Children with learning disabilities can be granted extra time for test taking to accommodate their needs. Rachel Asher, Esq. and Julie Gaughran, Esq., of Asher, Gaughran LLP offer tips to make sure those accommodations are honored, fair treatment for children with learning disabilities, and how to become a better advocate.
Q - My school-aged son, who has learning disabilities, is being denied requested accommodations during test-taking at his public school. How can I assess if my child is being accorded the necessary accommodations based on his needs?
A- A good starting point is to have your son evaluated by a private clinician. A full psychoeducational evaluation will provide you with important information about your son's learning strengths and deficits. Perhaps your son's learning disabilities significantly impact his ability to read, and he needs instructions on exams read to him. A finding of significant attentional deficits could suggest that exams be given in a quiet location. I emphasize the importance of a private evaluation in addition to any evaluations that the school district might perform because, unlike some school district employees, a private clinician has no bias or pressure from the school administration to minimize learning deficits due to budget concerns.
In addition, once a private clinician has a first-hand understanding of your son's learning needs, he or she can provide useful advice regarding the appropriateness of the accommodations that your son is receiving. In some instances, you can have some of the costs of a private evaluation paid by your school district. It is worth discussing this possibility with an attorney before committing to the evaluation.
Q - What recourse do I have if I feel he is not being treated fairly?
A- At the outset, you should consider seeking classification by the school district. If the district agrees that he is learning disabled, they should provide him with an IEP (Individualized Educational Plan) that will set forth the special education program and services that will be provided to him. Should the district fail to classify your son, or fail to deliver what it has promised in the IEP, you have a right to seek a due process hearing, which is like a trial, to obtain what your son needs.
Many times, there are measures that can be taken short of going to a hearing that will persuade the district to provide a child with appropriate educational services. Consider consulting with a special education attorney to develop strategies for obtaining what your son needs.
Q- Can a lawyer help me become a better self-advocate so I will not need a third party to help me navigate my son's education down the road?
A- Yes, in many cases consulting with an attorney can help a parent become a better advocate for their child. Most special education attorneys share an interest in helping parents to improve the ways they communicate with their child's school, and with private evaluators, acknowledging that over the long haul and when things aren't at a critical stage parents are the best and first resource to pursue their child's needs.
However, if there are serious concerns over placement or the quality or sufficiency of services, or if student may be failing to progress or is being actively harmed by an element of their IEP or the school program, contact competent and experienced counsel with expertise in special education.
Q - What if I feel that my child's needs have changed and that he now requires different accommodations than were laid out in his IEP?
A- If you feel your child's needs have changed, or that his or her IEP no longer meets his needs, then it's a good idea to work quickly to ascertain what exactly is not working and what independent specialists identify as a more appropriate program. I would recommend that you contact an attorney for a brief consultation regarding your concerns, as that initial meeting can help you be organized in determining what has to happen next.
Is the school not complying with the IEP, and that's why the program, isn't working? If so, a new CSE meeting may be needed, or potentially an impartial hearing should be initiated. Have your child's needs actually changed? In that case, new and comprehensive evaluations are in order, to help you determine exactly where and how the needs have changed, and what the most appropriate, peer-reviewed and scientifically-based interventions are to address the newly developed needs.
Is support in school all that's needed, or is direct instruction remediation needed? Until these questions are answered, it's hard to have a clear idea of what you are looking for, and you won't know if your child's program is likely to assist in ensuring his educational progress.
Asher, Gaughran LLP's office is located at 4 MacDonald Ave. in Armonk, NY. For more information or to schedule an appointment, call 914-273-3187 or visit ashergaughran.com.