Your Child Has A Learning Disability. So What's Next?
A common scenario might be the student is struggling in school, maybe refusing to do assigned work, perhaps does the work and constantly forgets to turn it in, or maybe the student is so disruptive in class the teacher is constantly calling home with ill reports. As a parent you wonder what is happening. How did your child go from a happy enthusiastic first grader to a disruptive, school skipping ninth grader? Larry Silver, M.D. and Ruth Spodak, Ph.D. answer these and other questions regarding what options are available for the student and what parents can legally ask for and obtain from public schools in an article found on LDonline. What do you do if you Suspect That Your Child has a Learning Disability? (n.d.), gives parents step by step advice and notes the regulations associated with IDEA. The first piece of advice Silver and Spodak offer is parents and teachers should never put the blame on the students. Instead careful analysis as to the cause of the difficulty is warranted. Ascertaining the epicenter of the student’s learning difficulty requires assessment and or evaluation procedures. Silver & Spodak (2007) discuss the type of assessment for educational issues, termed a “psycho-educational” evaluation. When a broader range of brain function is suspected to be involved a “neuro-psychological” evaluation would be administered. However, prior to any evaluation IDEA suggests a processed called Response to Intervention (RTI) be planned and implemented. Primarily designed for grade school students this approach begins with the teacher trying additional strategies designed to help the student learn. If the student does not make the necessary progress, the next step is to bring in another teacher specializing in the areas of deficit for the student. After failing to be able to document progress using the first two strategies, an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) would be developed for the student. Although the information provided is factual and somewhat helpful, the wary parent may still not know exactly what to do. Silver & Spodak continue to offer step by step recommendations with the hope of assisting parents to make the effort to go and see the child’s principal and explain concerns about the difficulty the child is having in school. Following that meeting, the principal should hold a meeting with relevant special education professionals to discuss the concerns. The group may or may not agree with the parents. In this case Silver & Spodak cite two remaining options, (1) the parents can hire an outside professional to do the testing or (2) ask the school about an appeal process. Parents opting to have the testing done by an outside party should give a copy of the results to the school for review.
Hypothesizing the school agrees testing is necessary a psycho-educational evaluation well most likely be done. According to Silver & Spodak, this battery of testing will determine, “your child’s overall abilities, particularly learning style, information processing abilities, and academic skills” (p.2). Portions of the tests measure students academic skills in reading, written language and math. The overall evaluation process may be a combination of informal and formal testing and students should be tested under timed and untimed circumstances. Parents might expect to fill out interview questionnaires or surveys and the student may be pulled out of class or observed by professionals during class. An occupational, speech or mental health therapist might be added to the assessment team. Concluding the work of the evaluation process, a meeting will be held to go over the evaluation results. Parents are often overwhelmed by the numbers or scoring information and presentation. Silver & Spodak explain how the professional should sit down with the parents and make clear what the results mean as well as what strengths and weaknesses emerged. Once the parents understand the areas which the child needs specialized instruction in and agree to services provided by the school district, another meeting will be called to determine the goals and action plan.
The plan of action depends on the scores from the testing criteria and how much assistance the team feels the student will need to be successful. Silver & Spodak describe the 504 plan which emanates from a federal law basically designed to require employers to make the workplace accessible to persons with disabilities. A Section of 504 Law is an anti-discriminatory policy law that relates to public schools because schools receive federal funding. This law is more about accommodations and modification rather than specially designed instruction. A 504 plan might include things like having the student sit at the front of the class, using a computer to produce written work, using a calculator to do math and receive additional time to finish tests or complete assignments.
The alternative plan is usually more detailed and as Silver & Spodak informs the plan requires the entire team meet, decide on appropriate goals and objectives including the time allotted for each service. Additionally, defining where and when the services will take place must be stated. This detailed information is put into a contract and signed by all parties. The contract is called, “Individualized Education Program.”
According to Silver & Spodak, an IEP is generally designed to last for one year’s time. Over the course of the IEP year the professionals and parents should monitor the student’s progress. At the end of the contract year the team must have already met and decided on revisions to the initial document.
The public schools system struggles to comply with federal regulations regarding the protections of the rights of students with disabilities defined under IDEA. One reason submitted is the seemingly explosion of students qualifying for special educations services as Learning Disabled as mentioned by Heward (2009). Parents have a struggle of their own when they suspect a beloved child to be learning disabled. As Silver and Spovak revealed, often the child is deemed lazy or labeled a troublemaker. Many loose hope by high school and dropout (Heward, 2009). Silver and Spovak address these issues for parent in this article, What do you do if you suspect that your child has a learning disability?, giving parents concrete and useful information regarding what to do first which is not make the difficulties worse by blaming the child and going to the authority of the school. This is the principle to begin to take productive action on behalf of your child. As mentioned the school personnel and parent may not always agree, however, the safeguards of appeal or out of school testing are available. Once the process has completed, form initial concern to IEP or 504 plan the process repeats with ongoing support for the child with a learning disability.
You might be interested in: The Special Education Profession