Tag Archives: concerns about child

Is Special Education Right for my Child?

8 Jan

Deciding whether or not to place your child in special education is a tough decisions for some parents. As a parent of a special education child, I know the emotions that parents have when their child is struggling. It is hard to admit that your child has a disability and is different from the other children. The fear and anxiety is huge. As a teacher, I continue to see the agony of students that are not getting the help they need because their parents will not give permission for their child to be tested or to be placed in a special education program. I have heard many parents say that their child doesn’t need special education, they just need a little extra-help to get it. These parents refuse testing or services and ask the general education teacher to provide the extra-help.  Unfortunately, these children with disabilities most likely will not get the help they deserve.  It is not that the general education teacher does not want to help your child, it’s that (most of the time) they can’t give them what they need. General education teachers do not have the time, expertise, and (sometimes) the authority to give a learning disabled student the help they will need to progress in school.

Many school districts across the country have faced huge cuts to their budgets due to the downturn in the economy. One of the more common ways to make up for the lost revenue is too make class sizes bigger. When a school system does this they need less teachers and/or fewer facilities, and so they save money. Class sizes now, in may schools, over 25 students per class. This is a lot of students for one teacher to get to in a day. With numbers that high, they will not have the extra time that is needed to help a learning disabled student that is not getting special education services. Services for students with learning disabilities cannot be cut by school districts. They are obligated by federal law to keep up these programs. Special education teachers usually see students in smaller groups (6 to 10) than in a general education classroom. A special education teacher that sees students right in the classroom may be servicing less than 25% of the class. These students are getting much more face time with a teacher than the other students in the class. General education teachers just do not have the time to give the intensive interventions that students with disabilities need.

General education teachers and special education teachers are not one in the same.  They do not receive the same training and do not have the same state certifications.  Special education teachers are trained in assessing and diagnosing learning disabilities.  They have been trained in special ways to educate students with disabilities.  There are many special programs and methods that special education teachers use, that general education teachers have no access to or training in. Some of the methods that have been researched and proven to work with students with disabilities need a small group setting, special materials, or equipment.  General education teachers cannot provide the specialized instruction methods that special education teachers can.

Some of the accommodations that special education students receive cannot be provided to students that are in general education because of the laws or rules of the institution, school or district.  For example, some special education students received untimed tests (even for the SATs).  Another example is that some special education students receive a waiver for required classes (such as foreign languages) because their disability makes it almost impossible for them to pass such a course. These accommodations will not be given to students that do not have a documented disability.  A child with an undocumented disability will not  benefit from accommodations that are there for their benefit and a general education teacher cannot authorize the use of such accommodations.

If the school has asked to test your child to see if they qualify for special education, most likely it is because they need more help than the classroom teacher can provide. Most likely, your child is struggling and feeling the pain of low self-esteem and embarrassment of failure. It’s heart breaking for you, the parent, and them.  Since your child only has one chance at getting the proper education for them, the decision that you make is extremely important and will have a lasting impact. Resist the urge to let fear and anxiety cloud your decision.

My Child is Struggling in School….Do They have a Learning Disability?

4 Sep

Almost every child will struggle in school at some point.  We all have our strengths and weaknesses.  It is sometimes hard to know if your child’s struggling is within the “normal” range or if they have a learning disability (LD) and need special education.  In this post, I will attempt to clarify the difference between a child who is struggling, but does not have a learning disability, and a child who is struggling because they have a learning disability.  (Please note that all children are entitled to be evaluated to decide if they have a special educational need.  If you feel that your child may have special needs, you should trust your parent’s intuition and ask for an evaluation regardless of what any one person tells you.)

The Child Who Struggles (but does not have a LD) May:  

  • Progress at a slow, but steady pace.
  • Have a subject area that is weaker than others (example:  reads great/struggles with math).
  • Struggle with all subjects due to an organization problem or slight maturity gap.
  • Be working through a temporary social issue (example: argument with friends) or emotional difficulty (example: loss of a pet).
  • Get C’s on their report card. (I say C’s because it has been my experience that this is the grade that parent’s hate the most.  C’s are average and some of us just hate average.)
  • Avoid homework, resist help, and deny there is a problem.
  • Wish they got better grades or less homework or had more friends.
  • May get frustrated or disappointed and give up.
  • Respond well to some extra help, tutoring, or talking to a guidance counselor or social worker.

When given an academic achievement test, this child may fall in the low-average range in some or all academic areas.  It is my experience that students that score low-average usually do not qualify for special education.  However, there should be a way for this child to receive some extra help or tutoring at school.  Many schools have Title I (a free, federally funded program) or other academic help for students that need it.  You may have to ask for it, it’s sometimes not offered at will.  You and your child need to be willing to accept the extra help (even if it is before or after school).

