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Settling a Disagreement with Your Child’s School

11 Jul

More than likely there will come a time when you disagree with your child’s school about what is best for your child (if it hasn’t happened already). Sometimes you will have a different vision for child than their school does. You know your child better than they do, you see your child in many different settings (they see them only at school). You know your child’s dreams for the future and you want to help them obtain them and you should. You are your child’s best advocate!
That being said, if you disagree with something you child’s school says or does in regard to your child, you should speak up and voice your opinion. I suggest that you always speak up quickly, do not let an issue go for several days or weeks and then complain. If you are dissatisfied, you need to give the school a chance to fix the problem right away. On the other hand, you may not want to speak up until you have had a chance to get all the information and think about it for a bit. Sometimes when we speak immediately our emotions get the best of us. You want to always act in a professional and rational way. If you don’t, you risk losing your credibility with the school staff. You become “Crazy Mom/Dad.” You don’t want that label. Besides, you want the school to know that you are only trying to get the best for your child and you do not have a personal score to settle with them. Likewise, the staff should communicate with you in professional way.  However, if a school staff member treats you with disrespect, you need to let them know you will not tolerate such treatment. Immediately call that person’s superior and file a complaint.
If the school does not solve the problem to your satisfaction or denies there is a problem, you would then take your disagreement to the next level…a letter. I would write a letter to the person you have communicated with and send a copy to the principal (or the asst. Superintendent if the principal is the person you are disagreeing with). In the letter, I would restate the disagreement, state how you attempted to solve it and ask that another attempt at a resolution be made. Usually, this is enough for the school to know you are serious about your complaint and they will attempt to come to a resolution with you. If your letter does not work, I would then ask for a meeting with all parties to be present (reconvene your child’s team). If a resolution is not met at the team meeting, you should put your complaint in writing to the school again and ask for mediation. Be aware that you may have to revoke your permission you gave for the IEP to get mediation and this will affect your child’s services. Be sure that the disagreement is worth the fight before you take this extreme measure. Remember that if you go to mediation, there is a chance you could lose.

Good luck and remember you are your child’s best advocate and to always be rational and professional in all your dealings with the school.

Requesting an Educational Evaluation: How to Get the Right Evaluation for Your Child

11 Jul

If you decide that your child needs an educational evaluation, you will have to put a request in writing to your school.   The wording of your letter is important and can determine the quality of the evaluation your child gets. If your letter simply asks for an evaluation to be done, and does not specifically state your concerns, your child may receive a very basic evaluation that does not assess the specific areas you are concerned about.

I recommend you ask for as many assessments as you think your child needs in that letter.  The more extensive the evaluation is, the better chance that an accurate diagnosis will be made. A good evaluation should produce a very detailed picture of your child’s learning profile. It will state their strengths and weaknesses, and should compare them to other children their age. It should include formal assessments, such as a cognitive test (sometimes called IQ test) and an educational achievement test. The evaluation should also include some formal tests in the area of concerns for your child. So if you are concerned about your child’s reading ability, the school should have administered a formal reading test, in addition to the educational achievement test. The evaluation should also include some informal assessments, such as an interview with you and/or your child , an observation, and a collection of work samples.

In order to assure that this gets done, you need to send a letter that is very specific about your concerns and what you want areas you want assessed during the evaluation. Areas of possible concern could be reading, math, writing, spelling, phonological (letter sounds) processing, sensory processing, attention, behavior, emotional needs, speech, oral language, social skills, self  image/concept, motor skills, hearing, vision, and cognitive processing issues/memory (this not a complete list of possible issues that affect school-age children).

Here is some sample language that you can use in your letter requesting an evaluation:

  • This letter is a request for an educational evaluation to be done on my child__________.
  • I am requesting this evaluation to be done because I suspect that ________may have a specific learning disability in ______.
  • I am requesting this evaluation because ______ has failed to make academic progress and I suspect he/she may have a disability in the area of________.
  • Because of my suspicion that _______ may have disabilities in the areas of _______, I am requesting that as part of the evaluation,  _______ assessments be done. [Be specific here. Use the list above as a guide or research other possible disabilities.

An evaluation that is not very thorough will only include an educational achievement test and perhaps a few other informal assessments (such as a classroom observation). While some good information can be obtained through an achievement test, they usually do not pick up on specific learning disabilities because these tests look at a very broad range of academic areas. Also, the test results can be interpreted different ways by different people, depending on their experience level and directives from their superiors (meaning some school systems will deny services to children that score in the low range on achievement tests because of budget constraints). Also, your child may have other issues impacting their ability to achieve, such attention, sensory, or emotional issues.  Therefore, you want your child to have a range of assessments given to them so that no one test will be used to decide if they need special education services.

There are laws about the amount of time the school has to complete the testing once they receive your letter, so find out what that time line is in your state. Once the testing is complete, you should get a copy of the results a few days before the meeting with the school.  If you feel that your child did not receive a comprehensive evaluation from the school, you need to tell them right away verbally and in writing. The school will then have to discuss with you either doing further testing themselves or paying for an outside evaluation.

Good luck and remember to be specific about your concerns and what kinds of evaluations you want done.

What is an IEP?

13 Jun

IEP stands for individual education plan.  It is a plan for how to educate a student that has qualified for special education because they have a documented disability and it is impacting their ability to be successful at school.  An IEP is written by a team of people that includes the parents of the child, the general education teacher, the special education teacher, educational therapists (speech and language pathologists, occupational and physical therapists, school psychologists, etc.), and sometimes an administrator from the school or special education department.  The basic process for getting a students on an IEP is to first refer them for testing.  This testing is suppose to answer the following questions:  1) Does the student have a qualifying disability? and 2) Are they making sufficient progress?  If the team decides yes to question one and no to question two, then the student has qualified for special education and an IEP will be written.

The parents will be asked to come to a meeting where their child’s IEP will be planned.  The parents will have input into the accommodations given to their child, the goals that the teachers will have for them, the amount of time spent giving the child special services, when the child will be removed from their classroom, and the type of classroom they will be placed in.   Parents have the final approval on the IEP.  If the school staff and the parents disagree about any aspect of the IEP, they should try to resolve these issues at another meeting.  If they cannot resolve the issues, then the parents or school can ask for an independent mediator to help them resolve the issues.  In some cases of extreme differences in opinion, the issues will be resolved at a hearing.

An IEP will have the following sections:

1.  Student Strengths and Evaluation Results This section reports the testing results and what areas of strength your child has.

2.  Present Level of Educational Performance: General Curriculum and Other Educational Needs This is where accommodations for the general education classroom are listed.

3.  Current Performance Levels/Measurable Goals  This section tells how your child is performing in school, what areas the teachers will be focusing on for improvement and how they plan to do it.

4.  Service Delivery This is a chart that states who will be working with your child, where, and for how many hours per week.

5.  Nonparticipation Justification If your child will be removed from the class for any reason, this section explains why.

6.  Schedule Modification In this section the team can decide to make a student’s school day or year longer or shorter and states why this decision was made.

7.  Transportation Services This section states if the student will need special transportation.

8.  Assessment  In this section, the team will decide how to best test this student and list the testing accommodations they will use.

For more information on IEPs see “Does My Child Really Need an IEP?”

Getting What Your Child Needs at School

11 Jun

What Every Teacher Would Love to Tell You but They Can’t

Your child is struggling at school and the teacher calls you in for a conference.  She tells you that she is concerned about your child’s progress, but you leave the conference with more questions than when you got there.  Does my child need special education services?  Why didn’t the teacher just come right out and suggest it?  Most likely it is because, like many teachers, she’s under pressure not to.  She may be trying to get you to make a special education referral for your child without saying it out right.  You may have mixed feeling about special education and be confused about what your child really needs.  As a teacher, I can tell you that if she’s called you in for a conference, you have reason to be concerned and should, at the very least, investigate her concerns.

A teacher can make a special education referral for a student, but it’s preferrable for the parent to do it.  There are two reasons for this.  The first is that it takes longer for a teacher to make the referral.  A teacher has to go through a process of trying different things and documenting if they are successful or not.  This can take several months to do.  If a parent refers their own child, the testing starts within 30 days of your written consent to testing.  The second reason it is more preferable for a parent to refer their own child is that some school systems subtly pressure teachers not to refer students for special education.  SPED costs a lot of money for public school districts and they are obligated by federal law to offer these services to any child that qualifies.  The only way for a district to keep their SPED costs down it to qualify less students.

What Will Happen If I Don’t Refer My Child for SPED Testing?

Your child’s teacher can help them if you don’t refer them for SPED testing.  Many schools have a way to help general education students that are struggling.  It is often called RTI (response to intervention) and it can be helpful.  The classroom teacher may be the one to give the intervention (extra help) or it could be a teacher’s assistant, a Title One teacher, a reading or math coach, or other qualified school staff member.  All good intervention should include regular assessment to be sure that it is working.  As the parent, before agreeing to intervention services ask:

  • How much intervention will my child get? ( Once a week for 30 min. is not enough.)
  • Who will be providing it?  (It should be a qualified, trained person.)
  • How will they know it is working?  (They should be assessing every few weeks.)

Realistically, they can probably fit this extra help into your child’s schedule about 3 times a week for 30 minutes.  Do not allow this extra help to be provided by an untrained staff member, it may end up being a waste of your child’s time.  Ask for the assessment results to be sent home so you can keep track yourself.  This kind intervention is enough for some student’s to be brought up to grade level in reading or math.  However, for some it is not.

If your child’s school is providing this kind of extra support for your child I would check in after about 8 to 10 weeks.  I would ask for a review of the data that they should of collected on your child.  (By data I mean results from an assessment that they should be doing to track progress.)  Make sure that what they are doing is getting results (the scores should be going up consistently).  If it is not, the intervention is not working and a referral for special education should be made.

What Will Happen if I Refer My Child for SPED Testing?

You will need to write a letter asking for testing.  In your letter you should state what you suspect may be the problem and list the types of assessments you want done.  You will have to sign a consent form.  Do this quickly, because the testing will begin within 30 days of the school’s receipt of that signed form.  Within 45 days of that consent, you will have a meeting with the school to review the results.  Ask for the results to be given to you before that meeting in you original letter (they have to give this to you at least 2 days before the meeting).  This is a good idea to do for two reasons.  First, you will need time to read this report on your own and look up any terms you don’t understand.  Second, sometimes schools wait until the last (and I do mean last) minute to test your child.  Tests are done in haste and reports can be shoddy.  If you ask for the reports to be given to you before the meeting, the district will have to complete the testing and report at least 2 days before the meeting and they will know you intend to give the report your full attention (meaning a shoddy report isn’t going to fly with you).

Here is what to include in you referral letter:

  • Reason for referral (something like… my child is struggling in school and attempts to help have failed…)
  • Suspected disability (it could be a specific learning disability, a health disability, a developmental delay, an emotional disability, etc.)
  • Assessments you want done (some types of assessments are: learning/educational eval., speech & language eval., psychological eval., behavioral assessment, occupational eval., attention/distractibility scale, sensory scale, reading skills assessment, math skills assessment, auditory processing eval., etc.)
  • Request evaluation reports given to you at least 2 days before the scheduled meeting

*****For more information on this, see my “Testing (Core Evaluation)” posts*****

To Medicate or Not to Medicate Your ADHDer?

10 Jun

As a teacher, one of the more common concerns I hear from parents is about medications for children with ADHD.  As a parent, I’ve had to decide if I wanted to give my child medication for ADHD.  I know what a tough decision this is for a parent.  You may be thinking:  I love my child’s love of life and endless energy!  I get a kick out of my son’s goofy personality.  My child is not sick, so why am I giving them medicine? My child is smart, they just struggle to get the work finished.  Knowing what I know about ADHDers in the classroom, I decided to give my child the meds.  There are 3 types of ADHD:  inattentive (the daydreamer), hyperactive/impulsive (the mover and shaker), and combined type (the whirlwind).  I have a “whirlwind” and a “mover and shaker” in my family, but I’ve seen all 3 types in the classroom.  Here’s what I know, as a teacher, about the effects of ADHD.

ADHD Meds From a Teacher’s Point of View

There is a child in my class that has enormous academic potential, but because they suffer from the effects of ADHD they are not producing what they could be.  They are struggling with motivation and self-esteem issues because they cannot make themselves meet the expectations of the teacher and their peers.  They try, but continuously fail because it is beyond their control.  This child cannot focus on oral instruction because they are so distracted by things in their environment (other students, something out the window, noises from the hall, what’s hanging on the walls, etc.) and miss up to 50% of what is happening in their classroom.  This child has trouble working with a group of his classmates because they say something or do something before thinking it through (they misuse the materials, grab things before others can get a chance, blurt out answers, speaker louder, and make more body movements than the others) and this annoys the other students.  This student requires many more reminders than other students, so they hear their name being called by the teacher (or lunch aid or bus driver, etc.) many more times than other students (_____ pass in your homework, _______ put your name  on your paper, _______ return to your seat, and so on and so on).  This child cannot sit still so they sometimes get into other children’s space, knock things over, get hurt on the playground, or fall out of their chair.  These are just some of the ways that ADHD can affect a child at school.  Because there are 3 types of ADHD, it does look different in different children (especially in girls).  However, the overall effects are the same… lower self-esteem due to the fact that they have the academic potential to do well in school but struggle because of a condition that is beyond their ability to control.  I have seen medication do wonders for some children with ADHD.  One day they have all the side effects of it, the next day they come in and the symptoms are gone.  I have also seen some children (not many though) not get that affect from medication.  Generally medications for ADHD work really well and the children are happier  because most of what they struggle with goes away and they are able to reach their full potential. Friendships become easier to make and keep for some students and school becomes a happier place to be.

As a parent and teacher, I feel very strongly that parents should not arbitrarily dismiss medication for their child.   It is wise to first put yourself in your child’s shoes.  Imagine what they struggle with daily.  For your child, being at school for 6 hours with un-medicated ADHD may be like an asthmatic running a marathon with out an inhaler.  If your child is old enough, ask them how they feel about having ADHD and about medication.  Talk about the positives and negatives with them and get their opinion.  Observe your child in the classroom, compare their attention and movement level to their peers.  Watch other child react to them.  Deeply consider all the ways that their ADHD might be affecting them (socially, emotionally, academically).  Medication may not be right for your child, as their parent you are best suited to make this decision.  However, I caution you to put aside any personal judgements you may have about medication and try to make the decision that would best benefit your child.  Keep this in mind:  I know more than one adult with ADHD that often says, “I wish my parents had gotten me help for this when I was a child.”

What Could Happen if I Put My Child on ADHD Meds:

  • They may be able to concentrate better on instruction.
  • They may develop better peer relationships.
  • Their grades may improve.
  • They could stay up later or have trouble falling asleep.
  • They may not struggle as much with homework and classwork.
  • They may not get into as much trouble at school and at home.
  • They may not eat as much and may lose some weight.
  • Their self-esteem may improve because they are struggling less.
  • School may be a better place for them.
  • They might wonder why they need to be on a medication when they are not sick.
  • They might feel “right” or calmer or less worried.
  • They might feel happier.


How to Use the Summer Break to Your SPED Child’s Advantage

9 Jun

Summer is here, and so it the freedom that our child love so much.  Many of us worry that our child will lose all the gains they have made over the past school year during the long break (sometimes called a summer slide).  Some of our children do well with the structure school provides and struggle with too much free time over the summer.  If your child experienced a “summer slide” last year, you should ask your district to put your child in the summer program.  It is free,available to most children receiving sped services, and is usually only a few hours a week.  It may be too late this year, but keep it in mind for next year.

How can you make the summer break work to your child’s advantage?  I like to work on my child’s self esteem over the summer.  Try out different things until they find something they are good at or enjoy doing.  Howard Gardner, a developmental psychologist at Harvard’s School of Education, has a theory of multiple intelligences.  Gardner’s theory  states that  humans have several different ways of learning, and some of us learn better when information is given to us in this way. Gardner says the ways we learn are through:  linguistic (language), logic-mathematical, musical, spatial (visual or artistically), bodily/kinesthetic (through body movement), interpersonal (through socializing with others) and intrapersonal (by oneself).  Try activating one of these areas in your child, let them discover where their abilities are.  Having a hobby will help your child feel successful and, when September comes, they will be refreshed and ready to start another year of school.  Here are some ideas for activating different areas of intelligence:

  • Find a social skills group or sensory gym for your child to go to over the summer.
  • Check out the resources available at your public library.  They may have a free summer program going and they usually offer free passes to area attractions.  Do a fun summer research project (let your child pick the topic) together, then take a related field trip.
  • Encourage your child’s sense of wonder by taking nature walks at a beach, lake, or park. Make a scavenger hunt they display what you’ve found in a box.
  • Build your child’s creative side.  Get some art supplies or go to a free concert in the park.  Research an artist and try to copy their style.  Try knitting or sewing.  Make a scrapbook, try your hand a photography, or sketching.
  • Give your child a journal to record their thoughts or sketch their feelings in.
  • Visit a local attraction and encourage your child to write a poem or story about it.  Offer to take dictation for them or let them record the story.
  • Find some fun math logic problems or riddle math problems to solve with your child.  Play board games that require problem solving.
  • Find some tennis, golf, or swimming lessons to keep your active child busy.
  • Let your child use the kitchen.  Pick a fun recipe or two to try out.  Plan a picnic or BBQ and let your child make the menu.  Have a bake sale for charity.
  • Build something together.  Make a fort, a bird house, or lemonade stand.
Even if your child doesn’t find an activity or hobby that inspires them, they will probably love the idea that not everyone is traditionally “smart” that some of us are “smart” in non-traditional ways!

 

My Child is Struggling in School… How Can I Help?

7 Jun

If you are reading this post, then you know the heartbreak that a parent feels when their child struggles in school.  Every child struggles now and then, but if your child struggles daily you are probably searching for ways to help them.  Some children struggle with a certain subject, while other children struggle with classwork in general.  Some of our children are fine academically, but struggle with the social aspects of school, or what some people refer to as the hidden curriculum (more about that later).  No parent wants their child to struggle daily at school, but many of us are at a loss for what to do.

I am parent of a child with special educational needs and a special education teacher myself.  I have personally experienced success and failure in trying to get help for my child.  It is not always easy to get the help your child needs, but I can guarantee that if you stick it out, advocating for your child is definitely worth the fight.  I have found the following ideas to be successful ways to help your child that struggles:

  1. Start by communicating your concerns directly to the teacher.  Make an appointment to meet with them, or ask them to call you during a mutually good time.  Tell them exactly what is concerning to you, fill them in on any past successes and failures at school, and ask them to observe your child and report back to you what they think may be the problem.
  2. Come up with a plan of action.  Ask for a meeting with the teacher and the pre-referral team at your child’s school.  All schools have this, but they all call it something different (Child Study Team, Teacher Assistance Team, Instructional Support Team).  This team meets to discuss struggling students and make suggestions for ways to assist the student in the classroom.  This is NOT special education.  Any struggling student can get help this way.  The team will write a plan of action and then meet back in 4 to 6 weeks to discuss success or failure of the plan.
  3. Refer your child for an educational evaluation.  Write a letter asking for your child to be evaluated for eligibility for special education.  Be specific in your letter about what you suspect may be the problem and what kinds of testing you want done.  (For example:  Please evaluate our child for a suspected specific learning disability in reading.  Please complete a full educational assessment, including reading ability testing.)  The school will have to contact you with in 5 days to confirm your request and start testing within 30 days.  You will receive the results at a meeting that must take place within 45 days of your request.
  4. Take an active role in planning for your child’s educational needs.  You need to be aware of your rights as a parent and your child’s rights to receive a free and appropriate public education.  As the parent, you should be included in every decision and your opinions should weigh as much as any other team members.  However, many sped teams will not automatically treat you this way.  You will need to speak up at meetings, ask questions, research the options on your own, and make your opinions known.
  5. Get an outside evaluation done if you disagree with the school’s testing.  You may or may not have to pay for this testing yourself.  Tell the school right away that you are not satisfied with the testing they did.  Put it in writing and explain why you are unsatisfied.  Ask the school about the districts policy for getting the testing paid for by them.  Find a reputable educational testing facility (most pediatricians can recommend someone) to test your child.  Once you get the results, you must give a copy to the school if you want them to consider the results.  The law states that they have to consider the findings as valid unless they can prove they are not.
  6. Be reasonable and professional when you are communicating with the school staff.  Do not yell, use profanity, write insulting emails/notes, make unfounded accusations, or get overly emotional. Try not to over communicate, teachers will not be able to call or email you everyday (they may have over 20 students in their class).

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.”