Tag Archives: Referrals 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.

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.

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

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*****