The Child Who Struggles because they have an LD May:

  • Do all the things listed above (this is why it is so hard to guess if a child has a special need and evaluations are necessary). But also look for these signs:
  • Make no or little progress in all or certain academic areas.
  • Have organizational issues that stop progress from happening.
  • Have a large gap in maturity when compared to their peers.
  • Have persistent social and/or emotional difficulties.
  • Need more than just some extra help, tutoring, or a talk with a counselor.

When given an academic achievement test, this child may fall in the low range (sometimes called below average) in some or all academic areas. It is my experience that students that score low usually do qualify for special education.  I think a thorough evaluation will further test areas that a student scored low on to get a “second opinion.”  For example, if your child scores low in reading on an academic achievement test, another type of reading test may be done to confirm the first result.  Further testing may also provide the special education team with more information about the student.

Your IEP Child: Starting Off the New School Year Right

20 Aug

It’s a new school year!  New clothes, new supplies, new teacher!  Exciting, right?  For children that struggle in school, the coming of the new school year can be a difficult transition time.  Past experience may have taught them that school is not a pleasant experience.  My own son, who struggles with ADHD and dyslexia, has, in the past, dreaded the coming of the new school year.  When your child does not have a healthy and happy attitude about school and learning, it makes their struggles even more painful for them and you (as their parent).  This does not mean that you should just except that your child will never enjoy going to school.  Many of my students that are on IEPs are  happy at school. Some student’s have a naturally positive attitude, but most of my struggling students need support to develop a healthy and happy attitude about learning.   I am happy to report that my son is looking forward to school beginning in a few weeks.  He has gotten a lot of support over the last school year and this summer, through his summer program.  He is looking forward to starting his new language based program and seeing the friends he has made.  Here are some ideas for building a healthy and happy attitude toward school that I have seen work with students on IEPs:

  • Be sure that your child’s educational needs are being met.  Nothing will bring down any student more than not getting what they need.  Ask questions of your child and the teachers that will tell you if the IEP is not being adhered too.  For example, you coud ask “Are you being given extra time to complete your tests?”
  • Remind your child OFTEN of the strengths they have.  Plan games and activities that emphasize these areas. For example, if your child is good at math, have them be the banker during a board game and be sure to say, “Mary is going to be the banker because she is so good at math.”
  • Let the teachers know about your child’s likes and dislikes.  Set your child up for success by informing the teacher right away of how to please them and how to avoid a melt down.
  • Experiment with homework times to find the best suited time for your child.  Try to set up and stick to a homework routine, this will reduce meltdowns and set expectations.
  • BE POSITIVE!  If your excited about school and learning, the chances are your child will pick up on your attitude and may imitate it.  Ask questions in a positive way.   For example:  “What great things happened at school today!”  “Tell me about something you were proud of today!”  “How many fun activities did you get to do today!”
  • Call out school staff that are being overly critical or negative about your child.  If you sense that a teacher’s attitude is affecting your child, you can call that teacher out (politely).  You could say something like, “Joey has been upset lately about some of the things that have happened at school.  He feels like he is being called out a lot and not being complimented enough.  How can we work together to fix this situation so that Joey can be happier at school?”

How to Get Help for Your Child that Struggles at School

15 Aug

It is heart breaking to watch your child struggle with school-related issues.  It is frustrating when school officials are not responding to your pleas for help.  Here are some ideas to help you get the school on your team:

The saying the squeaky wheel gets the grease is never more truer than in a school system.  As a teacher, I have seen this 1st hand.  Last year, I worked with a student who had mild dyslexia, but with extra time she could complete grade level reading work.  Her mother swooped into the school the very first week of school and demanded services for her child.  She was aggressive and threatened the principal, who promptly gave in to her unreasonable demands.  I was tapped to give the services to this student that had never been qualified for special education.  This may seem like an extreme example of the squeaky wheel, but it happens a lot.  I am not suggesting that any parent use aggressive tactics to get help for their child.  In the end, this child was taken off my caseload because I was able to gather data (or proof) that she did not need my help.  This child also has a severe case of  under-achieving because she quickly gives up when something is difficult.  I believe this could be the result of her mother underestimating her abilities and giving her help with things she can do on her own.

Meanwhile, in the same classroom there was a student that was reading well-below grade level, who was not receiving any help.  He was very shy and silently struggled in the back of the room.  Once his teacher figured out his troubles, she talked to his parents about getting him tested.  They agreed that he was struggling, but the parents never wrote the note asking for testing.   It takes a lot longer for a teacher to get testing for a student than it does for a parent. The testing did not happen until spring, and his services are set to begin this September.  A whole year was lost for this child.

