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Printed on: 02/08/2023
Please always refer to the online version for the most current up-to-date information.
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Chapter 2: Eligibility for Regional Center Services
(2.1) What is a developmental disability?
California law says a developmental disability starts before age 18, is expected to continue indefinitely, and is a “substantial disability.”[[Section 4512(a)&(l).]] In California, a developmental disability is one of these five conditions:
- cerebral palsy
- intellectual disability
- other conditions closely related to intellectual disability or require similar treatment.[[Section 4512(a). The old term for “intellectual disability” in the Lanterman Act was “mental retardation.” The term “mental retardation” is no longer used by the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, which now also uses the term “intellectual disability.” Although this term has been updated in the Lanterman Act and in clinical literature, the term “mental retardation” is still used in the Department of Developmental Services’ regulation, which further defines the term “developmental disability” in the Lanterman Act. See Title 17 Cal. Code of Regs., section 54000.]]
“Substantial disability” means the person has major problems in at least three of these areas:[[Section 4512(l)(1)(A)-(G); Title 17, Cal. Code Regs., section 54001(a)]]
- Communication skills (receptive and expressive language)
- Independent living
- Economic self-sufficiency
Before August 11, 2003, “substantial disability” meant you only needed a problem in one of these seven areas, instead of at least three. If you were eligible for regional center services before the law changed, the regional center must use the old definition of substantial disability for your eligibility now.[[Section 4512(l)(2); Title 17, Cal. Code of Regs., section 54001(d).]] This is important if you were eligible under the old definition, but now the regional center says you are not eligible. It is also important if you received regional center services before the law changed, but your case became inactive and you now want services again.
(2.2) Can someone without a developmental disability apply for regional center services?
Yes, people can apply for regional center services and get an assessment if:
- They are suspected of having a developmental disability
- They are at high risk of parenting a baby with a developmental disability. Parents and infants in this group may receive assessment services and preventive services. [[Sections 4642 and 4644]]
- They are under age 3 and at high risk of becoming developmentally disabled. Parents and infants in this group may receive assessment services and preventive services.[[Sections 4642 and 4644.]]
- They are age 3 or 4 and may be “provisionally eligible.” This means they don’t qualify as having a “developmental disability.” But, with provisional eligibility, they can get full regional center services while they are 3- and 4-years-old. [[Section 4512(a)(2)]]
(2.3) How does a parent know if their infant is at high risk for a developmental disability?
Signs of a developmental disability are often easy to spot early in a child’s life. Health professionals call them developmental “delays.” If your child has a delay, or you are at high risk of having a child with a developmental disability, get an assessment and services.
Health professionals who know child development can teach parents and children about early delays. Parents can learn about how to change their diet during pregnancy to prevent delays, how an infant’s mind and body develop, and how to stimulate their child.
High-risk babies under 3 and parents at high risk of having a child with a developmental disability can get preventive services from regional centers.[[Sections 4642 and 4644.]] Regional centers must give preventive services the same priority as services for people with developmental disabilities and their families.[[Section 4644.]]
(2.4) Does a high-risk child who received preventive services from the regional center become permanently eligible for services from the regional center?
A child under age three may receive early intervention services until age three if the child has a developmental delay, an established risk condition, or is at high risk for a developmental disability.[[Title 17, Cal. Code of Regs., section 52022.]] Early intervention services are much more comprehensive than preventive services. If the regional center tells you that your child does not qualify for early intervention services, you may appeal.[[Title 17, Cal. Code of Regs., section 52172.]] Early intervention services are not part of the Lanterman Act, even though provided by regional centers.[[California Government Code section 95000, and following, and Title 17, Cal. Code of Regs., section 52000, and following.]] A description of early intervention services is in this publication: Special Education Rights and Responsibilities, Chapter 12
For children age three and older to be eligible for regional center services, they must have a developmental disability as defined in state law.
(2.5) What is provisional eligibility?
