGBTQ identities are NOT disabilities, but students with disabilities
  • may also be LGBTQ+.
  • LGBTQ+ youth with disabilities report high rates of harassment and are more likely to be bullied or harassed than students without disabilities.
  • Race, ethnicity, nationality, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression are all protected classes under Washington law.
  • PAVE’s Parent Training and Information (PTI) staff help families understand and navigate service systems for children 0-26. Click Get Help on the PAVE website or call 800-572-7368.

Full Article

LGBTQ+ is an acronym that stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (or sometimes questioning), and others. The “plus” represents other gender identities including pansexual and Two-Spirit.

Youth and young adults with disabilities may also have diverse sexualities and gender identities. LGBTQ+ identities are NOT disabilities, but students with disabilities may also be LGBTQ+. The prevalence of disability among LGBQT+ youth is not clear, but research is emerging. The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Foundation 2018 LGBTQ+ Youth Report surveyed over 12,000 LGBTQ+ youth aged 13-17 from across the United States. One in seven (15%) LGBTQ+ youth said they had a disability. A 2020 Trevor Project survey found that 5% of LGBTQ+ reported having deafness or a hearing disability, whereas a 2021 Trevor Project survey found that 5% of LGBTQ+ youth were diagnosed with autism.

Discrimination often refers to a person or a group of people being treated differently because they belong to a protected class. According to the HRC, “For LGBTQ+ youth with a disability, stigma associated with their intersecting identities places them at even more risk for bullying and harassment. More than one-third (36%) of disabled LGBTQ+ students say they have been bullied or harassed in school because of their disability, while three in ten (30%) say they have felt unsafe at school because of their disability.”

Washington is one of only 19 states that explicitly protects LGBTQ+ students in public schools from discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression. Washington also has laws to protect students from discrimination based on disability.

Effective January 31, 2020, all districts in Washington must have a policy and procedure that includes all elements of Washington Association School Board Directors Association (WSSDA) model policy for gender inclusive schools and procedure (numbered 3211 and 3211P, respectively). Gender-inclusive schools benefit all students, help to equalize student experiences and outcomes; and prioritize student health, safety, and wellbeing.

The HRC, National Association of School Psychologists, National Association of Secondary School Principals, National Center for Lesbian Rights, and the National Education Association produced a Guide for Educators and Parents/Guardians on Supporting LGBTQ Students with an IEP or 504 Plan. This guide emphasizes that “Ideally, students should be allowed access to needed resources, services, restrooms and locker rooms without such access being written into a Section 504 Plan or IEP, but there are times when including specific provisions about equal access may be necessary to ensure that students are able to access school programs and facilities and benefit from classroom instruction.”

If you are concerned about your child’s rights in school:

Additional Resources:

Resources for LGBTQ+ People Living with Disabilities:

Infant Early Childhood Mental Health

A Brief Overview

  • Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health (IECMH) is a term that describes how young children develop socially and emotionally. They learn about their emotions form close and secure relationships with their caregivers and family members. They learn and explore the environment – all in the context of family, community, and culture.
  • Families concerned about a child’s development can call the Family Health Hotline at 1-800-322-2588, with support in multiple languages. Parents can complete a developmental screening online for free at Parent Help 123.
  • PAVE provides an article for next steps after age 3: What’s Next when Early Childhood Services End at Age 3? Another PAVE article for families new to special education: Steps to Read, Understand, and Develop an Initial IEP.
  • PAVE’s Parent Training and Information (PTI) staff help families understand and navigate service systems for children 0-26. Click Get Help on the PAVE website or call 800-572-7368.
  • Early Support for Infants and Toddlers (ESIT) helps young children with disabilities or delays to learn and supports their unique development.

Full Article

New parents may struggle to know whether their child’s emotional development is on track. They may have a feeling that a milestone is missed, or they may observe siblings or the emotional well-being of other children and notice their child is developing differently. Sometimes a parent just needs reassurance. Other times, a child may have a developmental delay or a disability. In those cases, early support, including Infant Early Childhood Mental Health (IECMH) can be critical to a child’s lifelong learning and development.

IECMH is a term that describes how very young children develop socially and emotionally. They form relationships with other people. They learn about their emotions and how to control them. This happens in the settings of their family, community, and culture. (Zero to Three, Basics of Early Childhood Mental Health, 2017).

