Special Education: Eligibility and Referrals

How will I know if my child is eligible for Special Education services?

Connecticut law defines a child requiring special education as a child who meets the criteria for eligibility for special education pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 20 USC 1400, et seq., as amended from time to time…”[1]

Special education services eligibility under IDEA requires that your child be between the ages of three and twenty-one years old. Connecticut school districts are obligated to provide special education and related services to children five years of age or older until the earlier of either high school graduation or the end of the school year in which your child turns twenty- one years of age.[2] In addition, a child must have one or more of the following disabilities as determined by the IDEA:

  • Autism
  • Deaf-blindness
  • Deafness
  • Developmental delay (for 3 to 5 year olds)
  • Emotional disturbance
  • Hearing impairment
  • Intellectual disability
  • Orthopedic impairment
  • Other health impairments (limited strength, vitality or alertness due to chronic or acute health problems such as lead poisoning, asthma, attention deficit disorder (ADD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), diabetes, a heart condition, hemophilia, leukemia, nephritis, rheumatic fever, sickle cell anemia, and Tourette syndrome)
  • Physical impairment
  • Specific learning disability
  • Speech or language impairment
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Visual impairment (including blindness)

If a formal evaluation determines that your child is impaired by one of these disabilities, adversely affecting your child’s educational performance, a specific educational program must be developed to meet their unique educational needs. This is known as an Individual Education Program (IEP), a cornerstone of special education that we will explain further in the following pages.

Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), while not expressly listed under the IDEA, are construed as falling within the Other Health Impairment category. If a child suffers from either ADD or ADHD and their educational performance is disaffected as a result, he or she will be eligible for special education services.

A child requiring special education in Connecticut includes not only children with disabilities but also those who are found to be especially gifted and talented. The pertinent statute states, “A child requiring special education” means any exceptional child who . . . has extraordinary learning ability or outstanding talent in the creative arts, the development of which requires programs or services beyond the level of those ordinarily provided in regular school programs but which may be provided through special education as part of the public school program.”[3] Although gifted and talented children may be offered special education in the State of Connecticut, it is not a requirement.[4]

Who refers my child to Special Education?

Connecticut requires each school district to reach out and identify children from birth to twenty-one years of age who may be eligible for special education services. The IDEA covers all children with disabilities residing in the state, including those who are homeless or wards of the State, and children with disabilities attending private schools, irrespective of the severity of their disability. It is the obligation of the school district to identify children in need of special education from birth on. This duty is called “child find.”[5] After “finding” a child with a disability, the school district must initiate an evaluation of that child to fulfill their duty under the IDEA.

A referral to special education services is the first step in determining whether a child is entitled to receive special education and related services. The referral takes the form of a written request that a child be evaluated if he or she is suspected of having a disability and who may be in need of special education and related services. If your child is over the age of three and you believe he or she may have a disability, as a parent you may submit a written request to the director of special education of your school district. If someone other than a child’s parent refers a child to special education, such as a teacher or school administrator, the parent must receive written notice of such referral.

Those who may make a referral for an evaluation are: the student, provided they are 18 years of age or older, a parent or guardian, the state educational agency, the local educational agency or individuals from other agencies, including physicians or social workers having parental permission to make a referral.[6]

What is Informed Consent? When is my consent as a parent required?

Informed consent means that as a parent you must be given full and complete disclosure of all relevant facts and information pertaining to your child regarding certain proposed activities by your local educational agency. Consent remains voluntary and may be withheld or withdrawn at any time as it pertains to an initial evaluation of your child.

Written parental consent directed to your child’s school district is required when:

  1. Your child undergoes an initial evaluation to determine his or her eligibility for special education and related services;
  2. Before your child is placed in special education services;
  3. Before your child is placed in private placement; and
  4. Before your child is reevaluated.

However, a parent’s failure to give consent to a reevaluation may be overridden if the school district can show that a good-faith effort was made to obtain consent and the child’s parent failed to respond.[7]

The written parental consent granted to the local educational agency before conducting an initial evaluation of your child does not carry over and constitute consent to placing your child in special education. Separate written consent is required following an initial evaluation if your child is found to be eligible for special education and related services.[8] If a parent disagrees with a proposed special education activity, the school district must still ensure that your child receives a FAPE.

However, if you refuse to give written consent for the school district to conduct either an initial evaluation or a reevaluation, the school district may proceed on its own and initiate a due process hearing in order to move forward with the recommended evaluations. On the other hand, if a parent does not consent to special education services placement, even if a child is eligible, the school district may not initiate a due process hearing as a means of obtaining authority to place your child in special education. [9]

Contact an Experienced Education Law Attorney

Our attorneys have years of experience representing education law clients in the states of New York and Connecticut. With offices located in New York City and Westport, we strive to provide large firm service while maintaining the small firm attention and accountability you deserve.  us today for assistance with your eligibility and referral questions. Call 212-682-5700 for our New York offices or 203-221-3100 for our Connecticut office.


[1] Conn. Gen. Stat. §10-76(a)(5).
[2] Conn. Gen. Stat. §10-76(d)(b).
[3] Conn. Gen. Stat. §10-76(A)(5).
[4] Conn. Gen. Stat. §10-76(d)(b).
[5] 20 U.S.C.A. §1412(3)(A).
[6] 20 U.S.C. §1414(a)(1)(B) & Conn. Gen. Stat. §10-76(d)(10)(b).
[7] 34 C.F.R. §300.300.
[8] 20 U.S.C. §1414(a)(1)(D).
[9] 34 C.F.R. §300.300.