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Qualifying for Special Education

5 Jun

In order to receive special education services your child must meet two requirements.  First, they must have a qualifying disability and second, they must not be making progress that would be expected for their age and grade-level.  What this means is that even if your child has a qualifying disability, they may not qualify for services because they are making progress without them.  According to the federal act IDEA, there are 10 types of disabilities that can qualify a child for special education services.  These disabilities categories* are:

  1. Autism:  PDD, Asperger syndrome
  2. Developmental delay:  Cerebral Palsy, Downs syndrome
  3. Intellectual impairment:  Cognitive impairment, mental retardation, chromosome disorders
  4. Sensory impairment:  Hearing or vision impairment or deafness or blindness
  5. Neurological impairment:  Brain injury, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy
  6. Emotional impairment:  Anxiety or mood disorders,  ODD, conduct disorder,  schizophrenia
  7.  Communication impairment:  Speech and language disorders
  8.  Physical impairment:  Muscular Dystrophy, spina bifida
  9.  Health impairment:  ADHD, asthma,
  10.  Specific learning disability (LD):  Dyslexia(LD in reading), dysgraphia(LD in writing), dyscalculia (LD in math)
*I have listed some examples of some diagnosis that might fall in these categories, but this is not a complete list and some disabilities may belong in more than one category.

Definition of Special Education

5 Jun

Special education is individualized instruction and services given to students that have a disability or condition that prevents them from being able to do the same school work and school activities as “typical” children, so that they can reach their individual potential.   Special education is provided at no additional costs to the parents and is confidential.  

There are 7 types of disabilities that children can receive services for while at school.  These disabilities are: developmental delay, intellectual impairment, sensory impairment, hearing-vision-deaf-blind, neurological impairment, emotional impairment, communication impairment, physical impairment, health impairment, specific learning disability.

Special education is a right that is protected by a federal act called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The law protects a parents’ rights to make decisions about their child’s special education, guarantees an appropriate evaluation of your child, ensures that an individual education plan (IEP) will be written and carried out in the least restrictive environment, and outlines how parents and schools can resolve any disagreements they have. An individual education plan or IEP, is a written document that outlines what special education services, accommodations, and modifications will be given to your child.  It also states where the services will be carried out.  Some children will receive services in the classroom (inclusion), while other students will receive services outside of the classroom (pull-out services).  In some instances, students will be educated in a separate classroom or school.  However, the law says that students must be educated with their peers to the maximum extent possible.  Therefore, placing students in separate classrooms or schools is done only after serious consideration about the benefits and drawbacks of doing so.

Leveling the Playing Field with Accommodations

3 Jun

In order to be successful in school, many children need accommodations.  An accommodation is a change to an assignment or test, making it accessible to the disabled student.  It is not a different assignment or test, just a change to the format, timing, setting, response, or presentation.  If your child qualified for SPED services, then accommodations will be written into part A (General Curriculum) of their IEP.  If your child has a disability (such as ADHD, anxiety disorder, or dyslexia) but did not qualify, you can ask for a 504 plan.  A 504 plan is another type of document written for children that outlines the accommodations they can have in the general education classroom.  Both IEPs and 504 plans are legally binding documents and are confidential (meaning they are not part of your child’s official school records).  As their parent, you have the right to ask for a 504 plan and to take part in writing it.

In order to guarantee that your child gets the accommodations that they have a right to, a written document is highly recommended.  You should ask for one if your child has a documented disability, even if they’re not receiving failing grades.  Some schools will insist that they give all students accommodations or will say their teachers differentiate their instruction for all students.  This may be true, but unless your child has an IEP or 504 plan, the teachers are not obligated to make accommodations for your child’s disability.  Having them written will benefit your child and you because you can refer back to the plan if your child begins to struggle.

Examples of some common classroom accommodations are:  extended time for assignments and tests, allowing students to use a computer for writing assignments, not marking down for spelling errors, having a student take a test in a private setting, providing books on CDs or MP3, having the teacher give the directions in writing and orally, minimize punishment and use positive reinforcement instead, allowing students to use a reference sheet, give student a study guide, give the student a peer role model, and provide students with breaks or allow to leave the classroom for short breaks.

For more examples of accommodations you can ask for your child, go to http://www.fape.org or search for “classroom accommodations.”

The ABC’s of Special Education: Useful SPED Acronyms and Terms (Part I)

31 May

IEP, LRE, BIP, etc…. What do all these acronyms and terms mean?  Here are the definitions for some of the more common terms and acronyms, used by educators during team meetings, but you were to afraid to ask what they mean…  

504 Plan:   A plan developed for a student with a disability that specifies what accommodations and/or services they will get in school.

Accommodation:   Changing the way material is presented, or the environment/setting, or the conditions as needed.

APE:   Adaptive Physical Education or P.E. for students that have a disability that keeps them from participating in P.E..

Assessment:   An assessment is an evaluation or test.

Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP):   A formalized plan that goal is to change specific negative behaviors a student may have.

Developmental Disability/Developmentally Delayed (DD):   A substantial disability that began before age 18 and is expected to continue.

Direct Services:  Services given to the child either one-to-one (1:1) or in a small group setting.

DOE:   Department of Education

EBD/ED: Emotional/Behavioral Disorder or Emotional Disturbance.   Used when a student has significant problems following the rules and/or in managing their emotions.

FAPE:  Free Appropriate Public Education

FBA: Functional Behavioral Assessment

IEP (Individualized Education Program):   A written education plan for a child  developed by a team of  professionals (teachers, therapists, etc.) and the child’s parents.

Inclusion:   To provide sped services to the student in the regular classroom.

LD (Learning Disability):  A disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or using language, spoken or written, which may results in an imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or do mathematical calculations.

Least Restrictive Environment (LRE):  The environment that provides disabled students the most amount of access possible to non-disabled students.

Occupational Therapy (OT):   A therapeutic service that specializes in upper arm function, including fine motor skills like handwriting. It also deal with activities of daily living and sensory integration issues.

Physical Therapy (PT):  A therapeutic service where the therapist specializes in gross motor skills such as walking, running, jumping, balance issues, etc.

Resource Room:  A room separate from the regular classroom where students  receive academic assistance.

SLP:  Speech and Language Pathologist

Outside Placements: Pros and Cons

30 May

I think private school placements are right for some children, however they are not necessary for others.  In our situation, the school district had a language-based classroom that fit most of our son’s needs.  It was not a perfect match for him (his area of disability is mostly with the written language), but it fit his needs well enough that we did not feel that he needed to be bused a long distance to a private school.

When making this decision for your child, I would consider the following:

  1. Your child’s disability (severity, chances for success, etc.)
  2. Local public and private schools and their reputation for success 
  3. What programs your district offers (can they meet the needs of your child)
  4. Transportation (length of commute, will you have to provide it)
  5. Your child’s preferences/social network (do they want to go, do they have many developed friendships)
  6. Your ability to be a part of a private school community (setting up playdates, attending after-school events, etc.)

Private schools for special education students are very appealing to many parents.  After years of the public schools trying to force my “square peg” into their “round hole,” I considered a private school placement for my son.  After researching our options and weighing the pros and cons, I came to the decision that I wanted to try to get what my son needed in our public school.  Here is what I considered when making this decision:

  • Many private schools have great reputations and hold a lot of promise and offer hope for our children.  It is very easy to forget that these schools depend on our money, or our school district’s money, to operate.  They hire advertising and publicity firms to help them attract parents.  They spend a lot of money on brochures and websites designed to show them in the most positive light.  Public schools can not do this.  They must operate in the reality of state testing scores, per pupil spending amounts, and town tax dollars.
  • This is not to say that there are not wonderful things happening at private schools across our country.  There are!  Without some of the educational and instructional innovations of private schools, our public schools may look as they did 20 years ago.  Public schools have been forced to change, due in large part to SPED parents wanting alternatives for their children.  Many public school districts are offering programs that were once only available at private schools.
  • I wanted my son to be a member of our community in the same way our older child is.  If he were to be bused to a private school, he would not have that experience.  He would of started and ended each school day with a commute on a van.  I felt our child was too young to experience the delight of morning traffic.  He needs a peaceful morning routine to get his day off to the right start.
  • I thought about what would happen if the public school decided he didn’t need the private program anymore.  Would my son be able to successfully rejoin his peers at the public school after being at a private school?

