Tag Archives: special needs children

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?”

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.


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.”

What is LRE? (Least Restrictive Environment)

2 Jun

Text from the Massachusetts DOE/FCSP publication “A parent’s guide to Special Education”

LEAST RESTRICTIVE ENVIRONMENT

The federal law, IDEA, mandates that students with disabilities must be educated with their non-disabled peers to the maximum extent appropriate based on the student’s needs. This is known as the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE). The Team (including the parent) determines the placement that the student needs to provide the services on the student’s IEP and the Team must choose the least restrictive environment able to provide those services. This means that the student should attend the school he or she would attend if non-disabled, unless the Team determines that the nature of the student’s disability will not allow that student to have a successful educational experience in that environment.

FAPE and LRE are closely tied together. Both federal and Massachusetts special education laws require that a Team consider appropriate education in the least restrictive environment. In order to help your child be successful, the Team must carefully consider whether supplemental aids and services and specialized instruction could make it possible for your child to be educated with non-disabled peers. If services can be appropriately provided in a less restrictive setting, the Team must choose that type of program and setting. If the student’s program requires a more restrictive setting to be successful, then the Team may consider other settings. The Team should look class by class, activity by activity, and only remove your child from the general education classrooms if, and only if, supplemental aids and services would not make it possible for the student to remain in that classroom and make effective progress.

Determination of the LRE is based on your child’s IEP, not on a diagnosis or specific disability label. This determination must be made individually and carefully. Students cannot be placed in separate or more restrictive environments only because they require modification of the curriculum. It is important to remember that Teams do not have to choose between specialized help for a student and inclusion of that student in the general education classroom; students are entitled to both. After the Team has developed the IEP and understands the needs and goals for your child, then the Team will determine the most appropriate setting for your child’s services. LRE is an integral part of the placement determination.

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

31 May

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

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

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

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

Assessment:   An assessment is an evaluation or test.

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

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

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

DOE:   Department of Education

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

FAPE:  Free Appropriate Public Education

FBA: Functional Behavioral Assessment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SLP:  Speech and Language Pathologist