Provisional eligibility is where you are 3- or 4-years-old and don’t have a developmental disability, but can still get full regional center services. [[Section 4512(a)(2)]] If you are provisionally eligible, the regional center must give you an Individual Program Plan and services. The regional center must assess you for eligibility at least 90 days before your 5th birthday. After that assessment, your eligibility and services will end if the regional center says you do not have a developmental disability. But, you can appeal that decision. You must appeal within 10 days to keep your eligibility during your appeal. You must appeal within 30 days to challenge the regional center’s decision at all. See Chapter 10 for timelines and how to appeal.
To be provisionally eligible, you must be age 3 or 4 and have a disability that is not just physical. You must also have major problems in at least 2 of these 5 areas of major life activity:
- Receptive and expressive language;
If you are an infant age 0-2 and get early intervention services, the regional center must assess you 90 days before your 3rd birthday to see if you have a developmental disability. If you do not, the regional center will assess you for provisional eligibility.[[34 C.F.R. Secs. 303.209(c)(1); Cal. Ed. Code Sec. 56426.9(b); 17 C.C.R. Sec. 52112(a)]]
If one regional center says you are provisionally eligible, your provisional eligibility stays until you turn 5 years old. Also, you will be provisionally eligible at another of the 21 regional centers, if you move.
(2.6) How do I apply for regional center services?
There are 21 regional centers in California. Each covers a certain area. You must apply to the center for your area. See Regional Center Listings or call:
OCRA: (800) 390-7032.
Department of Developmental Services: (916) 654-1958
Each regional center has its own application process. They need your home address to make sure you are applying to the right center. They may ask you for other personal information, have you fill out a form, or give you a meeting with someone at the regional center. Gather information to give to them, like:
- Your school records, medical records, work history, and
- Evaluations, assessments, and any other information that correctly describes your abilities and your disabilities.
The regional center will copy your documents. They will also ask for your written approval to contact doctors, schools, employers, and others who may have information about you. They cannot get copies of your records without your approval.
Important! Take notes. Write down the date of your first contact and first meeting with the staff. This meeting is called the intake meeting. For more information about the application process, see Chapter 3.
(2.7) How does the regional center decide if my condition is covered by the Lanterman Act?
The regional center will review your history, records, diagnosis, and past services. This is called an assessment. They may also have a doctor or psychologist give you tests. You and your family should participate in the assessment process. This will help the regional center understand your cultural values, language, religion, education, social, and financial issues. The regional center must consider what you say, so the assessment can be thorough and sensitive to your culture, family, and community.
(2.8) What is intellectual disability?
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, says a person with an intellectual disability has both:
- Problems with intellectual functioning (reasoning, problem-solving, planning, abstract thinking, judgment, academic learning, and learning from experience). Intellectual functioning is often measured by IQ tests which give scores. Intellectual disability is usually no higher than the range of 65 to 75 points.
- Problems with adaptive functioning cause a failure to meet developmental and sociocultural standards for personal independence and social responsibility. Without support, problems will limit functioning in one or more activities of daily life (communication, social participation, and independent living, in many settings, such as home, work, school, and community).[[American Psychiatric Association, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, Intellectual Disability, Diagnostic Criteria. This document will be referred to as the “DSM-5” in the rest of this chapter.]]
These problems with functioning must exist during the developmental period of life, which means during childhood or teenage years. Under the Lanterman Act, a person must have these problems before age 18.[[Section 4512(a).]]
If the regional center’s evaluation says you do not have an intellectual disability, you should ask another expert. An expert can say if your condition qualifies as an intellectual disability.
(2.9) What is cerebral palsy?
Cerebral palsy affects your control over your own movements, posture, or speech. It is caused by issues in development or damage to the parts of the brain that control movements, posture, or speech. Cerebral palsy usually starts at birth or within the first few years of life. The early signs appear before age 3. Babies with cerebral palsy are often slow to reach milestones such as learning to roll over, sit, crawl, smile, or walk.
Symptoms may change over time, but cerebral palsy is not progressive. This means it does not get worse. If your symptoms get worse, the problem may be something besides cerebral palsy. Symptoms differ from person to person. Generally, they include:
- trouble with fine motor tasks like writing or using scissors,
- trouble maintaining balance or walking, and
- involuntary movements.
Some people with cerebral palsy may have other disabilities, including seizures or mental impairment, but cerebral palsy alone does not always cause substantial disability. To qualify for regional center services because of your cerebral palsy, it must be a substantial disability for you. For more information on cerebral palsy, click here.
(2.10) What is autism?
People with autism must have:
- Persistent problems with social communication and interaction across multiple settings. These include problems with social-emotional reciprocity, nonverbal communication used for social interaction, and developing, maintaining, and understanding relationships
- Restricted, repetitive patterns of behaviors,interests, or activities. These include: stereotyped or repetitive motor movements or use of objects, insistence on sameness, highly restricted, fixated interests, and hyper- or hypo-reactivity to sensory input.
Autism symptoms must be present in the early developmental period of life, but may not become clear until later when social demands increase. Autism symptoms must cause major impairments in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.[[DSM-5, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Diagnostic Criteria. Although the Lanterman Act uses the term “autism,” and the DSM-5 uses the term “Autism Spectrum Disorder,” administrative law judges from the Office of Administrative Hearings, who resolve disputes over whether someone has a developmental disability, have established that a person diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder should be considered someone with autism pursuant to the Lanterman Act. Claimant v. South Central Los Angeles Regional Center, OAH Case No. 2020100386; Claimant v. Westside Regional Center, OAH Case No. 2020040133.]] The severity of autism varies from person to person. For more information on autism, click here
(2.11) What is epilepsy?
Epilepsy is a condition in the brain that makes people have seizures. A seizure is a change in sensation, awareness, or behavior brought about by a brief electrical disturbance in the brain. Seizures vary in intensity. Some cause moments of sensory disruption. Others cause short periods of unconsciousness, staring spells, and shaking. Some people have just one kind of seizure. Others have more than one kind. Although they look different, all seizures are caused by the same thing: a sudden change in how the brain cells send electrical signals.
If you have epilepsy, you probably already know that it is not a mental disorder. It can be caused by anything that affects the brain, including tumors and strokes. Sometimes epilepsy is inherited. Sometimes no cause is found.
Doctors treat epilepsy with seizure-preventing medicines, surgery, diet, or electrical stimulation. If the treatment works and your seizures are under control, you may not be eligible for regional center services.
(2.12) What are conditions closely related to intellectual disability or that require similar treatment as an intellectual disability?
Even if you do not have autism, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, or intellectual disability, you may still have a developmental disability if you meet the “fifth category.” The fifth category is really two categories, requiring either:
- You have a condition “closely related” to intellectual disability, or
- You require treatment “similar to” treatment for intellectual disability.
The law does not say what “closely related to” intellectual disability or “treatment similar to” that used for persons with intellectual disability means. The law does not say what types of conditions fall under the fifth category. Because the law is not clear, some regional centers rarely find people eligible under the fifth category.
(2.13) What does it mean to have a condition closely related to intellectual disability?
The main parts of intellectual disability are problems with mental functioning and adaptive behavior. If you apply for a regional center under this category, you must show you have problems in both of these areas. You must know the features of intellectual disability. You must show the regional center or a judge which features you have. You must also show these features are caused by your mental impairments and not by something else like physical, learning, or psychiatric disabilities. Because of their mental impairments, people with intellectual disability generally have problems:
- learning academic skills like reading, writing, math, time, and money
- planning, strategizing, setting priorities, and adjusting to things that change
- remembering things
- understanding social cues
- communication (including nonverbal communication), carrying on a two-way conversation, and language
- controlling emotions and behaviors as well as other people their age
- appreciating risks in social situations, exercising good social judgment, and avoiding manipulation by others
- independently shopping for food, getting around in the community, organizing the home, eating healthy food, managing money, making health care and legal decisions, and using leisure time well
- working competitive jobs and having good work skills.[[DSM-5, Intellectual Disability, Table 1.]]
The case of Mason v. Office of Administrative Hearings decided if someone who applied for the regional center had a condition closely related to intellectual disability.[[89 Cal.App.4th 1119 (2001).]] The court decided that a condition “closely related” must be very similar to intellectual disability. It must have many of the same, or close to the same, factors needed to classify a person as having an intellectual disability.[[Mason at page 1129.]]
With Samantha C. v. State Dept. of Developmental Services, the court decided that problems with adaptive functioning alone were not enough to have a condition closely related to intellectual disability.[[185 Cal.App.4th 1462 at 1486 (2010).]]
Courts and administrative law judges have talked about the Association of Regional Center Agencies’ Guidelines for Determining 5th Category Eligibility for California Regional Centers (2002) in decisions.[[Samantha C. v. State Department of Developmental Services (2010) 185 Cal.App.4th 1462, 1477; Ronald F. v. Department of Developmental Services (2017) 8 Cal.App.5th 84, 95; Claimant v. Inland Regional Center (2021) OAH Case No. 2018061194.1, p. 19.]] We call this document as the “ARCA Guidelines.” The ARCA Guidelines are not law. They are not seen as official by the Legislature, any court or judge, or the Department of Developmental Disabilities.
For cognitive functioning, the ARCA Guidelines say a condition closely related to intellectual disability means IQ scores in the low borderline range (70-74). The ARCA Guidelines say the condition would affect your ability to solve problems with insight, to adapt to new situations, to think abstractly, and to benefit from the experience.[[See Title 17, Cal. Code of Regs., section 54002.]] The ARCA Guidelines say your condition must be stable over time. This means your condition does not change much. The ARCA Guidelines say people with intellectual disabilities do not show a major difference between their cognitive skills. This means you would not show major problems with one type of cognitive skill, like talking, but strengths in another type of cognitive skill, like performance. Judges have found that persons with intellectual disability do not vary much in their cognitive skills, but have major problems across most areas of mental functioning.[[Claimant v. Inland Regional Center (2021) OAH Case No. 2018061194.1, at pages 44-46.]]
For adaptive behavior problems, the ARCA Guidelines refer mainly to functioning in the same areas as substantial disability (communication, learning, self-care, mobility, self-direction, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency). They say to look at your scores on adaptive behavior tests. They also say people with intellectual disabilities have adaptive behavior problems that do not come from physical or mental health conditions, socio-cultural problems, poor motivation, substance abuse, or limited experience.[[Section 4512(l)(1).]] Supplement E to this manual has a list of features of intellectual disability. Some of these have been recognized as features of intellectual disability by regional centers, ARCA Guidelines, administrative law judges, and courts. But many have not. Whatever features of intellectual disability you have, they must be caused by your intellectual impairments and not by some other disability or condition.
(2.14) What does it mean to require treatment similar to that required by people with an intellectual disability?
The case of Samantha C. v. State Dept. of Developmental Services decided if an applicant for regional center had a condition that required treatment similar to that required by persons with intellectual disability.[[185 Cal.App.4th 1462 (2010).]] The case said that people with intellectual disability need treatment such as help with cooking, public transportation, money management, rehabilitative and vocational training, independent living skills training, specialized teaching and skill development approaches, and supported employment. The case said the applicant did not have an intellectual disability, but she qualified for regional center services because she required all of these types of treatment.
The case of Ronald F. v. State Dept. of Developmental Services also decided if someone had a condition which required treatment similar to that required by people with intellectual disability.[[5 Cal.App.5th 84 (2017).]] The Ronald F. case disagrees with Samantha C. The Ronald F. case said that treatment required by people with intellectual disability differs from services people can get under the Lanterman Act. The case said that “treatment” is listed separately as one service people can get in Lanterman Act sections 4512(b) and 4502(b)(1). The case said treatment must be something different and more specific than services. The Ronald F. case suggests that none of the services in 4512(b), other than “treatment,” can be examples of treatment required by people with intellectual disability. The Ronald F. court did not say what treatment is. It said only that services provided to people with developmental disabilities are not treatments required by people with intellectual disability.
