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IDEA Stands for the Individuals with Disabilities Act

IDEA stands for the Individuals with Disabilities Act. The precursor of this Federal Law was the Education for All Handicapped Children Act made law in 1975. IDEA was enacted in 1990 and reauthorized 7 years later. In 2004, it was once again reauthorized. This time, IDEA was revised to ensure it would work in close tandem with the No Child Left Behind Act. President Obama further increased funding with the passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

What is IDEA?

IDEA is a piece of federal legislation designed to make certain that all children with a federally defined disability receive a “free appropriate public education” (FAPE). It places upon the State and local school boards the requirement of ensuring these children receive an education at no extra cost. States can add to the legislature but cannot negate, remove or alter the federal requirements. Moreover, in accordance with the realignment of 2004, states who comply and show improvement in IDEA context, will gain financially.

eldery person with child

Who Is Eligible?

In order to receive the benefits of IDEA, a child must fall between the ages of birth and 21. Other criterion concerns your child having a defined disability. The accepted disabilities is quite broad and falls into 13 categories. The more common ones are:

  • Autism
  • Mental retardation
  • Hearing impairments
  • Visual impairments
  • Speech or language impairments
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Serious emotional disturbance
  • Orthopedic impairments

A child can qualify under one or multiple disabilities. Once diagnosed, theoretically, IDEA guarantees them an FAPE. IDEA also addresses other concerns and grants support in certain areas mandated by the federal government.

What does it cover?

IDEA is an encompassing program designed to meet a variety of needs of parents with disabled children as well as those of the children themselves. Included among the coverage are learning and developmental issues discovered at birth and FAPE from 3 onwards. The Early Intervention program helps parents out starting at birth. The use of this program is limited from birth to age 3.

After age 3, IDEA based on FAPE takes over. It will provide an FAPE. It will also include related services, including special and remedial physical and medical necessities. Speech therapy, physical therapy and other related treatments are the responsibility of the school under IDEA. This, and the lack of any exceptions to the degree of disability under IDEA, have resulted in criticism.

Critics cite a number of problems with the implementation and fiscal responsibilities of schools under IDEA. Principal among these is the cost born by the state. For parents, it is often a question of ending up in a legal battle against the school. In such legal wrangles, the winner is predictably the lawyers.


IDEA is a law with the intent of ensuring all children receive what is their right – a free and appropriate education. In spite of the problems, it continues to make it possible for children with disabilities to attend school.

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Mary Brown

Mary Brown

Mary Brown has enjoyed writing about education and finance related topics, such as scholarships, student loans, college, vocational degree choices, and adult education since the early 2000's. She also writes about school budgets, accreditation and fundraising.