Before asking, and fighting, for a private school placement for your child, be sure to weigh the pros and cons carefully.  Again, get the information you will need to make the correct decision for your child.

What You Can Do if Your Child is Denied SPED Services

30 May

Your child is struggling in school.  You, or your child’s school, has requested that your child be tested to find out if they qualify for special education services.  You meet with the team and are informed that your child does not qualify for services.  It has been determined that your child is making “adequate progress.”  However, your child continues to struggle and is not receiving enough support at school.  What can you do to get the help that  your child needs to make progress?

First, you should know that you can challenge the school’s decision to not provide services; however, consider that the federal law says that even if the child has a qualifying disability they can be denied services if they are making progress in the general education curriculum.  Making progress is a term that can be interpreted differently, but to most schools it means not failing.   As parents, it is beyond frustrating to see our children working very hard to earn a “C”.  We want them to feel successful, be rewarded,  for all the hard work they do.  Eventually, many students give up because they feel that no matter how hard they work, they fail to get the grades they want.  It is very hard to convince a school district to put a “C” student on an IEP, but there are ways you can advocate for your child if they have been denied SPED services.

How to Advocate for your Child After They’ve Been Denied SPED Services:  

 

  1. Gather documents that prove your child is not making the same progress as his peers.  [Ask to see his file and look for reading level scores, benchmark testing results, end of year tests, etc.]
  2. Ask if the school will consider a 504 plan for your child if they denied them an IEP.  [A 504 plan is for accommodations in the general education classroom.  For example, extended test time, less homework, tutoring with the teacher, etc.]
  3. Start being very vigilant about your child’s progress.  [Question the teacher often about grades, assignments, and the progress they are making.  Write notes when homework is to difficult.  Ask for re-testing when they fail a test.  Speak with the principal if the teacher is not accommodating your requests.  Basically, be a pain in the neck so that the school staff begin to understand the level of difficulty your child is having.]
  4. After gathering more documentation, ask for mediation to resolve the dispute with the school. [Documentation being independent testing, a review of your child’s records, notes to and from the teacher and principal, etc.  You will need this information to prove your case with a mediator.)
  5. Tell the school right away (in writing and verbally)  that you disagree with their findings and/or the testing. [By doing this, your opinion goes on the record; and, if you get an independent evaluation, they may have to pay for some or all of it.]
  6. Request that the school do specific evaluations, such as a reading evaluation or functional behavioral assessment. [This will be helpful if your child’s school only performed an achievement test, such as the Woodcock-John or WIAT.]
  7. Tell the school you will be getting an outside evaluation done and they will be testing for specific learning disabilities. [The school must consider the results of an outside evaluation as equally as they consider their own testing results.  Also, depending on your income, they will be required to pay for all or some of the testing to be done.]

Remember that the best way to advocate for your child is to be armed with a lot of information.  Know all that you can about them as a learner, understand your child’s and your own rights, and know about the SPED process.  Here is a link to the Massachusetts Department of Education Notice of Procedural Safeguards (in plain English: A Guide to Your Rights and Your Child’s Rights)  Guide to Procedural Safeguards

Separate Classrooms for Children with Special Educational Needs (Special Education Programs)

29 May

 

NOTE:  This post is intended to answer the questions of parents of children that are not cognitively impaired by a neurological problem or brain injury.  If you or your child’s school feel that they may benefit from a separate classroom or program, you may be wondering what types of programs are available to them.  Most districts have some special education programs that they run themselves.  They may also be part of an educational collaborative, where several public districts share the costs of running the sped programs.  The last resource is a privately run program that the district pays to send a student to.  The biggest caution that I have for  parents, is to ask if the district mixes students that are cognitively impaired with students that are not cognitively impaired in separate classrooms (especially if your child is not cognitively impaired).  This is not considered best educational practice mostly because these two groups have very different needs in the educational setting.  Also know that their is a difference between a cognitively impaired child and a cognitively delayed child and the districts should usually not be designing one program to serve both types of children.