Ronald F. is not consistent with the ARCA Guidelines. The ARCA Guidelines say “habilitation” is an example of training that can be a treatment required by persons with intellectual disabilities.[[See ARCA Guidelines, Section II.C.]] Ronald F. cites section 4512(b) to support its conclusion that services are not treatment, but 4512(b) also lists “habilitation” as one service persons with developmental disabilities can get. Section 4502(b)(1) is the other Lanterman Act section cited by Ronald F. It states: “Treatment and habilitation services and supports should foster the developmental potential of the person…” Ronald F. says habilitation services could not be treatment, because if they were treatment, they would not have been distinguished from treatment in the law. If no service in the law, other than treatment, can be a treatment required by persons with intellectual disability, then “habilitation” cannot be a treatment required by people with intellectual disabilities either. But the ARCA Guidelines say it is.
The Office of Administrative Hearings is the agency that provides administrative law judges to decide hearings over regional center eligibility. They have adopted the Ronald F. court’s position that treatment required by people with intellectual disability is different than services provided to people with developmental disabilities in at least one decision.[[Claimant v. Inland Regional Center, OAH Case No. 2018061194.1]]
The ARCA Guidelines provide information on treatments required by people with intellectual disability. But, like Ronald F., they provide more information on what these treatment needs are not than on what they are. The ARCA Guidelines say these are not treatments to increase motivation or address deficits caused by socio-cultural deprivation. They are not short-term remedial training. They are not rehabilitative (unless the skills are lost and trying to be regained before age 18).
The ARCA Guidelines do say the treatments required by persons with intellectual disability are habilitative. The goal of habilitation is to help people with disabilities gain, improve, and keep skills used in daily living. The ARCA Guidelines say a few things could be treatment required by persons with intellectual disability. One is treatment to address skills deficits caused by intellectual limitations. Another is long-term training with steps broken down into small pieces taught through repetition. Another is educational supports for children who need supports with modifications across many skill areas.
Supplement F of this manual contains a list of treatment needs of people with intellectual disability. Some of these treatments have been recognized as treatments required by people with intellectual disability by regional centers, the ARCA Guidelines, administrative law judges, and courts. But many have not. Whatever treatment needs you have, they must be caused by your intellectual impairment and not by some other disability or condition you have.
(2.15) How can I help someone applying to a regional center because they have treatment needs similar to those of people with intellectual disability?
Remember there is not clear guidance on what the treatment needs of persons with intellectual disability are. You may need to get an independent evaluation for regional center services. The evaluation must first discuss what the treatment needs of people with intellectual disability are generally. Then it should discuss how you need those treatments to achieve the most independent, productive, and normal life possible.
Advocates and families should also present information from published clinical literature on treatment needs of people with intellectual disability. For example, the DSM-5, Intellectual Disability, Table 1, Column 3, contains several treatments people with intellectual disability need. These include:
- support with complex daily living tasks compared to peers, like grocery shopping, transportation, home organization, nutritious meal preparation, banking, and money management
- support in judgment related to well-being and organization around recreational activities
- support in making health care and legal decisions
- support in raising a family
- help learning skills needed to work
Despite the Ronald F. case disagreeing with Samantha C., Ronald F. did not say what the treatment needs of persons with intellectual disability actually are. But the Samantha C. case found that these services are treatments needed by persons with intellectual disability: help with cooking, public transportation, money management, rehabilitative and vocational training, independent living skills training, specialized teaching and skill development, and supported employment services. If you need help or training in any of those areas, tell the regional center or judge. Ronald F.’s dismissal of these as “services” and not “treatments” should not prevent you from emphasizing them, because many are in the DSM-5 as supports needed by people with intellectual disability.[[See Intellectual Disability, Table 1, Column 3.]]
