This is our second post taking a look at learning disabilities–and as promised, this post will focus on what to do if your child does receive a diagnosis–and options available to you if you disagree with the evaluation and findings for your child.
First, let’s start with what to do if you have a follow-up meeting with the evaluating school district, and you disagree with the results or findings of the evaluation. After your child’s evaluation is complete, the school will schedule a meeting to review the results, and whether or not the child qualifies for services. It’s important to know that while you may agree with the findings of the evaluation, you may also disagree, and if you do disagree, you must make it known and refuse to sign anything that says otherwise.
For example, when our two children received a full educational evaluation, they were not diagnosed with specific learning disabilities in reading with a dyslexia diagnosis. Other issues, like dysgraphia and speech issues that one child had for years, were also ignored. Because we felt like the evaluation did not accurately reflect the learning challenges we saw in our children, we did not sign or “agree” to the conclusions of the evaluation in our follow up meeting. We had to write the word “disagree” on the paperwork in that meeting, and then the next day formally request what is known as an IEE or Independent Educational Evaluation for our children. This meant that we were asking for a district funded evaluation from an outside neuropsychologist for our children, which was granted by our district. Sometimes this request can be difficult and cause tension with the district. It’s important to remember that you are the parent, and you know your child better than anyone. If you feel like the evaluation was not completed or did not identify possible diagnoses that are keeping your child from appropriately accessing educational materials, you can consider an IEE request. Read more about what an IEE is here. The IEE should be requested in writing (email is fine) and sent to the principal and special education coordinator with whom you’ve been working.
Let’s look at the opposite situation: The results came back and you agree with the diagnosis. Awesome! Now, the district will discuss with you what services and accommodations they can offer your child. If your child is enrolled in the school, the services are likely to be greater than if you are a homeschooler. Some states do not have any funding for homeschool student therapies and, therefore, do not offer services to homeschooled children. They may only offer the evaluation itself, and then you’re done with the district school process.
If your child is enrolled in the public school, there are usually two options, a 504 plan, or an IEP (Individualized Education Plan). This handy chart from Understood.org outlines the main differences between the two options. I usually encourage families to pursue an IEP. The IEP allows for more accomodations for your child and allows for an IEE, among other things. The IEP is a legal document, and it clearly outlines services and, most importantly, GOALS for your child and for their learning that are regularly evaluated, so you can constantly monitor what is and what is not working for your child.
When the district begins to write an IEP, I strongly advise parents not sign anything until they have done some research. It is helpful to review other IEPs (available online) related to whatever disability has qualified your child. For example, does your child have dyslexia and dysgraphia? If so, an accomodation of extra time to take a test and maybe sight word help twice a week for 30 minutes is not going to help much. Your child may need a multi-sensory Orton-Gillingham dyslexia remediation program for 30 minutes, four days a week. That is what you need to ask for in advocating for your child. Extra time taking a test may not help either. Your child may need to have a test read to them, and they may need to verbally give their answers while a teacher or aide writes them down. It’s difficult to know what an IEP should include without some research. Try understood.org or local organizations that help parents who have children with learning disabilities and reach out to other parents to see if there is another family who can assist you in the process.
It’s important to know that if enrolled in a public school, the services offered to your child will happen with no charge, and you are allowed to dispute the IEP or call an IEP meeting for your child to discuss services and goals at any time. When you’re going into the process for the very first time, the more you prepare, the better off you will be. While thousands of articles have been written on the IEP process, just remember the one thing we have hammered on many times throughout the past several posts on this topic: You know your child better than anyone! If you know your child does a worksheet better when they are standing versus sitting, that’s something to bring up for the IEP. If you know your child can’t keep up with chapter book reading and needs time to have their learning disability addressed before continuing the typical class work, an audio book or alternate assignment pathway needs to be presented. Be strong, and remember you are the strongest advocate for your child!
Here are some resources to review in the discussion of IEEs and 504/IEPs: