Thursday, July 21, 2011


I've been running into a lot of people with transportation issues lately, and I've had some myself so I think it's time to address transportation.  I'm betting it's due to the budget issues everyone is facing with our economy and also the price of gas going up and down.  No one can really budget properly for transportation so many districts are trying to get out of providing transportation at all.

The first transportation issue I saw was districts saying they would not provide transportation to children if the special education was offered at their home school.  There is nothing in special ed law that makes this legal.  If your child requires any kind of special assistance to get to and from school then they qualify for transportation.  If they would not be safe walking to and from school when other kids their age would be able to walk then they qualify for transportation.  If you were to drive your child to school and you cannot drop them off as you would another child the same age, they require transportation.  If your child requires SDC (Special Day Class) instruction you can be sure they qualify for transportation.  Children who only require RSP services usually don't qualify for transportation, but this is not set in stone.  If you have a child who only requires RSP services but has wandered off and gotten lost you have every right for them to receive transportation.  If another child who only receives RSP doesn't have an understanding of safety issues, they qualify for transportation.  This is about their individual needs as set forth in the IEP, it isn't about some "policy" set by the district that doesn't take your child's individual needs into account.

Another question that came up is of the district telling a parent that should they decide that their child should be in a program other than what the district suggests then transportation will no longer be available.  I'm sorry, but the parent is a part of the IEP TEAM and it is not appropriate to manipulate a TEAM member into agreeing to what the district wants by threatening to take away a service that is guaranteed by law.  I'm sure there are many other versions of this particular "policy", er manipulation, coercion, or threat, but none of them is legal.  Transportation is guaranteed by law.  Districts cannot just decide to use transportation to get what they want.

I read about a district near here that had instituted a policy that all children requiring transportation would have to go to their home school to be picked up to be transported to the location of their special education class.  This didn't last long!  And that's because it was so obviously out of compliance with federal law.  These parents were having to take their children to their home school up to an hour before school started so that the child could then be transported to another school (because of course they were picking up children from several different home schools), in the afternoon they would have to be at the home school to pick up the children.  So, if you have other children and they attend the home school these parents would have to go and drop off the child in special ed and then go back and take any other children to school and in the afternoon the process would just be reversed, adding up to a couple of extra hours per day of drop off and pick up to the mix.  And then it gets really confusing when you have kids at different schools, say a couple in elementary and one in Jr. high and then, the real fun starts when you have another one in high school too!  Forget trying to plan for after school activities!  And really, isn't this just insulting when we would really prefer that our child attends his or her home school with their siblings anyway?

Then there is the family that had transportation taken away in a settlement agreement.  It was just sort of "slipped" in there by the district's attorney, even though no one had agreed to it.  When confronted about the sleazeball tactic the attorney refused to go back and redraft the agreement, making a statement similar to "Let's not make trouble over something that small".  Hey if it was that SMALL why slip it in there in the first place?   The family went along just because the day had been so long and they didn't have anymore fight in them, but that was a poor decision.  It turns out there was more sleaze in that agreement - if you see a little sleaze inserted into an agreement, assume there is more and take your time!  Ask questions about what things mean that you may not understand.  Ask the district to leave the room so you can concentrate or you leave the room so you can concentrate on reading the entire agreement.

We have an issue with timing for transportation.  The district states they cannot transport after a certain time and our child will still need transportation after that time.  There is a solution, they can pay us to transport.  We will be paid for our mileage.  It doesn't help with figuring out how to manage after school activities for the other kids and getting her home, but at least it reduces the cost of transporting her that we have been covering for the last several months.  It may not be everything we had hoped for, but in the end it's better than what we were getting, and with everything else that is working so well I have to say life is getting pretty good!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Why Should I use a Neuropsychologist?

Someone I have worked with recently shared that they were not sure why they should use a Neuropsychologist rather than someone else to diagnose their three year old child in an IEE.  This had seemed obvious to me as someone who had a background in Clinical Psychology, but others don't necessarily understand the different classifications within the world of clinical psychology and why one title may be preferred over others in different situations.