Similarly, if you need any of the training described by the ARCA Guidelines, whether or not the Ronald F. decision would consider those to be “services” and not “treatments,” tell the regional center or judge. People without disabilities might benefit from many regional center services, so clarify these treatments are not things you would simply benefit from. Under the fifth category, you must need these treatments for the most independent, productive, and normal life possible. You must show any treatment you need is because of your intellectual deficits and not for any other reason. You must also show your need for treatment spans all or most areas of your life.[[In order to be diagnosed with intellectual disability, the DSM-5, Intellectual Disability, Diagnostic Criteria, requires that a person’s adaptive functioning deficits limit their functioning across multiple environments, such as home, school, work, and community.]]
(2.16) What information should I give my regional center if I apply under the fifth category?
No matter what category you apply under, turn in every document that shows your diagnosis or condition, how severe it is, how it affects your functioning, and what treatment you need because of it. Documents may include:
- Psychological evaluations that show your condition and diagnosis
- Results of adaptive skills (daily living skills) testing
- Medical records, school records, your work history, Social Security records, and other documents that show your diagnosis
- Other documents that describe you and your skills, like your work or learning skills, or the way you do things at home
- Letters from family members and neighbors that describe you.
School records can help if the school district has done its own psychological evaluations. Individual Education Programs (IEPs) show your disability-related school needs. Remember that school evaluations may not be as detailed as other psychological evaluations. Schools use different standards to determine needs. They test for certain reasons besides getting a diagnosis. Schools may not use the same tests as an independent psychologist who is trying to find your overall diagnosis or condition.
The regional center may ask you to sign releases so they can gather your records from other agencies. Sign them, but we recommend you collect documents and give copies of useful information to the regional center. Do not depend on the regional center to gather these documents for you.
(2.17) If other people with my same disability are eligible under the fifth category, will I be eligible too?
Maybe not. Regional center eligibility is individualized because disabilities are individualized. Even if you have the exact same diagnosis or condition as someone who is a regional center client, you cannot count on being eligible. The regional center will look at how your disability affects you. How you are affected depends on if you got early intervention services, help at school, or other services that helped you learn skills.
(2.18) My evaluation was done by the regional center psychologist. Should I get another evaluation by a different psychologist?
First, wait to find out if the regional center psychologist says if you qualify for regional center services. If they say you do not qualify, and you disagree, get an independent evaluation. Psychological evaluations and diagnoses are not an exact science. To diagnose you, psychologists interpret the information they get from testing and records. Different psychologists may interpret the same information differently. Get another evaluation. Find an independent psychologist who can evaluate you and is familiar with developmental disabilities. Independent assessors may be more balanced in their evaluations. They may take more time with you. If the regional center says you are not eligible and you appeal, remember the regional center will refer to their psychologist’s evaluation and opinions at the appeal hearing. The regional center will usually have the psychologist at the hearing to support their opinions. You need an independent expert to tell the judge a different opinion about your condition.
(2.19) Am I eligible for regional center services if my condition is closely related to autism, cerebral palsy, or epilepsy?
No, the law does not give eligibility for conditions closely related to or require similar treatment as any of the other three categories. Only conditions closely related to or requiring similar treatment as intellectual disability qualify.
(2.20) What does “substantial disability” mean?
A substantial disability is a major impairment of cognitive and/or social functioning that requires interdisciplinary planning and coordination of services to help you reach your maximum potential. The law says you must have one of the five eligible conditions discussed above, and it must be a substantial disability for you in three or more of these major life areas:[[Section 4512(a).]]
- Communication (receptive and expressive)
- capacity for independent living
- economic self-sufficiency.[[Title 17, Cal. Code Regs., section 54001(a).]]
No matter which disability you have for regional center, you must show it results in a substantial disability. A substantial disability is “a major impairment of cognitive and/or social functioning.”[[Title 17, Cal. Code Regs., section 54001.]] This means you are substantially disabled by a major problem with either:
- Your cognitive functioning (your thinking, your intellect), or
- Your social functioning (how you relate to others).
You do not have to prove both.
Many people with autism have major problems interacting socially. They may not have problems with their thinking. They may score high on intelligence tests. But, if they prove their social skills are majorly impaired by autism, they may have a substantial disability and be eligible for regional center services.
