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5 Tips for a Successful IEP Meeting

Attending your child’s IEP meeting can be a stressful and complex process. Whether you are new to the process or have previously attended IEP meetings, here are some helpful tips to make sure your child is getting appropriate services within the school setting: Blog-IEP-Meetings-Main-Landscape

  1. Understand what your child’s educational disability is. There are 13 different disabilities with specific criteria that must be met. Ask your IEP team members to explain what criteria your child met in order to receive their educational disability.
  2. Ask questions and state your feelings. It can be intimidating to sit around a table with educational professionals. Remember that school service providers have your child’s best interest in mind and want to ensure that you understand the paperwork involved in an IEP meeting. If you do not understand something — ask!
  3. Make sure the school service provider explains the goals for the IEP. Goals should be written based on data, and should be measurable so that you can see whether your child is meeting expected growth targets.
  4. Ask for (and understand) any accommodations listed on the IEP. There may be many accommodations provided to your child, but they should be applicable to what your child needs to succeed in the school setting.
  5. Remember that an IEP is a fluid document. It can be changed and revised as your child develops and their needs change. You can request to have an IEP meeting at any time to address concerns.

Receiving the appropriate services and accommodations can increase your child’s opportunity for your child’s success at school. However, some children need additional support outside the school setting. Mental health professionals can provide services that help your child understand and develop skills to use in all areas of their life — at home, in school, and in the community.

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Deerfield, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Mequon! If you have any questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140!

Social Work

IEP Legal Rights

This guest blog was written by Sandra Strassman-Alperstein.

As a special education attorney, I am often asked by parents of children with autism about their children’s legal rights at school. Fundamentally, children with autism are entitled to the same Blog-IEP Rights-Main-Landscapeeducational rights as other children with disabilities, namely FAPE (free appropriate public education).  What constitutes “appropriate” education is at the crux of many special education disputes regarding students with autism as well as other students with disabilities.

Let’s take Michael, a boy with autism severe  on the spectrum. Michael is 10 years old. He is not yet toilet trained. Michael demonstrates unsafe behaviors at school, such as self-injury, violence toward peers and staff, and elopement (running). Michael is rapidly becoming a danger to himself and others at school.

At Michael’s IEP meeting, the district recommends Michael’s current self-contained life skills classroom with a student/teacher ratio of 6:1. While many of the goals appear to be appropriate, Michael has made no progress this year. But we know Michael can learn in a 1:1 setting because he has made good progress with a private tutor at home. Also, the proposed IEP contains no goal for toileting skills, which are critical life skills, and no behavior intervention plan (BIP) to keep Michael and others safe when he displays unsafe behaviors.

What types of questions should Michael’s parents be asking at the IEP meeting? I’d suggest questions designed to elicit how the team proposes to educate Michael safely and appropriately, and how the proposed IEP is designed to accomplish this.

Let’s start with Michael’s present levels of performance in the IEP. Are they based on current data, and are they accurate reflections of Michael’s current abilities? How about his goals: do they address all areas of deficit? (For instance, the proposed IEP does not address Michael’s lack of toileting skills and unsafe behaviors – goals will need to be added to cover these areas.) Are the proposed goals reasonable given Michael’s present levels of performance? Are they SMART goals? (SMART goals, according to Pete Wright, are goals which are specific, measurable, use action words, are realistic and relevant, and are time-limited. (See http://www.wrightslaw.com/info/iep.goals.plan.htm#sthash.HUUaBQ3V.dpuf.) What about the proposed services – are they sufficient to allow Michael to achieve his IEP goals?

Now let’s examine Michael’s proposed placement (the 6:1 life skills classroom). Is this classroom appropriate for Michael, or does he need a smaller class setting with more adult supervision and structure? Michael clearly needs a BIP – can an appropriate plan be implemented in the proposed placement, or should the team be recommending a therapeutic day setting or even a residential placement for Michael?

Now take the case of Michelle, a 10 year old girl with what used to be called Asperger’s Syndrome (AS), a form of high-functioning autism (AS was eliminated as a separate diagnosis in the DSM-V that was recently released; however, it remains a useful descriptive term). Michelle can read and write, her grades are good, and she does not display unsafe behaviors in school. However, Michelle demonstrates social skills deficits that impact her in school: she sits alone at lunch, does not seek out friends or engage in reciprocal conversations, and often misreads social cues, causing conflicts with both peers and staff. Other students are starting to tease her and call her “weird.” This causes Michelle to withdraw socially, and sometimes to shut down and refuse to do her work in class. Michelle is beginning to develop a negative self-image, as she has been observed to say “I am dumb” or “I am weird” at least several times a day in school.