A neuropsychologist is the elite in the world of educational testing.  They have the most education, the most training,, and the most experience.  All Neurop0sychologists will have a Bachelor's degree (either B.A. or B.S.).  Many have a Masters degree (either M.A. or M.S.).  They will have a doctoral degree (either Ph.D. or PsyD.), and they will have additional education in Neuropsychology.   In addition they must have completed all training as a psychologist, and completed additional training in neuropsychology.  After completing all of the above training and education, they also must past state tests that prove competency.  A neuropsychologist is more than able to diagnose anyone with learning problems and in some ways may be 'overkill' for a younger or more disabled student, but their degree of fitness as an expert is pretty unimpeachable.  The "neuro" part means they have studied the brain in more depth and they are able to administer tests that allow them to make more detailed assumptions about the brain.

A clinical psychologist is also someone that would make an excellent expert, although they have not spent the additional time studying neuropsychology.  For many children this would be adequate, but districts are less likely to admit to the expertness of the Clinical psychologist than the Neuropsychologist.  Keep in mind though, that districts rarely use Clinical psychologists to test the children in the district, so their "experts" in most cases are not as educated or trained as vigorously as most Clinical psychologists.  Testing is the specialty of the Clinical psychologist, although their testing strength may not be in educational testing.  Most often they test for psychological disorders.  They will have had to complete state testing to ensure competency.

A school psychologist must have a Master's Degree and pass a state competency test.  They are allowed only to practice in schools and their education focuses almost exclusively on learning to administer and evaluate educational tests.  They have no continuing education requirements.

An LCSW or Licensed Clinical Social Worker is trained and licensed to be a counselor or therapist.  This person would have an M.S.W. (Master's of Social Work).  They must also complete hours of training and pass a state competency test.  They have some training in administering and evaluating tests, but they have not specialized in educational testing and would not be considered an expert for the purposes of educational testing.

An MFT or Marriage and Family Therapist is very similar to an LCSW, except that their specialty is in relationships and they would receive either an M.A. or and M.S. in Clinical Psychology.  They would also not have the necessary requirements to be considered an expert in educational testing.
A Psychiatrist is a medical doctor who specializes in administering medications for psychiatric conditions.  Many children in special education may see a psychiatrist for medication management but they would not be considered experts in educational testing.  They might be an excellent witness for some aspects of a case involving special education, but they would not be a expert in the area of testing.

There are many other jobs within the area of psychology, including psychiatric nurses, psychiatric techs, behavior specialists, BCBA's, and on and on.  For educational testing however there is one group of specialists that is the top "expert" in the field and that is the Neuropsychologist.  When confronting educational issues/testing it is best to use the Neuropsychologist if possible, if you cannot get a Neuropsychologist then a Clinical Psychologist would be appropriate if they specialize in educational testing.  Although school districts will tell you that the school psychologist is an expert, using one as your "expert" is not in your child's best interest.  And, it is important that you never use someone whose credentials are not adequate in educational testing as your expert as any reports or testimony by the inadequately trained person can not be taken seriously.

Choosing the Right School

Our school district has a policy that disallows what they call "school shopping".  Their opinion is that each of their school sites that offers certain programs all offer THE SAME program.  Of course we all know that this isn't true - otherwise why would parents prefer one school site over another?  This isn't to say that one is necessarily better than another (although that may be the case), but could it be that one site is better or more appropriate for a specific child?  I believe so.  I believe it is disingenuous for the district to state that they are all THE SAME and therefore transfers are not necessary.

When our oldest was returning to district after having gotten all he could from the county program for kids with severe emotional difficulties he wanted to attend a particular high school that was not our neighborhood high school.  It wasn't that our neighborhood high school was so bad, but he had made some enemies before going into the county program and he was nervous about how he would be welcomed back. The last time he had seen a group of about 6-8 boys was when they were chasing him and threatening to do him harm.  The district agreed that he would be transferred to the other school site as part of his IEP.   

My oldest daughter has had some difficulty in our neighborhood elementary school, mostly teasing and great difficulty making any friends.  She is quite a cute girl, she is sweet and a good friend once she is your friend, but she is also painfully shy, has a great deal of anxiety, and if she is not diagnosable as depressed, she is very close.  Her most recent psychological evaluation suggested that she is clinically depressed, but the district prefers to ignore that since she is not taking a specifically antidepressant medication - just a medication that is used for depression and anxiety.  I have actually avoided making a big deal out of the depression with the school because from everything we have seen and discussed with various professionals her depression is primarily driven by her anxiety - so working on the anxiety helps to diminish the depression so we have chosen to work on the cause of the depression rather than focusing on what seems to be a diagnosis of outcome rather than a primary diagnosis.   She has also been diagnosed with Partial Fetal Alcohol Syndrome - which tells us that she is a follower and that she is likely to follow anyone who accepts her down whatever rabbit hole they might lead her.  All kids are like this to a certain degree, but kids with pFAS are especially vulnerable to this.  