According to the law, substantially disabling conditions require “interdisciplinary planning” and the “coordination of services” to help you “reach your maximum potential.”[[Title 17, Cal. Code Regs., section 54001(a). ]]
“Interdisciplinary planning” means you need the services of different people such as teachers, psychologists, medical doctors, social workers, and rehabilitation counselors. You do not have to show you need all of these. You do have to show you need help from several different kinds of people, working together.
“Coordination of services” means you need someone to make sure the different services you get, work together to help you. The agency to coordinate the services you need may be the regional center. The regional center staff are called, “service coordinators.” Service coordinators help you:
- get services from other agencies (Social Security, schools, hospitals, health care providers, or the Department of Rehabilitation)
- find somewhere to live
- be safe
- keep track of your money
- take care of your personal needs
These are called lifetime case management services. If you need this kind of help, this is service coordination and interdisciplinary planning. If you need this kind of help, you may have a substantial disability that qualifies for regional center services. The law says you should use interdisciplinary planning and coordination of services to “reach your maximum potential.” This means your services should help you be the most you can be, not just a little better than you are now. Service coordination and planning can help you reach your long-term life goals and dreams. Think of what you want to do with your life and what help you need to do it.
(2.21) How do I prove I have a substantial disability?
Use documents that correctly describe your diagnosis, condition, and skills. You can use psychological evaluations to show your diagnosis and how you are substantially disabled. Ask people who know you well to describe how your condition affects your functioning in the seven areas. When deciding if you have a substantial disability, the law says regional centers must consult with you, parents, educators, advocates, and others.[[Title 17, Cal. Code of Regs., section 54001(c).]]
The law says your skills in these areas should be looked at with your age.[[Title 17, Cal. Code of Regs., section 54001(a)(2).]] For example, children don’t have jobs, but that doesn’t mean they are not substantially disabled in economic self-sufficiency. However, the family could say a child’s condition and skills in other areas show a child’s economic self-sufficiency as an adult. The ARCA Guidelines suggest for children 5 and under, only the first 5 areas of functioning should be considered. For students age 6-22, the first 6 areas of functioning apply.[[ARCA Guidelines, Section III.]]
(2.22) What are “handicapping conditions that are solely physical”?
The Lanterman Act says people with “disabling conditions that are solely physical” are not eligible for regional center services.[[Section 4512(a).]]
The Department of Developmental Services defines conditions that are solely physical as including congenital anomalies or conditions acquired through disease, accident, or faulty development, not associated with a neurological impairment, that results in a need for treatment similar to that required for intellectual disability.[[Title 17, Cal. Code of Regs., section 54000(c)(3).]] In other words, physical conditions with the brain are not excluded from being developmental disabilities. People with cerebral palsy may have only physical disabilities and no intellectual impairment. As long as their condition causes a substantial disability, they are eligible for regional center because the Lanterman Act names cerebral palsy. But muscular dystrophy, by itself, even if it results in a substantial disability, does not qualify a person for regional center.
(2.23) Am I eligible for regional center services if I have only a learning disability or a psychiatric disorder?
If you have only a learning disability or psychiatric disorder and do not also have one of the five developmental disabilities described in this chapter, you will not qualify for regional center.
DDS regulations say:
A learning disability is a condition where there is a major difference between your estimated cognitive potential and your actual level of educational performance. Also, the condition is not caused by intellectual disability, lack of education, psycho-social problems, psychiatric disorder, or sensory loss.[[Title 17, Cal. Code of Regs., section 54000(c)(2).]]
A psychiatric disorder is where you have impaired intellectual or social functioning which began because of a psychiatric disorder or treatment for such a disorder. Psychiatric disorders include psycho-social problems and/or psychosis, severe neurosis, or personality disorders, even if social and intellectual functioning are seriously impaired by the psychiatric disorder.[[Title 17, Cal. Code of Regs., section 54000(c)(1).]]
