Developmental Delay

It’s weird, right? Your child has had an IEP for years, and his disability classification has always been Developmental Delays. Now, all of a sudden you feel blindsided because the school is telling you that they cannot check that box anymore. But your child is still disabled and has many delays. This can’t be right, can it?

Well, yes, it can. And, if nothing else, someone from the school should have explained this to you. But since they haven’t, I will.

developmentally delayed

First, let me go over that Developmental Delay term. I’m going to interchange it with DD, because that is a common IEP acronym.

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You should know that DD has educational and medical meaning. Just like you can have medical or educational autism, the same sort of goes for DD. There is a medical billing code for Developmental Delays, so therefore you may see that on your child’s medical records. However, much like with autism, just because your pediatrician has put it on your child’s records doesn’t mean your school will use that classification category and vice-versa. Sure, it’s the same two words. But the medical and education settings are worlds apart.


Remember that IDEA Part C is for younger children-the preschoolers and babies. IDEA Part C has mentioned Developmental Delays but it doesn’t say much. It basically just says that each state must recognize DD and have standards and evaluations for measuring if a child has DD.

idea part c dev delay

Each state has defined DD and their criteria for children qualifying as DD. The percentages vary from state to state. Some states say that a child can be 25% behind their peers and qualify for services. Others require that the child be 50% behind their peers to qualify for services.

Particularly for families who live near a few state lines (myself included) this can cause a lot of confusion. You may meet a child with the same diagnoses as your child, and their child qualifies for Early Intervention and yours does not.

IDEA Part B Developmental Delays

Ok, here is where I hope to answer a lot of your questions. In IDEA Part B (which is the part that addresses school-aged children), it says:

Child with a disability for children aged three through nine (or any subset of that age range, including ages three through five), may…include a child—

(1) Who is experiencing developmental delays as defined by the State and as measured by appropriate diagnostic instruments and procedures in one or more of the following areas: Physical development, cognitive development, communication development, social or emotional development, or adaptive development; and

(2) Who, by reason thereof, needs special education and related services. [34 CFR §300.8(b)]

idea part b developmental delay

See it there? Where it says “aged three through nine?” There you go, that’s where it is.

At age 9, IDEA wants the school to commit to a category. The school must choose one of the other disability classifications listed in IDEA.

So, what’s the problem?

The problem is those kids who sort of land in the middle. They may have some traits of autism, but not enough to qualify under that category. Often they have some intellectual delays, but might be a low-normal, with like an IQ of 73. So the school is hesitant to list them as IDD if they don’t go below 70. For the record, IQ is no longer supposed to be the sole criteria per the new DSM. But I digress.

Genetic testing has come a long way in just the past decade. With my clients, I find it is easier for them to get services and commit to a category if the child has a genetic condition.

That being said, there are many children who just have generic, idiopathic autism and idiopathic learning delays and developmental delays. If your child is behind his/her peers, you just have to keep pushing.

Which category should I choose or ask for?

I’m a firm believer that the child on paper should match the child in front of you. As I profess in my IEP Troubleshooting Course, your first step is to look at your child’s Present Levels section of the IEP. That is the section that drives the IEP goals and services. If you don’t not feel that it is accurate or complete, request more or different IEP evaluations.

Wrapping up, several years ago, I attended a conference and took a session about the new DSM 5. It was new then, had just been published. But our speaker said something prophetic that I think applies here. Something along the lines of “No child should be losing care or services due to these administrative changes.”

That very much applies here. Just because on a 10-year-old’s IEP, that category doesn’t exist for them, does not mean that their needs have suddenly disappeared or self-corrected. It’s just a matter of redefining what they need.

If that still isn’t enough information, here is another good explanation of IDEA and Developmental Delays.

Good luck, and remember, don’t IEP alone!

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