We had this particular child transferred in Jr High as the school in our area was in "Program Improvement" meaning they were not doing well at teaching the children that attended there.  We had allowed her to attend a "Program Improvement" school prior to this and had seen her skills slip - especially her oral language skills.  She went from a child who spoke mostly appropriately to a child who wouldn't use proper tenses and would use double negatives with regularity.  We had seen her propensity for following the crowd already.  

The school that she transferred to has been a wonderful opportunity for her.  Her language didn't really improve, but then it didn't get worse either.  She did however find a small group of caring and compassionate friends who although they don't invite her often or include her in all of their activities, are open to having her come along at times and treat her with caring and respect.  This group is among the popular kids which then helps her to be treated kindly by other kids at the school.  If someone is mean to her, the "cool kids" stand up for her, and so teasing and humiliation have been at a minimum.  I don't think there are many kids who get through Jr. High completely unscathed so this was really a great situation for her.

Now, as it is time to move on to High School, the IEP "team" refuses to send her to the High School that her current Jr. High feeds into.  They say she must return to her "home school".  This decision of course does not take into account her Generalized Anxiety Disorder, her Partial Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, or her Clinical Depression that is included in her most recent Neuropsychogical Evaluation even though I have not made a big deal out it with the district.  Their excuse is that the law states that when possible a child should be educated at the school of residence.  We all know that the law they are referring to was intended to PROTECT our children, and is in this case being used to imprison this child in a situation where she will once again be placed with the children who have previously humiliated and teased this child.  She will also have no group of friends who will stick up for her so she will hang out with whoever will tolerate her quirkiness, and she will once again be vulnerable to all manner of abuse since she will do whatever it takes to "have friends".  Wouldn't we all be willing to go outside of our comfort zone if otherwise we were left with no one to have lunch with or talk about our favorite shows or tars or whatever with?  Being lonely is a great motivator - most of us will do whatever it takes to avoid isolation.

Was the IEP process meant to force children to attend  the local school even when their psychological diagnoses would recommend against it?  Was it meant to allow a district to avoid taking responsibility for a child's well being?  Was it meant to set up a pretense that all schools are equal for all children?  I believe that emotional diagnoses are supposed to be considered as a part of the IEP process as well as educational diagnoses.  I also believe that if all of the schools programs were actually the same then parents wouldn't prefer one setting over others.

The way I am choosing to deal with this issue is to file for a 504 hearing.  It is similar to Due Process under IDEA but a 504 dispute is based on issues of disability and discrimination.  The beauty of this particular type of hearing is that the district cannot rely on the SELPA (a mega-district here in CA) to do all of the work for them and they may be more likely to carefully consider the case than rush to a hearing since the onus is on them.  I will write more as we get further into this and learn how the district chooses to respond.  

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Sleazy Additions to Resolution Settlements

I can't talk about my own resolution settlement because it is confidential - mind you that confidentiality was not at our request but at the districts insistence - they don't want other parents to know what they give to some of the parents.  It might encourage others to ask for the kind of services that are working for other kids when the district fails to do its job.  So consider this a compilation of several cases.

Now a lot of settlements are made during due process but prior to going to court.  The districts know when they have stinker of a case and that they are likely to lose and will often settle during mediation rather than risk losing big and being exposed as court cases subject them to.  What I have seen them do though is go into the mediation and discuss certain issues but not give specific dates and such, not discuss certain terms, such as transportation, and then get real sneaky and sleazy and insert things into the resolution agreement as though they had been discussed.  Then when you bring it up they refuse to discuss it because "we have an agreement" when in fact you didn't agree to what they have put in the document.   