In order to get help for your child you may need to do a couple of things.  The first thing you may need to do is to reach out for help.  There are people at the school that are there specifically to help struggling students, but sometimes struggling students do not get help.  It may be that they are struggling in silence and using strategies (yes, sometimes cheating) to fool you and the teachers.  It could be that the classroom they are in is overrun with struggling students and the teacher can’t get to everyone.  Whatever the reason, if you know your child is struggling and not receiving help, you need to ask for it.  You should state exactly what problems you see in your child and ask for their help in correcting these problems.  If the teacher has done something that did not help, but in fact caused more difficulties, speak up about it.  Teachers use strategies that they have had success with in the past, but what works for one may not work for your child.  Also, comment on successful strategies you have seen used with your child.  Once a plan of action has been established, follow up on it.

Following up is the second thing you need to do when you are trying to get help for your struggling child.  Remember that sometimes progress is slow, but look for any signs of improvement.  Keep track of your child’s progress yourself, saving their papers is one way to do this.  Speak again with the teachers, asking them for any signs of progress.   Ask to see proof of the progress.  If the teacher has not held up her end of the action plan, find out why and report this to her supervisor.  If there is no progress, now it is time to refer your own child for testing.  I have posted on how to do this in the past, so I will not repeat it.  Getting involved in the special education process can be frustrating at times, so don’t give up.

Not give up is another thing you need to do to get the help you want for your child.  You would be surprised what perseverance can get you at a school. Research your child’s educational rights and your parental rights.  Get free advice (the Federation for Child with Special Needs offers free phone consultations with trained advocates).  Knowledge will be your biggest advantage to getting what your child needs.  Arm yourself to the hilt with it.

Learning Disabilities and Social/Emotional Difficulties

31 Jul

Student’s with specific learning disabilities (such as dyslexia) often struggle with social and/or emotional difficulties, but these difficulties do not cause learning disabilities. Learning disabilities (LDs) are believed to be largely genetic based, and are not caused by anxiety, depression, or poor parenting.  Social and/or emotional difficulties could be a result of the discouragement that children with LDs experience.  These children are intelligent. Their teachers and parents can sense this, but they wonder why they are not able to meet expectations.  Many of us think that if these children would just try a little harder they would do better.  What we don’t know is that the learning disabled child is probably trying harder than any other child to do well, but they are consistently not able to meet their teachers’ and parents’ expectations.  This is frustrating and discouraging for both the child and the adults, and many children with LDs end up feeling stupid.  Learning disabled children do not get to experience the fruits of their labor the way other children do.  This is why evaluations and diagnosis is so important.

As a parent, I loved being able to explain to my child that you are not stupid, in fact you are very bright, however your brain works differently than other people’s.  I saw a weight lifted off my son’s shoulders when I was able to explain to him why he was having so much trouble learning to read and write.  Many of his anxieties over school and school-work have lessened since his diagnosis with dyslexia, but as a teacher I know that children with LDs are vulnerable to social and/or emotional problems relating to their disability.    This list may seem daunting, but I believe that knowledge is power and that by acknowledging these vulnerabilities I can help my child try to avoid them.

Here is a list of problems associated with LDs in children:

  • Anger:  Children with LDs may be angry about the frustration that they feel.  They may have outbursts at school and during homework.
  • Anxiety:  Children with LDs may be fearful of school, school work, or other social situations because they fear they will experience failure.
  • Depression:  Children with LDs may experience depression related to sadness they may feel about their inability to achieve at the same pace as others can.  They may have a low self-esteem if they turn their anger about their LD in at themselves.
  • Self Image:  Children with LDs may feel inferior to others, powerless and incompetent because of the failures they have experienced.
  • Social Skill Difficulties:  Children with LDs may be immature compared to their peers and they may seem awkward in a social situation.  They may also have trouble reading social cues (or body language) or  have trouble with oral language (stammering, pauses while speaking, etc.)
While there are many negatives associated with having a learning disability, I believe that children with LDs can experience some extreme positives when they are able to overcome their challenges and experience success despite their LDs.  My next post will be ideas of how you can help your child avoid these problems and come out on top!