According to Best Starts for Kids, relationships are at the heart of human development and thriving for infants, toddlers, and young children. Relationships with parents and caregivers give very young children the social and emotional foundations they need to learn and thrive.

The Washington Health Care Authority reports around 1 in 6 young children has a diagnosed mental, behavioral, or developmental condition (Cree et al., 2018). These conditions may be treated with infant early childhood mental health (IECMH) services.

Services work to improve the quality of the child’s relationship with parents or caregivers. They can:

  • Help the distress of the mental health concern.
  • Support the return to healthy development and behavior.

When families receive Early Support for Infants and Toddlers (ESIT) services for a child, the child is tested as part of an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP).

The evaluation looks at the child’s ability to:

  • Identify and understand their own feelings;
  • Accurately notice and understand other people’s emotional states.
  • Manage strong emotions in a positive way.
  • Control their behavior.
  • Develop empathy (understand how people feel based on the child’s own experience)
  • Make and support relationships.

The evaluation may show the child is not developing well in some of these areas.  IECMH services may help.

Some examples of Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health services include:

  • Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation
  • Parent training
  • Childcare provider training
  • Group training
  • Parent Behavioral Therapy
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • Infant/Child – Parent Psychotherapy
  • Play therapy

If you are concerned about a child’s development:

  • To learn about typical development, read the birth-to-6 pre-screening chart in English or Spanish
  • Please Ask is a three-minute video that shows the importance of referring infants and toddlers for early intervention. ESIT is a part if the Department of Children, Youth and Families
  • Families can call the ESIT local lead agency: Local Lead Agencies by County
  • Family Health Hotline: 1-800-322-2588. This statewide, toll-free number offers help in English, Spanish, and other languages.
  • Early Learning Transition: When Birth-3 Services End

More Resources:

ESY Helps Students Who Struggle to Maintain Skills and Access FAPE

A Brief Overview

  • Extended School Year (ESY) services help a student with a disability maintain skills in academic and/or functional areas, such as speech/language, occupational therapy, or behavior.
  • The Individualized Education Program (IEP) team determines whether a student needs ESY. Family members participate in the decision. PAVE provides an article: Parent Participation in Special Education Process is a Priority Under Federal Law.
  • Services may be provided when school is not normally in session, but not always. Sometimes they are built into the school day. Typically, they are provided during summer. Holiday breaks and after school are options too.
  • Parents can keep notes about any loss of skill during a break from school. By tracking how long it takes to recover a skill, parents can provide data for a discussion about whether additional services are necessary.
  • ESY are provided at no cost to the family.

Full Article

With summer coming, some parents worry that a child’s progress at school might be erased by the break. Some families may also worry that their child is on the verge of acquiring a new skill and that progress will be disrupted by an extended break. Parents can request a meeting with the Individualized Education Program (IEP) team to review progress and address the concerns. PAVE provides an article with a sample letter to help families request a meeting that isn’t part of the required annual IEP review process.

The team uses existing data and can plan additional evaluations to decide whether the student needs extra instructional time. The student might need supplemental instruction in an academic subject or to maintain a skill in speech/language, occupational therapy, behavior or another area being served through the IEP.

The critical question for the IEP team: Will learning be significantly jeopardized if additional services are not provided?

Extended School Year (ESY) is available for students in special education if there is evidence that without extra instruction they will fall significantly behind in specific skills. Falling behind is formally called regression.

Recovery of skills is called recoupment. A school will provide ESY if regression or likelihood of regression is significant and extra instructional time is needed for recoupment of skills. ESY services help a child maintain skills already being taught and are not provided to teach new skills.

ESY is not the same as summer school

Families often think of ESY as a summer program, but it’s not the same as summer school. A summer-school program might be structured to accommodate a student’s individualized ESY program. ESY and Recovery Services are individualized to serve the needs of a student eligible for special education. The program is structured to fit the student, not the other way around. See PAVE’s video about a student’s right to a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE): FAPE Fits Like a Proper Outfit.

ESY is usually provided when school is not normally in session, but not always. The IEP team may decide that the services will be most helpful if built into the school day. ESY also can be provided during holiday breaks or as an extension of the typical school day.

