Tag Archives: qualifying for sped

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.

Emotional and Behavioral Disorders and Special Education

20 Jul

Some children have disabilities that affect their ability to behave in the expected way while at school.  For some of these students, their educational performance is affected and they may qualify for special education.   A child with an emotional and/or a behavioral disorder (EBD) that qualifies for special education will have special protections given to them that other students will not have.  If you suspect that your child may have EBD, or they have already been diagnosed, you may want to think about getting them qualified* for special education services to protect them.  Without a special education (sped) qualification, some students with EBD will be punished for behavior that it out of their control.  Some students are even suspended or expelled from school for their behaviors.  Most parents do not want to see their child miss out on their education because they have a disability, but are unsure how special education professionals can help their child.

Some children with EBD have externalizing behaviors.  This is acting out behavior that gets them into trouble with authority figures.  A child that is receiving sped services will not be able to be suspended for more than 10 days in a school year, or expelled, without a hearing to decide if the behavior is a result of their disability.  Also, if your child’s disorder becomes too acute for the school to handle, the school will have to place them in another educational setting. Other children have internalizing behaviors.  These are behaviors directed at themselves, such as feelings of self-hatred, depression, or suicidal thoughts.  Most schools have professionals on staff that can help students deal with these kinds of behaviors while at school. If the school cannot help the sped student with internalizing behaviors with the resources they have, the school will have to offer an alternative educational placement.

What children with EBD qualify* for special education?

Students must have a behavioral or emotional disturbance that will last over a long period and to a degree that it is affecting their ability to achieve at school.  What this means is that if a child experiences an emotional shock (such as a death of a parent) and begins to act out, they would probably not qualify for sped because they haven’t been experiencing the disturbance over a long time and the effects of the shock may improve.  Also, the disturbance must be severe enough that is affecting the students ability to do well in school.  For example, a student that is mildly depressed may have some difficulties, such as a poor self-image, but they may not be severe enough for them to need special services while at school.  Here are 5 factors that will qualify a child with EBD for sped services:

1.  Low academic achievement that cannot be explained by another reason (such as a learning disability)

2.  Low social skills (can’t keep up relationships with peers and teachers)

3.  Unexpected behavior in normal circumstances

4.  Depression or pervasive unhappiness

5.  Fear and anxiety associated with school issues

Specific illnesses that qualify children with EBD are:  attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD), anxiety disorder, schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), oppositional defiance disorder (ODD), depression, and bipolar disorder.

*For more information about qualifying your child for special education, see earlier posts.

What is a Core Evaluation? (Educational Evaluation Description)

12 Jul

These are the components of a comprehensive educational evaluation (or core evaluation). Of course, not every student would be given all of these individual evaluations, but a good evaluation should produce a complete profile of your child as a learner and include more than one assessment. I believe that each student that is suspected of having special educational needs deserves to have a comprehensive evaluation that looks at each area of suspected need in an in depth way. I do not believe that adequate educational plans can be written without a complete learning profile of each student evaluated. A learning profile shows a child’s learning strengths and weakness and details ways in which your child would learn information best.

Here is a list of what a comprehensive educational evaluation could include:

History of the Student This section of the evaluation should include the results of previous testing and instructional approaches tried with the student. Information should be gathered from a review of the student’s records, such as cumulative folder, report cards, and standardized testing scores. Information should also be included about the child’s health and development, such as was the child born prematurely and did they reach developmental milestones at the expected ages.

Language Evaluation This section of the evaluation should include the results of testing in all the areas of language: reading, writing, listening, and speaking. Reading areas that should be tested are phonemic awareness, phonological processing, phonics, and reading comprehension. A writing evaluation should include spelling, handwriting, sentence organization and cohesion, and conventions. A listening (or receptive language) evaluation would include following directions and listening comprehension tests. A speech and language evaluation would look at the student’s ability to correctly make sounds and say words and their ability express themselves in a variety of situations.

Math Evaluation A math evaluation measures a student’s mathematical reasoning skills and their number concepts and intuition. A math assessment would look at the following areas: number sense, functional and applied mathematical skills, problem solving, calculation, and the meaning and relationship of algorithms.

Cognitive Evaluation This area of the evaluation would measure the student’s brain functions and assess their potential to learn new skills and information. Areas that may be assessed are working memory, executive function, visual-spatial processing, problem solving, pattern recognition, abstract reasoning, and intellectual ability.

Emotional/Behavioral Evaluation This part of the evaluation would include information about the child’s emotional state, self-concept, and ability to maintain expected behavior and adherence to the rules of school. Areas that may be assessed are anxiety, attention span, hyperactivity or arousal level, impulsivity or self-control, defiant or non-compliant behavior, and depression.

Health Evaluation This evaluation would be included if a student is suspected of having a health-related issue that is effecting their ability to access the curriculum. The student’s pediatrician or a specialist in the area of concern usually does this evaluation. Types of health evaluations that can be done are vision or hearing evaluations, neurology, respiratory, or developmental.

Occupational or Physical Therapy Evaluations These types of evaluation are done is a student is suspected of having a delay or disability in the area of fine motor (such as tasks involving the use of the hands) or gross motor skills (such as tasks involving the use of the legs and feet). More increasingly, occupational therapy evaluations are including sensory integration assessments that measure a student’s under-reactiveness or over-reactiveness to sensory stimuli.

Good luck and remember that a good educational evaluation should produce a profile of your child’s learning strengths and weakness, as well as the ways in which they would learn best.

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*****

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.