If the child is being sent to a non-public school that location is likely some distance from the child's home - so when the district sneaks "no transportation" into the agreement that puts the parents in the position of having to take their child to and from school every day, which may be some distance.  Since the child is in school all day, it is unlikely that the parent can just sit around and wait all day so they must make two trips daily to a location that could be 20 - 30 - or 40 miles or more.  Right now gasoline prices continue to rise and with an average of 25 mpg and a distance of 25 miles each way that will mean 4 gallons of gasoline per day, not to mention the increased costs for insurance when putting on so many miles every day.  It adds up.

Another sneaky way to avoid paying what the district should rightfully pay is to put limits on when they will pay for certain things.  Say you place your child in a non-public school for two months prior to the resolution.  You did this legally and they should be on the hook for paying for this NPS as long as it is agreed that this is what your child needs to get FAPE.  It is determined that the district should pay for the schooling for the two months prior - that's all that is discussed, but when the paperwork comes back, the district has added in without any conversation or agreement, that they will not pay for behavioral services or a one to one aide as they had previously agreed were needed for your child to benefit from an educational placement prior to the day you sign the agreement.  Because of what you discussed you are under the impression that they are covering all services except for OT and Speech therapy which were excluded by agreement, and to top it off, as you are trying to read through the agreement, they enter the room and start chatting with each other so that you are not really able to concentrate.  In this case, you must sign the agreement that day, there is no taking it home to read and think about, it has to be done that day.

So, what I learned from this is - have a list of everything that must be included even if they are not specific due process issues and check them off before agreeing to anything.  You can bet there could be things that you did not discuss as it wasn't in the due process complaint.  Then, check all the fine print for any additions to the agreement that were not discussed.  Do not sign until they agree to honor the spirit of what was stated rather than going along to get things over and done, yes you are tires, but so are they, and maybe they will decide to quit arguing over stuff they shouldn't be arguing about if you are ready to go to court.  Either take your copy of the agreement out of the room to read and inspect carefully, or tell them to leave and you will call them when you are ready to sign any paperwork.

They are not there to discuss what your child needs.  They are there to settle a court case and give as little as possible no matter what your child's needs.  This is a battle and they will stop at nothing to win.

Excuses to Avoid Giving Speech Therapy

Recently I have heard two absurd excuses not to give speech therapy. The first was that the difference in cognitive ability and speech was not two years apart.  The second was that the child's speech ability had plateaued.  Both of these excuses were delivered convincingly, but neither made sense.  Then there was the excuse they used for my daughter, which was also a bunch of "hooey" as Great Grampa would say!.  Here is why...

If a child has no speech at three years old it is very difficult to be sure of their cognitive ability, especially when one has not done a proper evaluation of their cognitive functioning, and especially if that testing was not done with a test for a person who is non-verbal.  Most schools do not do non-verbal cognitive tests on three year olds, probably because they don't want to lose their excuse for not giving speech.  Secondly, how will that cognitive ability go up any time soon unless the child gets additional assistance to understand the world around him or her?  Speech therapy would be vital to ensure that the child's cognitive ability increases.  This is certainly a way to create a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Don't give the child what they need so they won't progress so that you can continue to deny them the services they most need. In addition, not helping a child to learn to understand and to speak will be a sure way to create behaviors which will make it even harder for the child to benefit from any pitiful services that are eventually offered thus completing the fulfillment of the prophecy.

Then the plateau deal.  This was the child's first assessment with this SLP, and she had no records from which to make any judgments. How could she determine if he had plateaued without knowing where he was a year ago and a year before that and so on?  Wouldn't a plateau infer that the child had been progressing and then stopped?  It seems to me that the "plateau" line is a well rehearsed excuse to avoid giving services.  This time the excuse came from a Kaiser SLP.  This child's mother had heard that line before from the school, prior to his recent increases in ability to articulate and gains in overall speech thanks to his new communication device on the iPod touch.  It's too bad the Kaiser SLP didn't know the meaning of the word plateau or she might have tried a more convincing excuse!  

And finally, the one that made me laugh, but really wasn't funny.  The excuse for not giving my daughter speech was that she wasn't making "meaningful sounds".  Okay, so she can make sound, which is the first thing a person needs in order to make speech.  But they weren't meaningful...well, then isn't it their job to help the child turn the un-meaningful sounds into meaningful sounds?  Isn't that a lot of what speech therapy is?  Of course it is!