Conversations about ESY can happen any time the IEP team meets to discuss progress and goal-setting. If ESY is determined necessary, the IEP document includes an amendment with specific ESY objectives. When an IEP team determines a child eligible for ESY, the school district alerts parents in a Prior Written Notice (PWN) before implementing ESY. If transportation is needed for delivery of ESY services, the district provides transportation.

ESY is not an enrichment program. It is not provided for credit recovery. It is also not a “compensatory service,” which is provided by the district when a student’s services have not met requirements for a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE).

ESY services might include 1:1 instruction at home, at school or at a district office. A student could also receive ESY as part of “related services” at a provider’s office. (Occupational and speech therapy are examples of related services.) Computer- and home-based learning are additional ESY options. Like all IEP programming, ESY is individualized. Service delivery is designed by the IEP team, and sometimes creative problem-solving is needed.

If the IEP includes ESY services and the family moves during the summer, the new school district is responsible to provide the services as they are designed in the IEP or in a comparable way.

The Washington Administrative Code (WAC) includes information about ESY in sections 392-172A-02020.

How are decisions made about ESY?

The IEP team decides whether a student requires ESY by meeting to review the student’s program goals and progress. PAVE has an article about goal-tracking. Parents or teachers may have notes about any loss of skill during a past break from school.

By making notes about how long it takes to recover a skill after a break, parents can contribute important data. Sharing that information earlier in the school year is ideal, so there is ample time for a review of data and any additional testing. Attendance information also is helpful because some disabilities create illness conditions that keep a child out of school long enough to fall significantly behind.

The school and family discuss whether the lost skills and extra time required to regain them is likely to create a significant barrier to progress toward IEP goals and learning in the future. This will justify whether recoupment is required to reverse or prevent regression. Those are the key words in ESY decision-making.

An IEP team might consider:

  • Documented problems with working memory from assessments
  • Demonstrated need for constant reinforcement over time, even during the regular instructional day/year
  • History from a previous year of losing skills and struggling to regain them after a school break
  • Need for constant reinforcement of a behavior support program when a student is at risk of being moved to a more restrictive environment without substantial progress around behavior

What does LRE have to do with ESY?

Special Education has Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) as a primary feature. In accordance with the IDEA, a school district is responsible to provide instruction in the least restrictive setting to the maximum extent appropriate.

Accommodations and supports are provided to allow for LRE. Therefore, LRE is part of the school’s obligation to FAPE (Free Appropriate Public Education). For some students, routine is paramount. Parents and teachers can discuss whether a break in routine might jeopardize the student’s ability to remain in their current classroom/placement. If yes, then ESY might be needed for the student to continue accessing school in the Least Restrictive Environment.

What can parents do if they disagree with the school?

Parents who disagree with school decisions have the right to dispute those decisions. PAVE has an article about Procedural Safeguards and options when families and schools disagree. PAVE also provides a video about how to file a Community Complaint, which is one dispute resolution option.

Which students might be eligible for ESY?

ESY is not mandated for all students with disabilities and is not required for the convenience of the school or a parent who might need respite or daycare. There are no federal regulations on ESY eligibility. Some additional considerations may include:  

  • Regression/Recoupment: Likelihood of regression or anticipating that it will take a long time to get a skill back can make a child eligible for ESY. A student doesn’t have to fully lose a skill or experience a long delay in recovering the skill to qualify.
  • Degree of Progress toward IEP Goals: Very slow progress toward IEP goals can meet criteria for ESY. Trivial progress toward goals does not meet the standard of FAPE, as established by a 2017 supreme court ruling.
  • Nature and/or Severity of Disability: Determination is not limited to a specific category of disability. However, students with more severe disabilities are more likely to be involved in ESY programs because their regression and recoupment time are likely to be greater than students with less severe disabilities.
  • Emerging Skills/Breakthrough Opportunities: If a critical life skill is not completely mastered or acquired, ESY services may ensure that the current level of skill is not lost over a break. A few examples of critical life skills: beginning to communicate, learning to read or write, self-care. 
  • Interfering Behaviors: Some students receive positive behavior support as part of the IEP. When considering ESY, the IEP team would determine whether interruption of such programming would jeopardize the student receiving FAPE.
  • Special Circumstances: Sometimes there are special circumstances that prevent a student from learning within the regular school schedule. Districts have different definitions of what constitutes a special circumstance. Parents can ask for a copy of district policy and refer to WAC 392-172A-02020.

