Thursday, May 7, 2009

Eligibility under the category of Emotional Disturbance ("ED")

Mental health issues, as described in the previous post, are important components of the special education maze for many special needs kids. While mental health concerns arise in every eligibility category, there is one obvious category where they are a centralized concern, and that is the category labeled "Emotional Disturbance".

To qualify for eligibility for special education and related services as someone with an emotional disability, a student must exhibit one of the following five criteria "to a marked degree" over "a long period of time".

These criteria are:

(1) An inability to learn that cannot be explained by intellectual, sensory or health factors.
(2) An inability to build or maintain satisfactory interpersonal relationships with peers and teachers.
(3) Inappropriate types of behavior or feelings under normal circumstances.
(4) A general pervasive mood of unhappiness or depression
(5) A tendency to develop physical symptoms or fears associated with personal or school problems.

What is "to a marked degree" over "a long period of time"? Well, to keep things interesting, the IDEA does not define these terms for us. To provide some guidance, the Office of Special Education Programs ("OSEP") has stated that a "generally acceptable definition" of "a long period of time" is a range of time from two to nine months - assuming preliminary interventions have been implemented and proven ineffective during that period.
Letter to Anonymous, 213 IDELR 247 (OSEP 1989). As to the requirement that the behavior be to a "marked degree," OSEP has stated that this refers to the "frequency, duration or intensity of a student's emotionally disturbed behavior in comparison to the behavior of his peers and can be indicative of either degree or acuity or pervasiveness." Letter to Anonymous, 213 IDELR 247 (OSEP 1989).

My child meets this criteria, so now what? If your child meets the criteria for ED, then he or she should receive special education and related services that are appropriate for his or her unique educational needs in this area. If your child is not receiving services to meet these needs, then that means it is time for the IEP team to come together to discuss these unique needs, keeping in mind that "educational" needs can include BOTH academic and non-academic areas - so don't be afraid to explain how the emotional disability affects the needs of your child in both of these areas. The bottom line is that your child's IEP should reflect a program that is appropriate to meet your student's unique needs and enable him/her to receive an educational benefit.

How do I get Mental Health Services? Special education students in any disability category may receive services from county mental health programs. To receive these services, it all goes back to the basics of special education- FAPE - if mental health services are appropriate [the "A" in FAPE] to meet your child's unique educational needs [the "E" in FAPE], then those services must be provided at no cost to the parent [the "F" in FAPE].

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