Special Education Eligibility

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is the federal law that governs special education in schools. The IDEA states that to qualify for special education services, your child must have a disability based on IDEA guidelines. In addition, the impact of the disability must create a need for special education services.  

A student may have a disability but not qualify for special education services. If a student does not meet the criteria for a disability, they will not be eligible to receive special education services. However, the school can still provide support with your input and help.  There are many criteria schools must consider regarding requirements that make a student eligible for special education. Thus, a diagnosed disability from a medical or mental health professional does not automatically mean a student will qualify. 

A school administrator or teacher can explain what to do if you disagree with eligibility findings. (See WV Procedural Safeguards and the WVDE Hand in Hand documents for additional information.) 

504 Plans

A student who does not qualify for special education may be eligible for a 504 Plan.  A 504 Plan is not covered under the IDEA. However, section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is a national civil rights law that protects qualified individuals from discrimination based on their disability. Under this law, individuals with disabilities are defined as people with a physical or mental impairment, limiting one or more major life activities.  504 Plans provide accommodations for students who have a disability to ensure that their education is not hindered because of their disability. 

People who have a history of or who have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities are also covered. Major life activities include caring for oneself, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, working, performing manual tasks, and learning. Some examples of impairments that may substantially limit major life activities, even with the help of medication, aids, or devices, are asthma, obesity, visual impairment, hearing impairment, diabetes, cancer, concussions, substance misuse, heart disease, cystic fibrosis, the effects of surgery, and mental illness. 

Additional Supports

All WV schools incorporate various proven learning and behavioral interventions for any student having trouble at school. If these supports help, students may not need to be tested for special education. In addition, WV educators and other professionals like social workers, nurses, and behavior specialists are trained to try many different strategies and techniques to help students before they need special education services.   

As soon as a student shows signs of needing help, anyone can refer the child to the Student Assistance Team (SAT). This team develops ideas and makes recommendations about ways to help the student in the school. The SAT includes administrators, teachers, school counselors, and other specialists.  There is an SAT in every WV school.   When more support is needed for a student, the SAT might invite parents, therapists, and others who have worked with the student to find solutions.  

Parents are encouraged to contact their child’s school as soon as they notice that their child needs help.  The sooner support is put in place for the child, the greater the chance of success at school. 

Parents are often surprised to learn that a medical diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) does not automatically entitle a student to special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Eligibility for special education services is based, instead, on an educational determination of a disability, which includes meeting the criteria for a specific disability (such as autism) and finding that a student needs special services. Understanding the differences between a medical diagnosis and an educational determination of eligibility for special education services can help parents become better advocates for their children.

Autism is a developmental disability significantly affecting verbal and nonverbal communication and social interaction. Autism can adversely affect a child’s educational performance. Other characteristics often associated with autism are repetitive activities and stereotyped movements, resistance to environmental change or change in daily routines, and unusual sensory experiences. The term autism does not apply if the child’s educational performance is adversely affected primarily because the child has an emotional disturbance. Find resources and support for families on the Children’s National Website.


Developmental delays occur in students, ages three through five, who are functioning at, or lower than, 75 percent of the normal rate of development, or who perform 1.5 standard deviations or more below the mean in consideration of 1.0 standard error of measurement on a standardized evaluation instrument, in two or more of the following areas:

  • cognition,
  • physical development,
  • communication,
  • social-emotional, and/or
  • self-help skills.

Effective July 1, 2023, the age range defined for developmental delay will be extended to include ages three through six.

Effective July 1, 2024, the age range defined for developmental delay will be extended to include ages three through seven

Disability Rights of WV (DRWV)

(304) 346-0847

DRWV provides consultation and education services on human and legal rights. Phone: (304) 346-0847 West Virginia Family Support Program, Bureau for Behavioral Health – Statewide service to assist families in accessing childcare, home modifications, transportation, and other needed supports.

WV Birth to Three

(304) 558-5388

Statewide, locally administered program to provide supports and services that assist families in meeting the developmental needs of their infant or toddler with special needs. All children under the age of three who are found eligible by having a developmental delay, medical condition or multiple risk factors are entitled to services needed by them and their family as identified on their Individual Family Service Plan (IFSP). Program provides linkage to specialized therapy services in accordance with Part C of the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA).

WV Head Start Association

Lead state agency that oversees 24 Head Start programs in WV. Disability services including individualized programming, inclusive placement, dental, health, nutrition, developmental, family support and social services. Services available to children aged birth to 5 years in low income families.

Emotional disturbance may encompass a wide range of specific conditions that differ from one another in their characteristics and treatment.

These include (but are not limited to):

  • anxiety disorders,
  • post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD),
  • bipolar disorder (sometimes called manic depression),
  • conduct disorders,
  • eating disorders,
  • obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and
  • psychotic disorders.

The Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Sec. 300.8(c)(4) defines emotional disturbance as a condition exhibiting one or more of the following characteristics over a long period of time and to a marked degree that adversely affects a child’s educational performance:

  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.

Because children who have experienced traumatic stress may seem restless, fidgety, or have trouble paying attention and staying organized, the symptoms of traumatic stress can be confused with symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Your school’s eligibility team can help you distinguish between the two.

Source: https://sites.ed.gov/idea/regs/b/a/300.8/c/4

Orthopedic impairment means the student has a severe physical limitation that adversely affects his/her educational performance. The term includes impairments caused by congenital anomaly (e.g., spina bifida, congenital amputation, osteogenesis imperfecta), an impairment caused by disease (e.g., poliomyelitis, bone tuberculosis), or an impairment from other causes (e.g., cerebral palsy, amputations, fractures or burns that cause contracture). Orthopedic impairments can stem from various causes.

An eligibility committee (EC) will determine that a student is eligible for special education services as a student with an orthopedic impairment when documentation of all the following criteria exists:

  • The student exhibits characteristics consistent with the definition.
  • The student has an orthopedic impairment diagnosed and described by a licensed physician.
  • Educational needs exist because of the orthopedic impairment.
  • The student’s condition adversely affects educational performance.
  • The student needs special education.

Parents/Caregivers should work closely with their child’s school to create a plan that encourages their child to be independent, to be included in a variety of learning experiences, and to be a part of extra-curricular activities.

IDEA states that:

Other health impairment means having limited strength, vitality, or alertness, including a heightened alertness to environmental stimuli, that results in limited alertness with respect to the educational environment, that—

  1. Is due to chronic or acute health problems such as asthma, attention deficit disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, diabetes, epilepsy, a heart condition, hemophilia, lead poisoning, leukemia, nephritis, rheumatic fever, sickle cell anemia, and Tourette syndrome; and
  2. Adversely affects a child’s educational performance. [§300.8(c)(9)]

There are quite a few disabilities and disorders that fall under the umbrella of “other health impairment.” And those disabilities are very different from one another.

Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) is caused when a traumatic injury affects the head or body. TBI has a range of severities. The most common causes of Traumatic Brain Injury are falls, car accidents, violence, and sports injuries. The Mayo Clinic offers more information about TBI.

Tips for Parents

  • Learn about TBI. The more you know, the more you can help yourself and your child. The resources and organizations listed below will connect you with a great deal of information about TBI.
  • Work with the medical team to understand your child’s injury and treatment plan. Ask questions and share information about your child. Tell them what you know or think. Make suggestions.
  • Keep track of your child’s treatment and educational services. A 3-ring binder or a box can help you organize and save forms and other documents. As your child recovers, you may meet with many doctors, nurses, and educators. Keep a sheet with a list of dates, contact numbers, and available resources. Put any paperwork they give you in the notebook or throw it in the box. Keep your original documents. Make copies of requested documents to share with the school.
  • Join a family support group. There are parent groups in WV. Parents can share practical advice and emotional support. To locate parent groups near you, including the WV Parent Training and Information Center, contact your medical team and school.
  • If your child was in school before the injury, plan for his or her return to school. Get in touch with the school. Ask the principal or school counselor to refer your child to the Student Assistance Team (SAT). The SAT will review documents, solicit your input, and collaborate with your child’s teachers to develop a plan to return to school. The SAT will work with you to decide if testing your child for special education services is necessary or if a 504 Plan should be put in place. Remember to give the medical team permission to share information with the school.
  • Communicate often with your child’s teachers. Tell the teacher how your child is doing at home and how they are doing on homework assignments and projects. Ask how your child is doing throughout the school day. Stay in constant communication with your child’s teachers to monitor progress and discuss any concerns.

The West Virginia University Center for Excellence in Disabilities (CED)

Traumatic Brain Injury Program

The Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) Program at the WVU Center for Excellence in Disabilities is a collaboration between the state funded Traumatic Brain Injury Services and the Federally funded Traumatic Injury Implementation Partnership Grant. Their goal is to establish a coordinated and person-centered system of statewide services for individuals of all ages with traumatic brain injuries and their families.


WV Department of Health & Human Services Resources Bureau for Public Health Traumatic Brain Injury TBI

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA)

The ASHA is committed to ensuring that all people with speech, language, and hearing disorders received services to help them communicate effectively. It is a great resource for audiologists, speech-language pathologists, students, and faculty. The site provides information on TBI and their causes. ASHA also discusses how a TBI is diagnosed and what a speech-language pathologist can do when working with people suffering with a TBI