No sole factor determines whether a student qualifies for ESY. IEP teams review a variety of data, including informed predictions about what is likely to happen in future based on past experiences. A student who has received ESY in a previous year is not automatically entitled to those services again, and a student who wasn’t eligible in the past is not automatically denied.

Summary and Additional Resources

Some students require special education and related services longer than the regular school year in order to receive FAPE. ESY can minimize regression, so a child can catch up or recoup those skills. Parents who have concerns can discuss eligibility criteria with the IEP team. The sooner ESY is discussed, the sooner data can be collected and reviewed. Parent may need time to consider all options and to collaborate with the school.

As part of its Model Forms, the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) provides a downloadable document that IEP teams can fill out and attach to the IEP when a student qualifies for ESY services. To access the PDF directly: Extended School Year (ESY) addendum.

A website called Great Schools.org provides additional information about ESY and downloadable forms about IDEA requirements.

Wrightslaw.com provides information about the IDEA and legal findings on a variety of topics.

Prior Written Notice (PWN): An Important Document to Read and Understand  

A Brief Overview

  • Prior Written Notice (PWN) is a document that explains school district decisions about a student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP).  
  • Family members can request changes to the PWN if their concerns or positions are inaccurately described or left out of the PWN.
  • If a family caregiver files a special education complaint, the PWN may be among documents reviewed in an investigation.
  • PWN must be provided in the family’s native language.

Full Article

When family members and school staff meet to discuss a student’s services, certain things have to happen. One requirement is for the school to take notes and share those notes with the family within a reasonable amount of time (usually a few days) after the meeting. Those notes are formatted as a Prior Written Notice (PWN). This document is shared after a decision is made and prior to changes in a student’s program.

For example, if the IEP team meets and decides to change a student’s placement (where educational services are delivered), that decision is written down on the PWN. The PWN includes information about how the team made its decision and when the student will start receiving services in the new placement.

Parents can ask for their positions and reasons to be included in the PWN

During a meeting, family members can specifically ask for their position to be noted in the PWN. For example, if a school district staff member recommends changing a service and the parent does not agree to that change, the parent can say, “Please include in the Prior Written Notice that I do not agree to this change in service.” Family members can make sure their reasoning is included along with their position.

Family members also can request changes to the PWN after a meeting if they disagree with the wording or if their concerns or positions are left out. They might also provide something in writing and ask for it to be attached to the PWN for the record.

If the school takes an action that the family continues to disagree with, the family member might use a PWN among documents filed with a formal complaint. The PWN shows how disagreements were managed and documented through the IEP meeting process and whether family participation in decision-making was honored.

Washington State’s educational agency is the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI). On its website, OSPI guides families in what to expect in the PWN. According to OSPI, “The Prior Written Notice should document any disagreements with you and should clearly describe the reasons for this disagreement.”

PWN is an aspect of federal special education law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA Sec.300.503(b)).

In accordance with IDEA, a PWN must include:

  • A description of the action proposed or refused by the school
  • An explanation of why the school proposes or refuses to take the action
  • A description of each evaluation procedure, assessment, record, or report the school used as a basis for their decision
  • A statement that the parents of a child with a disability have protection under the procedural safeguards and how the parents can obtain a copy of them
  • Sources for parents to contact to obtain assistance in understanding these provisions
  • A description of other options that the IEP Team considered and the reasons why those options were rejected
  • A description of other factors relevant to the school’s proposal or refusal

The school is required to provide PWN to the family when:

  • The school plans to evaluate your child
  • You’ve asked for your child to be evaluated and the school denies your request
  • The school wants to begin or change your child’s identification as a “child with a disability”
  • The school proposes or refuses a particular educational placement for your child
  • The school wants to change your child’s educational placement
  • The school wants to change aspects of the special education or related services that your child is receiving
  • The school refuses a request from you, as parents, with respect to the educational services your child is receiving

Like all formal educational documents, PWN must be provided in the family’s native language.

For more information about PWN and other special education requirements, refer to the Procedural Safeguards, available for download in multiple languages from OSPI’s website.