The DDS regulations are not consistent with the Lanterman Act, because the Lanterman Act does not mention these two exclusions. But, the court in Samantha C. found these exclusions are legal.[[Samantha C. at page 1491.]] The regional center may say your condition is “primarily” one of these conditions. Remember, DDS regulations only exclude people whose disabilities are “solely” learning disabilities or psychiatric disorders. Solely means only. You could have a learning disability and/or a psychiatric disability, plus a developmental disability. You will need an independent evaluation by a psychologist who can identify and describe all of the conditions you have. You should show the regional center or an administrative law judge you have one of the five developmental disabilities, besides any other condition you have.
(2.24) Can I lose my regional center eligibility?
Developmental disabilities are expected to continue “indefinitely.”[[Section 4512(a).]] So, eligibility for regional center should last your whole life. Even if you move to a different part of California and change regional centers, you are still eligible.[[Section 4643.5(a). See Chapter 3 for information on transferring to a new regional center.]] Sometimes, a regional center will say you’re not eligible anymore. If your regional center says this, you should appeal. The law says the only way a regional center can take away your eligibility is to do a “comprehensive reassessment” and show its original decision is “clearly erroneous.”[[Section 4643.5(b).]] This means the regional center must show it was wrong about your eligibility by the reassessment it must do before it can stop your services.[[Claimant v. Inland Regional Center, OAH Case No. 2018061194.1 (2021) page 13.]] If the regional center says you are not eligible anymore, you should:
- Contact Disability Rights California or OCRA. We may not be able to be your lawyer, but we can help you with your appeal. We can explain what “clearly erroneous” means. We can help you prepare your appeal and how to present your case at a hearing.
- Get an independent evaluation from a qualified psychologist or psychiatrist.
You might lose eligibility if your condition improves on its own or with medication. For example, if you have epilepsy and your seizures are controlled for many years, the regional center may say you no longer have a developmental disability because your epilepsy is not a substantial disability.
(2.25) How long does the regional center take to process my application?
Usually the regional center has 120 days after the initial intake to decide if you are eligible.[[Section 4643(a).]] The initial intake is when you first meet with someone from the regional center, sign releases for them to gather your records from other places, and say you are applying. Ask the regional center staff if they agree this is your initial intake. Sometimes the regional center must decide within 60 days of the initial intake whether you qualify. This is when:
- A delay would risk your health and safety, or further delay your mental or physical development, or
- There is a great risk you would be placed in a more restrictive setting. For example, having to move from your family home to a facility.[[Section 4643(a). ]]
(2.26) What does the regional center do during this 60–120 days?
The regional center may do its own assessments, review assessments from other places, and interview you and other people who know you. Then, the regional center writes a report. They will give you a letter that says if you are eligible or not. If you are eligible, ask the regional center for a date for your first Individual Program Plan (IPP) meeting. Your first IPP must be done 60 days from the end of the assessment.[[Section 4646(c).]](See Chapter 4.)
(2.27) What can I do if the regional center says I am not eligible?
You can “appeal” the regional center’s decision. An appeal is when you ask an administrative law judge to decide if you are eligible.
Appeals are complicated. You must show detailed information about your disability. You must understand the laws for your case and the deadlines.
We recommend you:
- Contact Disability Rights California. We may not be able to be your lawyer, but we can help you with your appeal. We can explain what you need to do and suggest the best way to present your case.
- Get a psychological evaluation from a qualified psychologist or psychiatrist.
- Get a neuropsychological evaluation if you think you have an intellectual disability or a closely related condition or require similar treatment. A neuropsychological evaluation differs from a psychological evaluation. It uses more tests. These tests give more information about how your brain functions and how you think and process information.
- Make copies of your school records, psychological testing, and other documents that correctly describe your abilities and disabilities.
Even if you already gave the regional center this information, you must make another set of copies for the administrative law judge.
(2.28) Is there a deadline to appeal?
Yes. There is a strict deadline to appeal the decision. If you are applying for the first time, the deadline is 30 days after the regional center tells you in writing you are not eligible. If you miss the deadline, you may lose your chance to appeal. (See Chapter 10.) It’s best to count 30 days after the date on the letter that says you are not eligible -not the date you actually receive the letter.