Because Michelle – like Michael – has autism, the team proposes the same self-contained life skills 6:1 classroom. However, it should be clear that while both children have autism, their needs are nothing alike.

Both Michael and Michelle have the right to be educated in the LRE (least restrictive environment). However, what that will look like is very different for each of these children. For Michael, it is very possible (even likely) that the self-contained public school classroom will not be restrictive enough; for Michelle, it is likely to be too restrictive. (The LRE is the setting in which the student has maximum access to typical peers, but in which the child can be appropriately educated. Thus, what constitutes the LRE will vary from child to child.)

So in Michelle’s case, the parents should be asking similar questions regarding present levels (are they accurate?), goals (do they cover all areas of deficit – such as social/emotional needs – and are they SMART goals?), services (are they sufficient to enable Michelle to meet her goals?), and placement (is the self-contained classroom the LRE for Michelle when she is able to progress in the general education setting?).

What these examples demonstrate is that different children have different needs, regardless of an autism diagnosis/label. The fact is, as the saying goes, if you’ve met one kid with autism, you’ve met one kid with autism.

For each child, parents should critically examine the key elements of the proposed IEP, namely:

  1. Present levels of performance (are they based on data and do they accurately reflect the child’s current performance?);
  2. Goals (are they SMART goals that address all areas of deficit?);
  3. Services (are they sufficient and tailored to meet the child’s unique needs to enable the child to progress toward the goals?)
  4. Placement (is it the LRE?)

Parents are their children’s best advocates. They are the experts on their child and have much to contribute to the IEP team. Hopefully this information will help parents fulfill their critical roles in their children’s education.

Sandra Strassman-Alperstein holds a B.A. in English from the University of Florida and a J.D. from the University of Chicago Law School (cum laude 1990). More importantly, Sandy is the mom of four wonderful kids, three of whom have received special education services in the public school setting via IEPs and 504s. Sandy has been practicing special education law & advocacy for the past 15 years and is an active volunteer on the national, state, and local levels. Sandy’s website is http://www.spedlaw4kids.com.

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Deerfield, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Mequon! If you have any questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140!

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IEP Meetings From a Mom’s Perspective

I have worked for North Shore Pediatric Therapy for more than two years in the marketing department. I thought I was familiar with the many challenges families go through with their children, Blog-IEP-Meetings-Main-Landscapehowever, the idea of going through “the IEP process” never crossed my mind, until I had to.

When my son started kindergarten, we had some concerns about certain behaviors, but honestly really thought they were only phases. A few weeks into the school year as they began practicing drills, he had a severe panic attack requiring help from the school social worker. At that time, his teacher recommended he begin seeing the social worker more frequently and that led to our process of seeking a full evaluation to really understand him.

He was evaluated by Dr. Greg Stasi at NSPT and given a diagnosis of Anxiety Disorder and Sensory Processing Disorder. It was then that we were faced with the dreadful IEP meetings. I had heard so many stories of hardship parents faced when fighting for their child’s needs. As a result, I went into the process expecting a fight, and boy would they get one if necessary because in my mind, nothing was going to come between my child getting the help he needed.

Because of my job, I am fortunate enough to have access to excellent professionals and resources, who understand the IEP process, and who helped me prepare for the initial IEP meeting. I was ready for that day. And you know what happened? I didn’t have to fight. I was so fortunate to have a wonderful team wanting and willing to give my son everything he needed to succeed. Everything I was prepared to fight for was already part of their plan, too.

I know this isn’t typical, and so many families struggle to get their child’s needs met.

Here are some tips, from a mom’s perspective on how to approach IEP meetings to get what you, and your child, need:

  1. Be prepared. Those same resources I have access to because of my job…guess what? YOU have access to those same things! NSPT has so many blogs and infographics to help you begin your journey. Having a full neuropsych evaluation is a real plus as it lends a direction for goal development and is appreciated by the district staff.
  2. Be understanding. Understand that those on the other side of the table really do want to help. Often they are restricted by legal mandates. So you may find that there are questions you ask where they can’t fully answer.
  3. Ask questions. Don’t be afraid to ask any and all questions you have in order to understand each element being addressed. It goes fast. And they use a lot of terms you don’t recognize. Stop them and ask.
  4. Bring help. Don’t be afraid to bring outside support, such as a school advocate, to help speak on your behalf. They know the rules and can help you “fight.”
  5. Don’t sign the plan if you are not happy. You will be asked to sign the plan at the end. If you are not comfortable, don’t do it, unless it’s on the condition that you are requesting another meeting to go over the details again to re-write the goals.
  6. Hold Accountability. As the school year continues, don’t be afraid to check in on the team, the therapists, and the teacher to ensure all accommodations are being met.

