After the Diagnosis
When Miguel was diagnosed with ADHD, the teachers were not interested in alternative solutions, only a medical solution to their problem. Just get him tested for ADHD with his pediatric provider and they'll medicate him. Never did they mention having Miguel evaluated and tested for other possible learning disorders and/or medical issues. It was good enough for them as long as he was sliding by. Regardless of the numerous phone calls regarding his behaviors and my endless pleads for assistance.
After Miguel and I received his Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) diagnosis, I was on fire. In the infamous words of John Paul Jones, “I have not yet begun to fight.” These words were uttered amid war and what was to come was a war. Me versus the School District. Astonishingly, they never saw me coming even though they knew me on a first-name basis.
What Is IDEA?
Unfortunately, many parents do not know about The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This federal law requires the school system to provide a free appropriate public education. This includes equal and adequate education, resources, and accommodations for all children regardless of their learning differences and/or disabilities. Although versions of this federal law have existed since 1975, it has been updated most recently in 2004. President, George W. Bush signed the federal bill in 2002, the No Child Left Behind Act. Later, it would be changed in 2015 to the Every Student Succeeds Act. There is no doubt that education has always been a political topic even to this day. Hopefully, this blog will help cut through some of the school's red tape.
If you are a parent and suspect your child may have a learning or medical disability that interferes with their capability to effectively learn and comprehend. You as a parent need to initiate an evaluation from the school based on IDEA. IDEA does not cover medical or other issues that do not directly impact a student's ability to learn. For example, we live in South Central Virginia where the only medical diagnosis covered are, "intellectual disability, a hearing impairment (including deafness), a speech or language impairment, a visual impairment (including blindness), a serious emotional disability (referred to in this part as "emotional disability "), an orthopedic impairment, autism, traumatic brain injury, and other health impairment, a specific learning disability, deaf-blindness, or multiple disabilities who, by reason thereof, needs special education and related services."
How Do You Request A School Evaluation?
To initiate this process, you must make a formal request to your child's homeroom teacher, guidance counselor, or principal. A school teacher or staff member can make a referral for evaluation and testing. Surprised? I was when I learned that the same teachers complaining never initiated a referral. I had made several requests over four years for a referral and evaluation. The referrals never made it farther than the elementary school Principal. I was constantly told that Miguel didn't need a referral because he passed his classes and was promoted each year to the next grade.
I made several mistakes. The first mistake, believing that the school system and those involved had Miguel's best educational success at heart. Secondly, all my requests were verbal. Each year, I asked his teachers and they verbally responded that it was not needed. Lastly, not being more aggressive, and assertive. The entire front of the school, guidance counselors, vice-principal, and the principal knew me on a first-name basis. Sometimes I could see the eye rolls as I approached. The lesson I learned here is to always put your communications in writing to the homeroom teacher, guidance counselor, and principal. I strongly recommend that the form of communication you use is email, as it leaves a "paper trail" and can easily be found when needed.
What to Expect
The school district has sixty-five days from receipt of your verbal or written request to refer the student for evaluation and eligibility to comply. Within those sixty-five days, the school should have notified the special education superintendent and school-based team. This team consists of a school psychologist, special educator, one general teacher that teaches the student, parent(s) or legal guardian(s), and related service providers (physical therapist, occupational therapist, audiologist, orientation and mobility specialist, medical doctors (including psychiatrists, ophthalmologists, and optometrists). The student can be present if appropriate. Testing is conducted and a meeting is scheduled with those listed above. They can also include medical records in the determination of eligibility for special education services. A formal letter is mailed to the parent/guardian informing them of the hearing date.
Parents are given a written copy of the evaluation report(s) and should bring them at the time of the meeting. These reports are provided to the parent(s) at no cost. The reports contain a statement of whether the child has a specific disability, or not. They contain any relevant behavior that was noted during the observation of the child and the relationship of that behavior to the child’s academic functioning and the educationally relevant medical findings if any, and the instructional strategies used for the intervention process.
If no learning difficulty or disability is found, the parent(s) are notified and the letter is sent with the findings of the evaluation and the hearing.
If a disability is found, the parent, school-based team, and child work together to ensure the student receives a free appropriate public education by implementing a 504 plan or an individualized educational plan (IEP). These plans are updated yearly and evaluation and testing are conducted every three years. You can request a meeting at any time if concerns arise before the annual meeting.
Join us next time when we discuss the difference between a 504 plan and an IEP. Feel free to listen to our podcast at https://thenursingpostpodcast.podbean.com/e/episode-004-l-understanding-autism-a-three-part-series/. Feel free to leave any comments or share your experiences.