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"My 12-old has always done pretty good at school, is great at sports, and has friends, but the last year or so has been a mess. He's stopped doing his homework and his grades have gone south. He used to be a really outgoing kid, but now he's often quiet and moody. His teacher thinks he's depressed."
The pain and frustration in this father's voice weren't new to me. I've heard this profile from many parents, all of them concerned about their child and unsure what to do next.
"The teacher thinks my son has a learning disability. She said something about auditory memory and a processing problem. He has always been very meticulous, but now that he is in junior high, his homework seems to take all night and then he's even further behind. It sure seemed easier when I was in school, when there wasn't so much homework and kids didn't have to take so many standardized tests."
Homework and the quantification of American education. My opinions about how education has lost sight of its real purpose in the mad rush to show progress through numbers, the frustrations I have shared with my wife too many times, were ready for delivery, but that wasn't going to help this parent or his child.
"I don't know what to do. I don't know how to help him -- and he won't listen to me, anyway. He was suspended last month for fighting and he no longer qualifies for the football team. We're no longer thinking of a good college for him -- we just want him to make it through high school."
"Is your son in specialeducation?"
"No, but you know, I'd be happy to pay your legal fees just to help with tonight's algebra. This learning disability stuff is so vague, its like a jellyfish. It isn't like a broken arm -- we can't take my son to the doctor, get a cast put on him, and know that he'll be fine in a couple of months. How do you fix these auditory memory and processing problems?"
The pain of this father and son is shared by the almost three million children (and their parents) in this country who are dealing with learning disabilities. Late nights, bad report cards, tears, yelling, frustration -- this wasn't what we thought school would be like for our kids.
The fundamental purpose of this book is to help these children and their parents or guardians through the maze that is special education -- including the special twists and turns that apply to kids with learning disabilities.
As discussed in greater detail later in this book, learning disabilities can range from minor differences in learning style to serious difficulties processing information. A lot of people, many of them highly intelligent, have learning disabilities. There is no relationship between native intelligence and the existence of a learning disability. Your goal as you wind your way through the special education system is to make it easier for your child to achieve academically, despite his or her learning disability.
There are three fundamental questions to consider as you begin the special education process:
The federal law governing the special education system is the individuals with disabilities Education act or IDEA. This law creates a formal process for evaluating children with disabilities (including learning disabilities) and providing specialized programs and services to help them succeed in school.
IDEA entitles children with learning disabilities to an "appropriate" education that meets their unique needs. You'll have a better sense of what constitutes an appropriate education as you read this book. Broadly speaking, an appropriate education includes all of the following:
But how do you figure out what constitutes an appropriate education for your child? Special education law provides a process for evaluating your child and developing his or her academic plan through an "individualized education program," or IEP. You'll find this term used frequently throughout this book and by your school district, your child's teachers, and others familiar with special education. The initials IEP refer to several related things:
Webster's New World Dictionary defines disability as an illness, injury, or physical handicap that "restricts" or causes "limitations" and "disadvantages." Advocates in the field of special education and disability rights understandably object to the term "disabled," preferring the term "child with disabilities" -- this is the term used throughout this book.
More important, all human beings come into this world with a variety of qualities and characteristics, strengths and weaknesses. Having special education needs does not mean that your child should be treated as "different" or denied the care and respect that all children deserve. Because human beings are complex, determining who is "able" and who is "disabled" is an effort in futility. Albert Einstein and Winston Churchill both had learning disabilities, but Dr. Einstein certainly had a way with the universe and, besides being a pretty good Prime Minister, Mr. Churchill was a fairly effective painter.
It is not a cliché to say that we all have some kind of disability, even as we realize that the difference in degree between one disability and another can be significant and life-altering. Terms that define should not be terms that judge.
Special education laws give children with disabilities and their parents important rights not available to children and their parents in regular education. These include the right to:
Within the world of special education, there are specific laws, rules, and requirements that apply to learning disabilities. A child with a particular learning disability may require specialized classroom techniques, strategies, and methodologies -- for example, a child with ADD may need extra help when classroom activities generate lots of activity or noise, or a child with memory problems may benefit from using mnemonics to remember important facts. Later chapters explain what constitutes a learning disability, how it differs from other types of disabilities recognized by IDEA, and how a child becomes eligible for special education based on a learning disability.
As you go through the special education process with your child, you will no doubt hear a variety of terms, such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD); auditory, short- and long-term memory problems; processing, spelling, reading, and math difficulties; and multisensory development. As is often the case, these words may sound intimidating and/or vague.