Be the voice. Remember, you are your child’s voice. Don’t be afraid to speak up.

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Deerfield, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Mequon! If you have any questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140!

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The Best School Routine For Kids With ADHD

One of the hallmark features of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a lack of organization and difficulty with self-initiation and time management.  With the beginning of a new school year, it is important that there be an emphasis on establishing daily routines and structure for these children. Below are some strategies to implement prior to the start of the school year to make routines common.

School Routine For Kids With ADHD:

  1. Setting a structured morning with specific routines is important.  Give the child School Schedules For Kids With ADHDownership by allowing him or her to have a say as to what should be part of the morning routine as well as the order of importance for daily tasks.  Use a visual schedule, consisting of either a white board or paper, in which the morning routine steps are clearly indicated.  Depending upon age, have the child start taking ownership of the daily routines by crossing them off the schedule when they are completed.
  2. Try to establish a structured schedule for the day.  First thing in the morning, sit down the child to go over what daily events are to happen that day.  Then have the events printed on a separate visual schedule.  This gives the child a key to go back to when needed to see what daily expectations are.  The child can also again take ownership by scratching off the completed tasks.
  3. Changes with routine will happen.  Even the most structured and rigorous individuals cannot anticipate all possible changes and events.  Always try to prepare the child as soon as possible when there is a change with the daily routine.  Try to have the change updated on the visual schedule so that there is a structured ‘change.’

Preparing for the structured school day should not have to wait until the first day of school.  Try to keep structure and routine as part of the child’s day to day life to ensure a smooth transition into the school year.

ADHD Resource Center

NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

How to Qualify for Physical Therapy Services at School

North Shore Pediatric Therapy recently hosted our first IEP bootcamp, where our school advocate explained how to get the most out of your child’s IEP and school services. Similarly, children can receive physical therapy services at school. Here is a breakdown of how a child would qualify for physical therapy services in a school system and the differences between physical therapy services in a school and physical therapy services in a private setting.

How is Physical Therapy Included in School Services?

Through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), public education must be accessible toHow to Get Physical Therapy Services in School all children aged 3-21 years old[i]. Physical therapy is a related service used to help implement IDEA. School-based physical therapy must be aimed towards allowing the child to access his educational environment. Some of the things a school-based physical therapist might assess include travel from one area of the school to another, getting onto and off of the bus, safely navigating the bathroom and cafeteria, getting into and out of classroom chairs, and participation in all classes. They will assess independence, safety, and timeliness of the above areas in determining need for physical therapy services.

The Role of the IEP:

If parents, teachers, or students determine a need in the student accessing the school environment, an IEP referral is made.  This begins the process for school-based services. A physical therapist employed by the school district or contracted through an outside agency will evaluate the child and determine eligibility. In Illinois, the physical therapist is required to obtain a prescription for physical therapy from the child’s physician prior to treatment. However, physical therapy services must be provided at no cost to the family when deemed necessary.

Clinic-Based vs. School-Based Physical Therapy:

Clinic-based physical therapy is aimed at improving quality of movement, return to function, and achieving gross motor milestones in an age-appropriate time frame. Many children who would benefit from physical therapy services, but don’t qualify for school-based services due to the restrictions, attend private clinics for physical therapy services. In these settings, a physical therapist determines need based on standardized assessments, functional assessments, strength and range of motion testing, and compares these scores to age-appropriate norms. Some things that may qualify a child for outpatient physical therapy but not school-based physical therapy include gait abnormalities (including toe-walking and in-toeing), developmental coordination disorder, decreased endurance and overall weakness, hypotonia, foot pain, sports injuries, burns, etc. In Illinois, the physical therapist is required to obtain a prescription for physical therapy from the child’s physician prior to treatment. Physical therapy services in an outpatient setting must be covered through insurance or private pay.

Dependent on your child’s needs, physical therapy services may be required in a school setting, in an outpatient setting, or both. If you have any concerns about your child’s gross motor development or access to services in their school district, please contact the professionals at NSPT.

north shore pediatric therapy physical therapy

NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

[i] Fact Sheet. Providing Physical Therapy in Schools Under IDEA 2004. www.pediatricapta.org. 2009. Accessed 07/14/2015.

