Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE)

FAPEFree Appropriate Public Education, or FAPE, is an educational right of children with disabilities in the United States that is guaranteed by the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).  


To provide FAPE to a child with a disability, schools must provide students with an education, including specialized instruction and related services that prepares the child for further education, employment, and independent living.  


Some of the requirements are that schools provide each student with a disability with an education that:  

  • is designed to meet the unique educational needs of that one student

  •  addresses both academic needs and functional needs

  •  provides “...access to the general curriculum to meet the challenging expectations established for all children” (that is, it meets the approximate grade-level standards of the state educational agency, to the extent that this is appropriate)

  •  is provided in accordance with the Individualized Education Program (IEP)  

  •  is reasonably calculated to enable the child to receive educational benefits



Least Restrictive Environment


Least Restrictive Environment is identified in the U.S. Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) as one of the six principles that govern the education of students with disabilities and other special needs. By law, schools are required to provide a free appropriate public education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment that is appropriate to the individual student's needs.


Least Restrictive Environment is sometimes referred to as “mainstreaming,” meaning the disabled student should have the opportunity to be educated along with non-disabled peers, to the greatest extent appropriate. The student with special needs should have access to the general education curriculum, or any other program that typical peers would be able to access. The student should be provided with supplementary aids and services necessary to achieve educational goals if placed in a setting with typical peers.


A resource room may be available within the school for specialized instruction, with typically no more than two hours per day of services for a student with learning disabilities. Should the nature or severity of his or her disability prevent the student from achieving these goals in a regular education setting, then the student would be placed in a more restrictive environment, such as a special education classroom within the current school, a specialized school program, or a hospital program. Generally, the less opportunity a student has to interact and learn with typical peers, the more the placement is considered to be restricted.


To determine what an appropriate setting is for a student, a team will review the student’s strengths, weaknesses, and needs and consider the educational benefits of placement in a particular educational setting. With the differences in children’s needs varying broadly, there is no single definition of what an LRE will be, and each student has an Individual Education Plan (IEP) that specifies the needs of that student.



Special Education Services

Special Ed ServicesAn IEP (Individualized Education Program) is developed for every child who is eligible for special education. The IEP defines the individualized objectives of a child who requires support and is intended to help children reach educational goals more easily than they otherwise would. There is a defined evaluation process for the school to follow. When completed, this plan contains a statement of a child’s present level of functioning in terms of academic performance, educational needs, goals, levels of services and supports that will be provided as well as the selection of a placement in the least restrictive environment. (For more information, visit our School & IEP page. (link)

Based on the goals that are established in the IEP and your child’s needs, your child may be recommended to be in either a general education classroom or a Special Education classroom.


Special Education or Special Needs Education is designed to address the students’ individual differences. Ideally, this process involves individually planned and monitored teaching procedures as well as adapted equipment and materials, accessible settings, and other interventions. 


The goal of Special Education is to help students with special needs achieve a higher level of personal self-sufficiency and success in school and community than would be possible in a typical classroom setting. It is designed to give students the supports and special assistance they need when necessary but the freedom to interact with the general school community as much as possible to maintain a typical school and educational experience.


Extended School Year (ESY)

Extended School Year (ESY) services are designed to support a student with a disability—as documented under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)—to maintain the academic, social/behavioral, communication, or other skills that they have learned as part of their Individualized Education Program (IEP) during the summer break. In order for a student to receive ESY services, the student must have evidenced substantial regression and recoupment issues during the previous IEP year and/or shown evidence of emerging skills, which are often referred to as "breakthrough" skills.


The focus of the services provided to the student as part of an ESY program is not on learning new skills or "catching up" to grade level but rather on providing practice to maintain previously acquired or learned skills. Just because a student received ESY services in previous years does not necessarily mean they are eligible in future years, since determination for eligibility of ESY services are made annually. If a student has a certain disability, such as autism or a severe behavior issue, however, the student may qualify for special ESY every year.


Extended school year services can be provided in accordance with your child’s IEP at no cost to the family.


Your Insurance Rights

If your child is diagnosed with autism, you should get involved with the insurance process as soon as possible. Over 30 states in the US have passed laws mandating insurance companies to fund services for individuals with autism. Becoming familiar with the laws in your state and seeking proper guidance will go a long way in helping you advocate for your child and get the funding your family needs.


For many states, insurance is a newer way to fund autism services. Having a good documented diagnosis is key to acquiring good services.


Go to AST’s Insurance section (link) for a step-by-step guide to getting approved for insurance funded services, or call our insurance team to speak to one of our specialists at (866) 278-6264.


For additional information, Autism Votes (link) is an excellent source for up-to-date information on state-by-state insurance laws.