Before Agreeing to a Separate Program (or Classroom):

  • Observe the program at least once (while students are present)
  • Ask the teacher questions about how the class is run, the expectations for the students, and the specialists that work with her
  • Ask if cognitively impaired students are included in the program (if your child is not cognitively impaired)
  • Ask if there will be mainstreaming during the day
  • Ask about what comes next (is the program available at the middle and high school level)
  • Make your goals for your child clear to the team (if you want them fully mainstreamed as soon as possible, let that be known)
  • Research what outside programs are available and how those programs run
  • Find out what is considered the best interventions for your child’s disability
  • Ask the district representative about other available programs (you always want to know everything that is available so you can make a good decision)

Here are three of the most common types of separate programs that both public and private institutions run for children with special educational needs:

Programs for Emotionally and/or behaviorally Impaired Students [Emotional,/Behavioral Disabled (EBD) Classrooms]

These are substantially separate classrooms for elementary, middle and high school students with social, emotional, and/or behavioral problems that prevent participation in the general education setting. The programs are designed so students develop the skills and strategies needed to take part in a full academic school day, accessing general education curriculum in the least restrictive setting. Mainstreaming and inclusion opportunities are usually provided to the maximum extent possible depending on individual student progress.  Social workers, psychologists, adjustment counselors, and behavioral consultants may work with students.  In addition to academics, students will receive stress/anger management instruction, social skill building instruction, and behavior improvement plans.  The staff will work on replacing negative behaviors with more socially acceptable behaviors.  The goal is to move these students back into the general education setting as soon as possible with a new set of skills and strategies to help them be more successful.  The environment is purposefully less stressful, more supportive, and highly structured.  Some EBDs are for students that are cognitively impaired and  the academic part of this program may be much different from the general education curriculum.

Parents should ask their school district if they include cognitively impaired and non-cognitively impaired students in the same program.  It is not considered best practices in SPED to do this and it may be a negative step for your child if they are not cognitively impaired.  If this is the case in your district, you can ask that your child be mainstreamed for academics and still receive the therapeutic aspects of the program.  You can also ask for an outside placement in a private school that is for emotionally/behaviorally impaired students that are not cognitively impaired.

Programs for Students with Language-based Disabilities [Language-Based (LB) Classrooms]

There are difference among these programs as well.  Some LB programs are specifically designed for children with Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PDD), such as Autism or Aspergers and are for severe disabilities marked by communication, social and cognitive delays. Other LB programs are for children with PDD that do not have cognitive delays.  The programs foster independence in communication and enable the learners socially, functionally and academically as they pursue the goal of inclusion.  Other LB classrooms focus on specific areas of language, such as reading and/or writing, and are more geared toward dyslexic students that are not cognitively impaired.  These programs will have intensive instruction in reading and writing, as well as oral communication.  Social workers, reading specialists, speech and language pathologists, psychologists, and occupational therapists may work with students in these programs.

Parents should ask about the types of students serviced in the program that has been recommended for their child.  Again, it is not best practice to mix cognitively impaired students with students that have learning disabilities but are not cognitively impaired.  If this is the case, be sure to schedule an observation of the classroom before agreeing to it for your child.  Ask for an outside placement if you do not think the academics are challenging enough for your child.