The lesson I take away from all these shenanigans is - If it seems like a stupid excuse, it probably is just that - just a stupid excuse.  If it doesn't feel realistic it's time to ask for an IEE.  Get the input of an expert who has nothing to gain from denying your child services.  

What Do I Do if the District Uses an Inappropriate Evaluator?

I went to an initial IEP recently in which the district had the psychologist/autism expert do assessments in all areas except for physical health which was done by the school nurse. Areas that were checked off as being assessed by the school psychologist included speech and language, motor development, and self-help/adaptive.  The parents asked the district about whether or not these should be done by PT, OT, or SLPs and were told not to worry about it.  Now, there were no formal assessments completed, obviously because the person doing them wasn't qualified to do a formal assessment.  Her conclusions were that the child needed no designated services.  She also stated that therapists come to the classroom and assist the teacher and aides to help the children with speech and fine motor issues that may arise.

Now the parents want a REAL evaluation.  The district tells them they must write a letter and request that the district do an evaluation.  But their assessment plan clearly states that they will be doing those assessments.  Is it the parents' or the child's fault that the district used inappropriate personnel to do the assessments in the first place?  Should they give the district another 15 days to get the assessment plan signed, 60 days to complete an evaluation, and another 30 days to hold an IEP?  Clearly the answer is NO.  The district had their opportunity, chose to do an inappropriate assessment, and now wants to waste more time.  The parents have every right to request an IEE at public expense.  If the district chooses to take them to due process rather than pay for the IEE they have no case and could very well end up giving compensatory services.

Sadly, this first IEP is going to set up the relationship between the parent and the district for as long as the child is in the district.  I can think of no better way for the district to create mistrust between them and the parents and to set up a relationship that is contentious from the get go.  They have made it clear that they do not have the child's interest in mind and that they will do any underhanded thing to avoid doing the right thing. 

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Educating the People in our Life

It is very sad that people who are supposed to be educating our children have the attitude that our children are a waste of time and money, but it's true, many of them believe that our kids use too much of the precious resources that is to be used for kids in special education.  The more sever the issues, the more likely we will have to face that attitude.  I believe that our only course of action that will make any kind of an impact is education - of our communities.  I hate to admit it, but I was one who believed it was "silly" to spend so much to educate people who would never learn very much anyway - but I have learned that we are trying to help our children be able to speak up and get their needs known and to be safe and to need as little from society in later years as possible.  We hope to help them become productive, but number one we want our children to be safe in a society that does not always consider our kids fully human so they are taken advantage of at a greater rate than any other group.  It costs more to educate them because they learn differently than other kids and need more intensive attention and assistance to learn - but they do learn and they can become more when we give them the chance. 

There was recently a story in the news of two men who were working with severely developmentally disabled women, and they were sexually assaulting these women - and it was believed that they did this quite often.  There is even film of their crimes.  These women were unable to defend themselves or to speak up and get help.  That is something none of us wants to see for our children.  They feel pain and humiliation just like any other woman - they are not immune from feelings due to their disabilities.  

We have two very big jobs when we are the parents of children with disabilities - one is to advocate for our children and make sure their needs are met and the other is to educate those around us rather than acting out the anger we instinctively feel toward those who would discredit our kids and expect far too little of them.  This is not to say that we won't FEEL angry, but we have to overcome ourselves and make sure that our friends and acquaintances know more about why our kids need more funding for education and job and social skills.  We need to positively impact those around us who can then impact those around them.  We need to change deep seated beliefs that people don't even realize is discriminatory.

Thank goodness we have support groups to go to and vent our feelings of frustration and anger and discouragement because we will have them.  But we have to learn to be educators and sadly we even have to educate our regional center CSC's, supervisors and beyond, school district administrators and staff and often times our families.  Education won't do the whole job, because there are evil people out there who know the truth and lie and cheat and do anything for the almighty dollar, but it is only through educating others that we can ever hope to make lasting change with the majority.  The people of our state will only accept reductions that are geared toward those they consider a waste of money - we must show them that our kids are not a waste of money and that the investment now will mean less expense as they age and are able to do more and care more for themselves.  Our kids will cost less if they can live more independently than they would otherwise because of what is done to help them now - and they are generally adults much longer than they are children.