ADHD and School Success

ADHD and School Success

Even though it feels like summer has just begun for many in the Chicago area, it is not too early to begin preparing for success in the upcoming school year. We all want our children to be successful in school, especially those children with challenges with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

Below are some helpful tips to prepare your child with ADHD for back to school time:

  • Review your child’s IEP or 504 Plan. Take a look at the current plan and consider which goals were met andADHD and School Success which areas still need to be addressed (click here for more on how to have a successful IEP meeting).
  • Organize school systems together. Head out to an office-supply store (with your child) and check out different ways to help your child with organization and time management. Be open-minded to trying different approaches.
  • Stock up on school supplies. Have fun picking out some of the child’s favorite items as well as some of the supplies you anticipate they may need (poster board, pens, protractors, etc.).
  • Consider this year’s after-school activities. Talk to the child about interests and activities for the school year. Build on what your child has done in the past and what activities they want to try.  Be creative and encourage him to not only try activities that enhance proven skills, but also ones he finds challenging.
  • Find a tutor or homework helper. If you foresee some areas of struggle reach out now for people to assist in the fall.
  • Make a calendar. In order to give your child a sense of control and have him more engaged in the process, talk about daily, weekly and monthly schedules.
  • Set goals together. Brainstorm goals for school. Focus on strengths and challenges.  Make goals attainable in order to empower the child.
  • Focus on the positive aspects of heading back to school. Discuss the areas your child is interested or excited about with regards to returning to school.
  • HAVE FUN! Make sure to spend quality time with your child this summer. Talk to them about their feelings about returning to school.  What are they looking forward to most? What fears or anxiety do they have?

Click here to read 8 ways to ease homework time stress.

ADHD Resource Center

NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

How to Have a Successful IEP Meeting

How to Have a Successful IEP Meeting

Do you approach IEP meetings with fear and dread?  Here are some quick IEP reminders to improve the process AND your confidence.

How to Have a Successful IEP Meeting:

  • EVERY child can learn and make progress.How to Have a Successful IEP Meeting
  • The “I” in IEP stands for individualized. Your child’s IEP must reflect your child.
  • Special Education is NOT a place. Special Education is the supports and services your child receives through his or her IEP.
  • On the IEP, Placement is NOT a location. Placement is the amount of time spent with special education services.
  • As you prepare for the meeting think about:
    • What has been accomplished?
    • What has worked well?
    • What needs more work?
    • What are my concerns? What are my child’s concerns?
  • Check the meeting notice. Make sure you know who is attending and their role in the process. If there is someone surprising on the list (such as a social worker when your child doesn’t receive social work services, call the case manager to find out the purpose of the person’s attendance).
  • Create a vision statement for your child’s life both now and for the future. Work backwards to determine what he needs to accomplish this school year in order to meet the long-term goals.
  • Gather supporting documents such as private evaluations, therapist notes, research-based articles relevant to your child’s situation, etc.
  • Determine if someone will be attending with you such as a private therapist, evaluator and/or advocate. If you are bringing someone, inform the school as soon as possible.
  • Ask for a draft copy of the IEP. Review it in relation to the past IEP(s) and determine if the goals are moving in an appropriate direction. Make a list of questions, concerns and suggestions.
  • The IEP should be specific, detailed and easily understandable by anyone – even to someone who is not a member of the current IEP Team.
  • Statements about your child’s Present Level of Academic Achievement and Functional Performance are critical parts of the IEP. They must be based on quantified data and be very specific.
  • Goals need to be logical, measurable, and relevant to your child, and based on data.
  • IEP teams should strive to reach a consensus. There is NO voting!
  • Stay focused. Don’t get sidetracked.
  • Ask for a break if you need one.
  • Lack of money and/or other resources does not exempt a school district from providing what a child needs.
  • Don’t leave the meeting without a copy of your child’s IEP and the District’s notes.
  • After the meeting, review the IEP notes and submit additional notes and/or corrections if the school notes do not reflect everything that was said and/or if they misrepresent what was said.
  • If you are unhappy with decisions that have been made, take steps to continue working with the school to ensure your child’s needs are being adequately addressed.