Learning Centers

Usually for middle and high school students, learning centers offer academic support for students that are partially or fully mainstreamed.  Tutoring, editing, review, study skills, and behavioral or emotional support are offered.  Some students spend a significant part of thier day in a learning center, while others spend only one period there.  Sometimes other specialists work in the learning center, such as the guidance counselor or a social worker.  Some learning centers provide life skills or vocational training to students.  Before placing your child in a learning center, find out about the program and what types of students it serves.

Does my child really need an IEP?

28 May

Does my child really need an IEP?

This is a question that many of us have wondered about. We worry that by allowing the school to give our children special education that they will be labeled and tracked for the rest of their school days.  We wonder if they will be denied by colleges if they see SPED on their records.  What will the other children think and say? As parents, we worry about the lasting effects of special education on our children.  Stereotyping, assumptions, bullying, and poor self-esteem are some of the negative things we hear about special education.  So you ask, “Is all of this worth allowing the school to put my child on an IEP?”  If you consider the benefits that your child may receive from being on an IEP, you may decide the answer to your question is yes.

What are the positives  if my child were put on an IEP?

While it is true that sometimes people make assumptions (or stereotype) children in special education, most educational professionals are aware that children with disabilities have strengths as well as their weaknesses.  When an IEP is written for your child, there will be a specific place where the team will write your child’s strengths.  These strengths will be reported by you, the teachers, and the specialists who tested your child.  The IEP should be designed to work off of your child’s areas of strength.  Without the IEP to guide them, many general education teachers may never get to the point where they even discover your child’s strengths because they are so focused on catching them up in their areas of weakness.   The weakness becomes the focal point for instruction, not your child’s strength.

Yes, it is also true that children in special education are victims of bullying.  However, in recent studies it has been found that 1 in 4 of all children are victims of bullying at some point in their childhood.  Bullying has become a hot topic in education now.  Schools are working on coming up with prevention plans for all children.  In Massachusetts, a bullying prevention law was recently passed in congress.  Because of the increase of inclusion programs for special education students, children are more accepting  of a child’s differences than they were in the past.  Children and adults with disabilities are no longer hidden away, they are involved in the school and general community.  While every parent should stay vigilant about bullying, I would not deny my child services because I thought they may get bullied.  There are ways to prevent and stop that problem if it were to occur.

While poor self-esteem is a definite concern for any child that struggles in school, giving a child help usually does not cause a child to have low self esteem.  In fact failing school or struggling with grade-level work is more likely to cause the low self-esteem of a child with learning disabilities.  Children are happy when they feel successful, when they are accomplishing their goals, and when they are not struggling.  Receiving more time from teachers, instruction that is at their level and tailored to build off their strengths will only help to raise the child’s self-esteem.  Another important consideration is that special education services are a matter of confidentiality.  It is not noted in a child’s permanent record or on their report cards that they are receiving special education services.  This information is kept in a separate file and not shared with staff that does not work directly with your child.

If my child’s IEP is carefully planned, written, and carried out, what could be the benefits?

  • Lower teachers to student ratios (more time face to face with the teacher)
  • More time given for review of curriculum (this is extra help for the child)
  • Special testing accommodations (no time limits, use of reference sheets, use of a scribe)
  • Accommodations in the classroom (less homework, use of a spell checker, books on CD)
  • Specialized instruction (Wilson Reading, Orton-Gillingham, Touch Math)
  • Special therapies (physical or occupational therapy, social skills groups)
  • Use of non-standard accommodations (sensory stimulation, fidget-toys, seat cushions, behavior modification plans)
  • No cost summer program
  • Accountability (progress reports, frequent assessment of goals, yearly team meetings)
  • Confidentiality

While special education is not right for every child, it is exactly what others need to be successful. Consider the positives as closely as you consider the negatives when you are deciding whether to give your consent.  Again, I suggest you do your research about your child’s disability, take the time to visit the school and see their special education program, and know what options are available to your child before you make any decisions.

NOTE:  If you feel your child needs special education services and was denied by the school district, there are things you can do to try to get your child the help they need.  I discuss this issue further in What You Can Do if Your Child Has Been Denied SPED Services .