COVID19 has nothing to do with it! The Specific Learning Disability that the school overlooked.

Frustrated? your child's reading and writing hasn't improved? If you have the financial means, spend some money on a private evaluation conducted by a Licensed Psychologist. Parents often have a gut feeling, or proof, that there is something wrong at school. Any unexplained problem leads to suspicions that the school team has missed an area of educational need. The question is: if you share it, will the school consider and accept the private recommendations? While, IEPs are supposed to address all deficit skills, actual diagnoses can assist with effective instructional programming. Under #IDEA, schools must consider parent information, but this doesn't mean they have to accept it. In this blog, you will prepare for rejection and be ready for collaboration with your team.

If a new evaluation shows your child has #Dyslexia and a Specific Learning Disability (SLD) in one of the 8 Federal SLD categories, provide this to your IEP team well ahead of any upcoming meeting. Do not give an opportunity for anyone to claim that they have not had sufficient time to review the evaluation, ask for a consent to release, or any other potential obstacle to acceptance. Don't be surprised if they discount AND challenge the findings. Here are strategies to some common rebuttals:

1) "The 'at-home learning' environment is not really the educational environment."

Your IEP team may try to challenge any data you collect during #COVID19 even where they are required by the state to collect progress-monitoring data. The unusual educational setting will be viewed as problematic because "zoomarathons" invite disengagement from learning. Don't accept this as a response to new evidence that your 3rd grader cannot read. Establish baseline skill performance with a licensed Dyslexia/Dyscalculia Specialist and track progress. Establish the need for more intensive instruction by demonstrating the gains of one-to-one remediation over the summer- virtually. A faster rate of progress may establish the need for more intensive instruction as well.

2) "The deficit skill is attributable to another disability or impairment."

Often, children with co-morbid diagnoses, such as ADHD and Dyslexia, are told that their issues with reading are because of #ADHD. While there is research that ADHD can impact visual monitoring and fluency, it does not explain away underlying phonological processing deficits. Ask the district to give you any research that shows ADHD is responsible for phonemic awareness or decoding problems. This conclusion could simply be due to the skill of the school psychologist, limitations in tests or convenience factors. Ask for these deficits to be addressed with goals anyway and the diagnosis of Dyslexia written into the IEP. Your state may have a 'trigger' for Dyslexia services upon identification.

3) "We had our expert review the private evaluation and it is an "outlier"

Always ask, or pay for, the private psychologist to attend the IEP meeting. If the evaluation is challenged, you won't be able to defend it and will be putting yourself in the professional's position. Better that the information comes from the third-party expert him/herself. If the school confers with yet another psychologist to discredit the outside evaluation, remind them (if appropriate) that their expert has not had any contact with your child, and doesn't know your child and has been paid by them to corroborate their opinion. Question the validity of this practice.

4) "The test scores show no evidence of a Specific Learning Disability"

Know that many state agencies have teacher workshops on the importance of qualitative data. Qualitative data is the actual work samples or performance on curriculum-based measurements.There are limitations to the tests used, and as a parent, you need to find out what they are. If your child received average standard scores on an achievement subtest, ask how if measures their illegible handwriting. It's very hard to disagree with a private diagnosis of #Dysgraphia when the work samples demonstrate below average skills. Review your state standards and curriculum and "place" your child in the curriculum. IEP teams have told me that a child doesn't need direct Occupational Therapy, when they themselves can't read the child's handwriting and he/she is in middle school. Know the mastery levels for each grade-level and bring it to your team. Mastery of cursive and multi-paragraph essays are the objectives for 5th grade in Texas!

Remember that observation and response to instruction is required under IDEA for Specific Learning Disability identification. Ask questions and build your alternative narrative with private providers. Work with your school team to implement an appropriate plan for your child. If your team is not receptive to any of these approaches, consult with an special education advocate.

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Virginia Spencer,  M.Ed.,

(630) 251-5658

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