How to be a Special Ed. Advocate for your Child

27 Jul

If your child struggles in school, you will need to be a strong advocate to get them the help they need.    When I began to suspect that my pre-school child had special education needs, I went straight to the school.  They did a screening on my child and told me everything is fine.  But I knew it wasn’t.  I am also a special education teacher, but my mom intuition was what was telling me to pursue this further.  I had to push for an evaluation to be done on my child.  When he did qualify for special education, then the real fight began.    I had to learn how to advocate for my child so that I could get him what he was going to need to achieve.  My son is now entering 3rd grade. He has been placed in a wonderful program for children with language-based learning disabilities.  He is happy because his needs are being met.  He continually makes progress and feels proud of himself. One of my happiest moments each day is seeing his happy-go-lucky face skipping out of school.  It is what I always wanted for him.  I made many errors trying to advocate for my son and from those errors, I learned a great deal.

Here is my list of Do’s and Don’t while trying to advocate for your child:

Don’t Do These Things 

  • Get overly emotional or argumentative
  • Make quick decisions
  • Knock it until you try it
  • Make something more intense than it is
  • Trust that you have all the information
  • Make verbal agreements
  • Make threats you won’t follow through on
  • Allow your child to be given anything less than what they deserve
  • Agree to your child having lower expectations placed on them
  • Let things that make you uncomfortable slide by without discussing them
  • Do anything for the sake of being nice or agreeable

Do These Things

  • Research your child’s disability and treatment options
  • Find out what resources are available to your child
  • Ask lots of questions to many people
  • Put things (requests, disagreements, agreements, conversations) in writing
  • Ask for verbal agreements to be put in writing
  • Think before you make a decision
  • Consider all alternatives
  • Remain calm, respectful, and mature
  • Look through all documents, reports, updates, etc.
  • What you feel is the right thing for your child
  • Follow through with ultimatums, threats, or agreements made
  • Ask for help if you need it
  • Talk to other experts or experienced people
  • Give the school a chance to correct mistakes or try something new
  • Attend all meetings
  • Get to know the school staff
  • Make your opinion heard
  • Consider yourself an equal member of the special education team
  • Remain positive, hopeful, and strong

Advocating for your child is not easy, but it very rewarding.  You may not always make the right decisions, but if you are making your decisions with the right priorities in mind (your child’s needs) even your mistakes will be okay.

Signs Your Child May Have a Learning Disability

26 Jul

When their children begin to struggle in school, many parents worry that their child may have a learning disability (LD).  But most children struggle at some point in their education and most children do not have learning disabilities (it has been reported that only about 5% of students have a specific LD, such as dyslexia).  A specific learning disability is defined as a disorder in one or more of the psychological processes involved in understanding or using spoken or written language.  The disorder cannot be the result of a visual, hearing, or motor handicap, mental retardation, emotional disturbance, or an environmental disadvantage (such as poverty).  Children with a specific LDs are not cognitively impaired.  As a teacher, I often hear parents say, “I don’t understand why so and so is struggling, they’re so smart.”  My usually response is, ” You’re right, they are smart!”

So… how do you know if your child is just struggling or if they have a learning disability?  Special educators look for the student that is not achieving as expected in one or more of the following areas:  oral expression, written expression, basic reading skills, reading fluency skills, reading comprehension, listening comprehension, mathematical calculation, and mathematical problem solving.

Special educators will ask themselves many questions about a students that is suspected of having a specific learning disability as they observe them in a classroom setting.  While some students without a LD may have some of these characteristics, students with an LD will have many of these characteristics.  If you are concerned that your child may have a specific learning disability, here is what to ask yourself :

  • Are their language skills (oral, reading, listening, and writing skills) age appropriate?
  • Do they have difficulty regulating their speech?  [For example: Do they talk too loud or too soft? Do they use a lot of fillers (umm, you know, etc.)?]
  • Do they have trouble naming people or objects?
  • Do they often mispronounce words?
  • Do they have difficulty staying on topic?
  • Do they have difficulty re-telling what has just been said?
  • Do they or did they have difficulty rhyming?
  • Do they or did they have difficulty counting?
  • Do they avoid reading and  writing?
  • Do they or did they confuse similar-looking letters and numbers? or often reverse letters and numbers?
  • Do they or did they have difficulty associating letters and sounds and blending sounds into words?
  • Do they, while reading, guess at a word rather than sound it out?
  • Do they have illegible, or nearly illegible, hand writing?
  • Do they have difficulty understanding instructions or directions?
  • Do they find it almost impossible to organize a task or activity?
  • Do they have difficulty sustaining attention(or is easily distracted) in work and/or play?  and/or lack self-control at times?
  • Do they have difficulty ‘joining in’ with peers? and/or not respond appropriately to others?
  • Do they appear awkward or clumsy?  and/or have trouble with buttons, learning to tie, or holding a pencil?

If you notice many of these characteristics in your struggling child, you may want to ask that an educational evaluation (or core evaluation)  be done as soon as possible.  For more advice on how to request an evaluation, see my earlier post entitled:

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

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.