Children fail to thrive in school for many reasons. They may have trouble reading or remembering and struggle academically. They may not be able to pay attention to the teacher. They may not have any friends and be isolated socially. They may have depression or anxiety that clouds their thinking and weighs them down. They may act out and get in trouble and get suspended or expelled.

Schools are legally required to search and find children who are struggling and determine if they have a disability. This law is called Child Find. Once a child is identified as having a disability, schools must determine if the child needs special instruction and/or accommodations to learn properly. In other words, the disability must be affecting the child educationally. Some schools focus only on academics, so that children who are doing well academically do not get identified. However, the disability can affect the child emotionally or socially as well. A child does not have to fail a class to get special instruction.

Unfortunately, some children fall through the cracks. Parents are essential to making sure schools identify those children and give them necessary services. You know your child best. Know your rights and advocate for your child.

Ohio has specific categories of disabilities that must be used when a school determines that a child is eligible for special education:

  • Intellectual disability; 

  • Hearing impairment; 

  • Speech or language impairment; 

  • Visual impairment; 

  • Emotional disturbance; 

  • Orthopedic impairment;

  • Autism; 

  • Traumatic brain injury; 

  • Other health impairment; 

  • Specific learning disability; 

  • Deafness; 

  • Deaf-blindness;

  • Multiple disabilities; or

  • Developmental delay


If your child is struggling and you suspect that he or she has a disability, you should formally, and in writing, request a comprehensive evaluation by the school. This is called an Evaluation Team Report, or ETR. If the school agrees that something is wrong, a large team will meet with you. You should get a formal Parent Invitation that tells you the team will be meeting for a suspected disability meeting. This could include your child’s teacher, a school psychologist, a school nurse, sometimes an occupational therapist, speech therapist or physical therapist, and perhaps a principal. The team will (with your input) talk about why they think or do not think your child has a disability. Many schools try to delay testing by sending your child to informal groups, by telling you to wait and see, and by simply disagreeing that anything can be wrong. Or the school can simply not agree to have the formal meeting. This can be a huge hurdle.

If the school meets with you formally and then agrees that your child may have a disability, you will need to meet within 30 days of your request to have a formal planning meeting to determine what kinds of tests and observations will be done. Once you give your written consent for the school to test your child, the school will have 60 days to test, observe, gather data, and then write the Evaluation Team Report (ETR). You will meet with the team within those 60 days to go over the ETR. 

During that ETR meeting the school will talk about why they do or do not believe that your child has a disability. They will also talk about why they do or do not believe that disability affects your child educationally. This can also be a huge hurdle. For example, your doctor may have diagnosed your child with ADHD, but the school may not believe that the ADHD affects him or her in school. Or your child has been diagnosed with depression, but he or she is keeping up with classes and only falls apart at home. There are many reasons why school determine a child doesn’t have a disability that affects them educationally. Parent information is critical here. Any information or data, including private evaluations, can be a huge help at this point in the process. 

If the school agrees that your child does have a disability that affects them educationally, then they have 30 days to write up an IEP and hold a meeting to discuss it. The ETR is good for 3 years, at which time the school must reevaluate your child.

If the school does not agree that your child has a disability, you may appeal that decision. Or the school may agree that your child has a disability, but the ETR may not accurately describe your child’s difficulties.

For example, schools do not generally diagnose dyslexia, but use the more general “specific learning disability.” Legally schools have to use a scientific based program that is matched with the specific disability that your child has been identified with. A child with dyslexia needs a very specific type of program to learn to read (Orton Gillingham and Wilson are two). If ETR identifies dyslexia as your child’s specific disability the school must teach them according to a scientifically based program for dyslexia. However, someone with identified as having a “specific learning disability” does not necessarily need such a program, and schools can legally use many different programs. These could be Reading Recovery, or other whole language-based programs If your child has dyslexia, these will probably not help your child to read.

Be careful! It is almost impossible to get an appropriate IEP written that will help your child if the ETR is not accurate.