NSPT offers school advocacy services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

school advocate

How to Choose the Right School Advocate for Your Child

Have you heard the phrase “Free Appropriate Public Education?” If you have a school-aged child with special needs, most likely you have.  This is because a FREE and APPROPRIATE education is guaranteed by law.  Sometimes, however, this is easier said than done.  Although it’s relatively simple to learn the laws and understand your rights, obtaining appropriate services, goals, accommodations, modifications, placement, and an adequate ongoing education is often much more difficult.  The process can be frustrating, overwhelming, confusing, and time-consuming.

That is why many parents choose to work with a School Advocate.  They feel that it “levels the playing field” and that they have a much better chance ensuring that their children’s needs will be met.   How, though, does one go about choosing an effective School Advocate?  There are several important items to consider when choosing an Advocate that will be most effective for your child and your situation.  The first is that ANYONE can call themselves an “Advocate”. There is no certification or licensure or specialized education needed to be a special education advocate. This is why it is extremely important to ensure that your Advocate is knowledgeable and experienced.

Following are some key questions and thoughts to consider when choosing your School Advocate:

  1. In order to effectively advocate for your child, the Advocate needs a solidschool advocate understanding of the law. School teams often use terms you might not be familiar with and reference “law” that may or may not be accurate.  An experienced Advocate can provide you with explanations, accurate information and be able to counter the school’s arguments when they are telling you things that might not be true, might not be the whole truth, or when they fail to tell you all of the options.
  2. An effective Advocate understands school systems, teaching methods, curriculum, and interventions. She knows how to measure your child’s progress in school and how to use this information when developing the IEP.
  3. An effective Advocate understands and can interpret evaluation scores. Although school staff will tell you their interpretation, it is always wise to have an expert independently review the results.  A qualified Advocate can review all the data and explain to you what they mean, how they apply to your child, and for which services your child may or may not be entitled based on those results.  An effective Advocate is the link between the evaluation and your IEP team.
  4. The IEP is the hallmark feature of your child’s programming and should to be written by someone who thoroughly understands each aspect of this document. A qualified special education Advocate will be able to review the IEP, section-by-section, and provide you with a detailed list of suggestions to improve the IEP in order to meet your child’s needs.  Are the baseline data adequate to write the goals?  Are the goals meaningful and supported by the data?  Are there sufficient goals to ensure progress? Are your parent concerns written in a manner that truly reflect what you stated?  Are your child’s needs properly identified?  Is your child being provided ample services to address the goals?  Are the specialists providing enough “minutes” to meet your child’s needs?  Are the accommodations and modifications appropriate?  An experienced Advocate can also analyze the IEP in relation to past IEPs and evaluation data and provide you with an informative summary that will help you know if your child’s services are progressing in a manner this is truly adequate and supportive.
  5. An effective Advocate will educate and empower you to become a better advocate for your child. She will teach you how to plan and prepare for meetings, how to ask questions to get the information you need, how to write effective emails and letters, and how to navigate the process.  A well-trained Advocate will also help you know when you need advice from an Attorney.
  6. An effective Advocate can take the emotion out of the process.  She should be able to remain calm…and not be too aggressive or too timid.  An Advocate should be able to diplomatically handle conflict in a way that helps you feel comfortable throughout the process while ensuring that your child has everything necessary to receive a Free Appropriate Public Education.

Click here to learn more about School Advocacy at North Shore Pediatric Therapy.

NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

How To Be Your Therapy Client’s Best Advocate

As a speech-language pathologist working in an outpatient clinic you are offered a unique and wonderful opportunity to become a major influence in a child’s life. Attending therapy on a weekly basis can be challenging for families, as schedules quickly get filled with work responsibilities or extracurricular activities. The time that any therapist gets with their clients is precious and important, and you want to cram in as much work and practice as possible. Within a busy work day, full of children and therapy sessions, it is important to remember that your responsibility to your clients goes far beyond your 45 minute session. As a speech-language pathologist you are not only a child’s therapist and hopefully new friend, but you are also your therapy client’s best advocate in helping them to succeed.

How to Advocate for Your Therapy Client:how to be your therapy client's best advocate

  • Understand your client. The first step to helping your client succeed is to gain a thorough understanding of that child’s development and his or her background – How does this child learn best? What is your family’s goal with therapy?, etc. A child is much more than a single diagnosis. By getting to know your client as an individual you will have a better understanding of how to help them reach their goals.
  • Understand the treatment plan. Just as it is important for you to understand your client’s background, it is equally important for you to help parents in fully understanding your treatment plan. In the health care field there is an alphabet soup of acronyms and vocabulary. By educating your client’s family, they can be better involved in treatment and will also be more equip to advocate for their child’s needs in other environments.
  • Get familiar with a child’s Individual’s Education Program (IEP) Document. This is a document required for children who are deemed eligible for special services within the school system, and will outline a child’s current level of performance, as well as direct the services and supports that are necessary for that student to succeed. Evaluate the IEP to see if it accurately reflects the needs of your client. You can act as a second pair of eyes for your families to help them ensure that their child is receiving the services and support that is necessary.

