4 Year Old With Behavior Problems: Eligible for Special Education Services?

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I am a counselor with the local mental health agency. I’m working with a 4 year old boy who has been “kicked out of” two preschool programs for behavior problems. He is diagnosed with ADHD. He has not been tested by the local school district. They refuse to offer him services because of his behavior.

Is this child eligible for any services from the local school district?

I suggested testing for special education. The school says they will try him again next year. Meanwhile, this at-risk child will not have the benefits of early intervention to prevent further delays in education. The mother is seeking an outside source for testing.

The law doesn’t allow a school to opt out of the child find requirements, nor the requirement to provide all qualified children with a free, appropriate public education because the child has behavior issues.

If the child has a disability and needs special education and related services, the school is required to provide them.

Schools are also required to locate, identify and evaluate all children with disabilities from birth through age 21.

The child find mandate applies to all children who reside within a State, including children who attend private schools and public schools, highly mobile children, migrant children, homeless children, and children who are wards of the state. (20 U.S.C. 1412(a)(3))

This includes all children who are suspected of having a disability, including children who receive passing grades and are “advancing from grade to grade.” (34 CFR 300.111(c)) The law does not require children to be “labeled” or classified by their disability. (20 U.S.C. 1412(a)(3)(B); 34 CFR 300.111(d)).

Check the information on our Child Find page:


You may want to advise the school that since they refuse to evaluate, despite clear language in the law requiring them to do so, you have referred the child for a comprehensive psycho-educational evaluation by an expert in the private sector.

After the evaluation is completed, assuming the child does have a disability and needs special education, you will forward the evaluation results and a bill for the evaluation to them.

  1. Many children get are referred to ABA services after diagnosis of Autism and this becomes a problem when it is time to go to preschool and Kindergarten because the ABA is a full day some report 30 hours to 40 hours a week. So there is this new trend that parents want the school to allow ABA to come in to the school and work with their child but most schools are saying no. Have you come across this and how can one support these families? Should there be a timeline for ABA services to fade once school services are initiated? How do we even address this conflict of services and support schools and parents at the same time?

  2. My friend’s son is 4, he just got him. The mother is a drug addict and the baby is still in diapers, has no social skills and will not talk. His dad is trying to find a school for him to help. Where would he start?

  3. My 4 yr old has been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder and opositional definance disorder. He is currently attending head start here in my city. When he goes to headstart he seems to have alot of behavioral issues and today they told me that if his behavior continues that he will be kicked out of school. Can they do that… this is a federally funded head start and they obviously dont want to work with him or help him with what he is diagnosed. instead they rather kick him out. please help what should I do??? My son deserves an education just as every other child.

  4. Great information. If there current is the valid diagnostic assessment showing a disability and needs special education the school is required to provide them. Different services should be available for pre-school children. Discourage children are often children who misbehave. There are typically 4 reason children misbehave: needing attention, feeling inadequate, wanting revenge, & in a power struggle.

  5. My grandson is 4 and has behavior problems. We got custody of him at the age of two. His peds referred us to Ascent Children’s Services to have him tested. He has just about everything that you can imagine, but he is being taught there. He comes home everyday. They are fully staffed. He can continue to attend for another year. He can go to kindergarten there under certain circumstances. Check this out and see if there is one in your area. Medicaid pays for all of his bills for attending school.

  6. Children do not grow out of their disabilities. Maturity can often bring them to a point where they compensate for some of their problems, but the years that it will take until a child reaches that point are many and the years in which educational skills must be learned are so short. The investment of time, early on, can’t be measured.
    No child is ever too young for services. A child with ADHD at the age of 7 may already be frustrated in the classroom. Children with ADHD can easily miss out on part of lesson making it impossible for them to complete a task.
    At the least, this child should be granted counseling services to address behavior and provide motivating behavioral modification interventions. On site counseling will also aid the teacher in dealing with the child’s various issues.

  7. This information is particularly helpful because I just received in my office a mother whose child ( age 7) is being denied special education and other related services. The child, the mother reports, is diagnosed with ADHD. The mother states that the school’s reasoning for denying the services is that the child is too young and will grow out of it (meaning his disability).

  8. I’m seeing this from a different perspective. Have the parents, in writing, requested evaluation from the school? The district may feel they can delay if the recommendation comes from a counselor. They should not, of course, but getting the paper with a parent signature might unlock the gate.

    Hurray for the mother getting a private evaluation. I agree with Jen that recommendations are essential. Also, additional evaluations may be recommended.

    A well done FBA may uncover areas in need of evaluation. Some types of delays can mimic “behavior problems” especially at this age. Language delays spring to mind, as well as sensory integration. A thorough eval will explore these needs. Evaluation now may mean the difference between “This is a kid who is a problem” and “This is a kid who HAS a problem” when kindergarten starts.

  9. Situations like this are particularly maddening and heart-breaking.

    I assume that the school’s reluctance to test the child is based on the necessity of providing services if the child is found to be in need.

  10. A 4 year old child who presents with behavior problems that result in his being expelled from two pre-school programs should be receiving at the least behavioral modification in the form of counseling, as well as an FBA to form a hypothesis as to the reasons behind this behavior.

    These are specifically listed in IDEIA. While a state may be more lenient that the requirements in IDEIA, they cannot be more restrictive. For that reason, the state cannot deny this child an evaluation being that he has already been asked to leave two programs. What will happen in kindergarten? Are they going to wait for this child to fail?

    If this child isn’t evaluated, then child find is being ignored. Don’t wait. Get a good advocate who understands special ed law in your state to help you write a good letter to get the ball rolling.


  11. The evaluation report should include recommendations, including services needed right now, at age 4, not when he gets to kindergarten age. I would research special education services for pre-school students in your area. If they don’t have any, that is a problem!

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