Under IDEA “eligible” children with disabilities, ages 3-21, are entitled to receive a free and appropriate public education (FAPE). The public school program for young children, ages 3-5, is called the Preschool Program for Children with Disabilities (PPCD).
Who decides if your child is eligible for PPCD?
If your child is in an ECI program, your service provider will let the school district know that your preschooler may be eligible for public school services. This is the first step in the “referral process,” and it must begin 90 days prior to your child’s third birthday.
If your three- to five-year-old did not participate in ECI, but you suspect him or her of needing special education services, you – or any person involved in the care or education of your child – may make a referral. To begin the referral process, contact your child’s home school or your district’s special education office.
In either case, the school district must have your “written consent” (signature) before it can begin the evaluation process to ensure your child has a disability and needs special education. Be sure to sign and return paperwork in a timely manner to keep the process moving forward. Your child will be evaluated to determine if he or she is a “child with a disability” as defined by the IDEA.
An Admissions, Review and Dismissal (ARD) meeting will be held to determine if your child qualifies for special education services. The ARD committee – which includes school administrators and teachers and the child’s parents – considers the following:
- aptitude and achievements tests,
- parent input
- teacher recommendations
- health conditions (including vision and hearing)
- social or cultural background
- adaptive behavior.
If the ARD committee finds your child eligible, he or she will be assigned a “disability code” (see Diagnosis vs. Disability), and an Individual Education Plan (IEP) will be developed.
If you need more information about eligibility guidelines, the National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities (NICHCY) has a wealth of information on “Disabilities That Qualify Infants, Toddlers, Children, and Youth for Services under the IDEA”.
What will my preschooler learn?
Once eligibility is determined, the ARD committee makes decisions about the appropriate special education and related services for the child. This information is documented in the child’s Individual Education Plan (IEP), which outlines what you expect your preschooler to learn over the next year, including measurable objectives and goals. An ARD committee will meet at least once a year to determine if the goals were met and to develop new goals for the upcoming year. (See The Special Education Process Step-by-Step to learn more about the special education process.)
You are an important part of the decision-making process. Be sure to familiarize yourself with TEA’s Prekindergarten Curriculum Guidelines. Knowing what is expected of typically developing preschoolers in Texas is a good starting point for developing your child’s IEP.
Don’t let your preschooler’s disability get in the way of high expectations. Within any preschool classroom, children exhibit a diversity of knowledge based on differences in development, cultural background, and previous learning experiences. The preschooler should begin at his or her own level with a plan that builds on his or her individual strengths and skills. Children with disabilities may need accommodations or modifications to the curriculum guidelines in order to benefit from them. Research proves that all preschoolers benefit from a language-rich environment that promotes speech and early literacy.
Also, an effective preschool program teaches developmental skills through active play. Play allows children to explore their surroundings, learn important social concepts such as turn-taking, appropriately express themselves, and develop confidence to try new things and solve problems in a safe, supported environment. Look for a teacher that interacts with preschoolers in child-initiated play that promotes appropriate social skills and language modeling.
Where will my child receive PPCD services?
Some people have the misconception that PPCD is a “place” – a self-contained classroom where preschoolers with disabilities are all grouped together. However, special education and related services can be provided in a variety of settings.
Under IDEA, preschool programs for children with disabilities should be delivered in the “least restrictive environment” (LRE). In other words, children with disabilities should be placed to the fullest extent possible in the same setting as students without disabilities. It is often appropriate for special education services to be delivered in a regular classroom, where children have the advantage of same-age language and behavior models and the opportunity to develop friendships. When considering placement for PPCD, be sure to explore options that would offer your child a more inclusive educational setting.
When does PPCD start?
If your child is eligible for public school and his or her third birthday falls during the school year, services will begin the day your preschooler turns three. If your child’s birthday falls during the summer, the ARD committee may decide to implement the IEP through Extended School Year (ESY) services (which is similar to “summer school”) or wait until the beginning of the next school year.
How will my child get there?
Transportation is a related service that should also be discussed in the ARD meeting. The district is obligated to provide transportation if the child’s parents cannot. This also applies to 3-5 year olds who may not be attending the school’s preschool program, but who need special transportation in order to get to speech or other therapies they receive through the school district.
You and Your Preschool Child – Toolkit developed by the U.S. Dept of Education
Early Childhood Education – What Works Clearinghouse review of interventions
TEA Special Education Services for Students with Disabilities – Ages 3-5
Legal Framework for Children with Disabilities – Ages 0-5
State Funded Pre Kindergarten Programs
Services for Students with Disabilities – Ages 3-5
Revolutionary Common Sense Articles by Kathie Snow, Disability Is Natural
Environment, Environment, Environment (pdf document)
Special Education Preschools, Help or Hindrance (pdf document)