When being an advocate for your client, focus on his or her strengths. Often health care professionals rely too heavily on diagnoses that outline deficits rather than abilities. When writing reports or giving feedback, let parents know what their child is doing well at. Create a therapy plan that will build upon a child’s strengths, rather than simple focus on his or her weaknesses. Imagine how draining it would be to hear week to week what you are doing poorly at. By adding positivity into a treatment plan you are recognizing that your client has the potential to succeed and that he or she will reach their goals.

NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

504 or IEP

504 Plan or IEP: Which Is the Best Vehicle for Your Child?

 

 

Today’s guest blog by Pam Labellarte, Special Education Advocate,  explains how to navigate accommodations plans when your child receives a diagnosis.

Before we can even address the question of whether a 504 plan or an IEP is the best vehicle for your child, we need to unravel the process required to get your child identified as a student with educational needs that cannot be addressed through the general curriculum, without support of additional accommodations and/or services.

Your Child Has a Diagnosis, Now What?

You get the news from your child’s teacher, your pediatrician or after your child has been evaluated by a neuropsychologist…your child has a disability. Maybe it’s a Learning Disability, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), or any one of several other disabilities that is limiting your child’s academic progress. Your first inclination is to ensure your child is provided whatever supports are necessary to maximize his potential. But, you are at a loss as where to begin. If your child’s teacher has not taken any further action, the first step is to connect with your school district’s Special Education Director/Coordinator. The initial request for consideration for services should be a letter hand delivered, sent certified mail or an email with a letter attached.

The “Special Education Maze”:

You are now about to enter what is often called “the Special Education Maze”. Understand, Special Education is NOT a PLACE. Special education services are driven by the needs of the individual child. Therefore they are delivered in a variety of places, sometimes within the classroom and other times outside the classroom in a smaller setting. It is critical that the initial and any future contact with the school district be documented in writing. This means documenting any important verbal conversations that occur between you and the school district staff, with an email confirming the conversation. By law, once a school district receives written requests from a parent regarding special education, they are required to respond within specific timelines, hence, the importance of written documentation.

Important Steps to Take to Receive Special Education Services:

Upon receipt of your written request for consideration of special education services for your child, the school district is required to respond to you in writing within 14 school days whether they believe your child should be evaluated. If they agree, a meeting will be scheduled to identify specific areas to be evaluated. Often referred to as the “Domain Meeting”, it the place where the school team and the parents review the major areas or “domains” to be evaluated, such as achievement, cognitive, communication, etc. The Domain Meeting is one of the most important meetings you in which you will ever participate, because you and the school team will determine which areas need to be evaluated and how (formal evaluations, informal assessments, observation, review of records, etc.). In order for the process to continue you have to provide “informed consent”, agreeing to allow the specific evaluations/observations to be conducted only after you understand what information they will provide. If a critical area is not addressed it may negatively impact the services provided to your child.

Developing the IEP:

Once you have provided consent, the school staff has 60 school days to complete all evaluations and observations, publish their findings and conduct an eligibility meeting. Most parents do not realize they can request that the draft reports be provided in advance of the eligibility meeting (three school days prior is sufficient time). If you wait to review the reports at the meeting, how can you hear the information (much of it foreign to you), digest what you have heard and then make “informed” decisions about your child’s programming? Once your child is found eligible the school district has 30 days to develop and implement an Individual Education Plan (IEP).

IEP or 504 Plan?

What if your school district has responded to your request in writing that they do not believe that your child has a disability requiring special education services provided under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). But, they are willing to consider developing a 504 Plan to provide accommodations to your child. Would a 504 Plan be appropriate? How do they differ? Which would provide your child the most appropriate support?

Click here for a Section 504 and IDEA Comparison Chart (obtained from the National Center for Learning Disabilities) that provides details regarding the differences in the two laws. Don’t make any quick decisions until you understand the basic difference between the two educational programs.

Click here to view the webinar: Getting the Best IEP for Your Child!