Learn the basics of special education for children and youth 3-21 and how to get started.

What is special education?

Children and youth 3-21 that have disabilities may be eligible for special education services. A child may get accommodations or qualify for special education if they are having trouble learning in school because of mental, physical, and emotional disabilities. A student must be evaluated to see if they are eligible for special education.

Where do I start if I think my child needs special education?

If your child is 3-21:

You will need to ask your local school district for an evaluation to see if your child qualifies for special education services. This is called making a referral. A referral must be made in writing.

  • If you live in Washington State, learn how to make a referral from the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) or read this step by step guide on how to request an evaluation (or re-evaluation) for special education and disability accommodations from the Washington Office of the Education Ombudsman.  You may want to watch this video where staff from the Washington Office of the Education Ombudsman and parents discuss Referral, Evaluation and the IEP.

Keep in mind:

  • Your child does not have to have a diagnosis before making a referral.
  • Children who are home schooled or attend a private school are evaluated by their home school district.
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