Regardless of whether we like these terms, they are part of the learning disability world -- and you'll need to master them to become the best possible advocate for your child. As you go through this book, you will learn about broad special education rules and processes as well as specific items that relate to learning disabilities. You'll need both types of information to successfully navigate the IEP process. Don't worry about memorizing any of these terms; you'll become familiar and even comfortable with them as you move forward.
|1||Introduction to Special Education for Children With Learning Disabilities|
|A.||What Is Special Education?||2|
|B.||Special Education and Learning Disabilities||4|
|C.||Being Your Child's Advocate||5|
|D.||Using This Book||5|
|E.||Icons Used Throughout||7|
|F.||Getting Help From Others||7|
|2||Your Child's Rights Under the IDEA|
|A.||What IDEA Requires||2|
|B.||Individualized Education Program||12|
|C.||State Special Education Laws||15|
|D.||Working With Your School District||16|
|3||What Is a Learning Disability?|
|B.||Scientific and Professional Definitions||3|
|C.||Does Your Child Have a Learning Disability?||5|
|D.||Learning Disabilities and the IEP Process||9|
|B.||Obtain Your Child's School Records||7|
|C.||Start an IEP Binder||13|
|D.||Keep Track of Deadlines||17|
|5||Developing Your Child's IEP Blueprint|
|A.||Begin at the End: Define Your Child's Needs||3|
|B.||Preparing an IEP Blueprint||3|
|C.||Other Sources of Information for the Blueprint||10|
|A.||When Assessments Are First Done||3|
|B.||The Assessment Plan||4|
|C.||Evaluating the Assessment Tests||7|
|D.||Approving, Rejecting, or Changing the Assessment Plan||12|
|E.||Reviewing the Assessment Report||17|
|B.||Eligibility Standards for Children With Learning Disabilities||6|
|C.||Preparing for the IEP Eligibility Meeting||13|
|D.||Attending the Eligibility Meeting||14|
|E.||Joint IEP Eligibility/Program Meeting||15|
|F.||If Your Child Is Not Found Eligible for Special Education||16|
|8||Gathering Information and Evidence|
|A.||Analyze the School District's Information||2|
|B.||Chart Your Child's Progress||5|
|C.||Explore Available School Programs||7|
|D.||Find Out About Related Services||11|
|E.||Compare Your Blueprint With the Existing Program and Services||11|
|F.||Generate Additional Supporting Information||14|
|9||Goals and Objectives|
|A.||Areas Covered by Goals and Objectives||3|
|B.||Developing Goals and Objectives||3|
|C.||When to Draft Goals and Objectives||5|
|D.||Writing Effective Goals and Objectives||5|
|10||Preparing for the IEP Meeting|
|A.||Schedule the IEP Meeting||2|
|B.||The IEP Meeting Agenda||3|
|C.||Organize Your Materials||3|
|D.||Draft Your Child's IEP Program||7|
|E.||Who Will Attend the IEP Meeting||9|
|F.||Final Preparation Concerns||17|
|11||The IEP Meeting|
|B.||Simple Rules for a Successful IEP Meeting||4|
|C.||Become Familiar With Your School's IEP Form||9|
|D.||Writing the IEP Plan||10|
|E.||Sign the IEP Document||16|
|F.||Parent Addendum Page||18|
|12||Resolving IEP Disputes Through Due Process|
|A.||Before Due Process: Informal Negotiations||4|
|B.||Typical Due Process Disputes||6|
|C.||When to Pursue Due Process||8|
|D.||Your Child's Status During Due Process||9|
|E.||Using a Lawyer During Due Process||9|
|F.||How to Request Due Process||10|
|G.||Preparing for Due Process||11|
|J.||Fair Hearing Decision and Appeals||29|
|13||Filing a Complaint|
|A.||When to File a Complaint||2|
|B.||Where to File a Complaint||3|
|C.||What to Include in a Complaint||4|
|D.||What Happens When You File a Complaint||5|
|14||Lawyers and Legal Research|
|A.||How a Lawyer Can Help||2|
|B.||Do You Need an Attorney?||2|
|C.||Finding an Attorney||3|
|D.||How Attorneys Are Paid||8|
|E.||Resolving Problems With a Lawyer||11|
|F.||Doing Your Own Legal Research||11|
|G.||Online Legal Research||16|
|A.||Join a Parent Organization||2|
|B.||Form a Parent Organization||3|
|1||Special Education Law and Regulations|
|Individuals with Disabilities Education Act & Key Sections||2|
|IDEA Regulations (Key Sections)||18|
|Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Key Regulations)||52|
|2||Federal and State Departments of Education|
|Federal Department of Education Offices||2|
|State Department of Education Offices||4|
|3||Support Groups, Advocacy Organizations, and Other Resources|
|General Resources on Special Education||2|
|Parent Training and Information Centers||4|
|Legal Resources on Special Education||12|
|Resources on Learning Disabilities and ADD/ADHD||13|
|4||Sample IEP Form|