Q&A: IEPs and advocating for your child

I’ve had a series of communications with Ashaki, who has a 7-year-old son. His old school (a private school) told her that her son needed to be in “special ed” because he has ADD. He doesn’t, however, have any of the symptoms of ADD (more than any other 7-year-old kid has focus and listening issues, especially around putting on shoes to leave in the morning). He’s reading well above grade level (and reads for fun at home), but seems not to understand math as it was being taught by his teacher and tunes out in class.

They just moved, and he’ll be going to public school in a few weeks. She doesn’t want him to be marginalized at this new school.

It seems to me that her son has some specific issues around math and would benefit from some testing to see what those are and how to help him, and that he and she will be better off if she can get an IEP for him. (For those not in the US, an IEP is an Individualized Education Plan, and it lays out what a child needs to get an education equal to the one given to the kids closer to the median. Our laws guarantee each child equal access to appropriate education, so theoretically a district/school/teacher has to follow the IEP.)

So my questions for you all are:

How does Ashaki start? What’s the first call she needs to make to begin the process of getting an IEP? (She’s in NJ, if that helps.)

For those of you who’ve been through the IEP process with a kid, what advice do you have for her?

For those of you who had trouble or issues in school, what do you wish your parents had done or known? What would you tell Ashaki from her son’s point of view?
For everyone not in the US, do your countries have protections for non-traditional learners? How do they work?

51 thoughts on “Q&A: IEPs and advocating for your child”

  1. Ashaki–good luck, and good for you for fighting early for your kid to get the right assessment and placement. I am sure a lot of people with a lot of experience with your end of the process will give you detailed advice on how to get started. My one piece of advice, having taught different levels of special ed for a few years, is this: help your son have something he excels in. For kids, school is the main focus of their lives, and a lot of their self worth comes from their successfailure in school. Any kid who needs to struggle hard in school, especially when they see all the kids around them not struggling…well, it is just really hard on their self esteem. Hopefully, a good teacher and placement will minimize the struggle, aspect, but nothing can change the fact that certain things just don’t come easily to everybody. And while, at the end of the day, learning how to work hard and overcome challeneges is a really worthwhile learning experience, it is really hard while it is happening. Having something outside of school that he is AWESOME at, and fills him up with feeling like a success, and even a STAR, can help him have the reserves to push himself at school. It also helps with the conversation that we all have to have with our kids…different people are good at different things–you may not be good at math..but you are AWESOME at X.So, in a nutshell, extracurricular that he LOVES. And what everyone else will say about school and the IEP process.

  2. my experience is a bit different, since my baby was a preemie and has had ieps or the baby equivalent for 2 years, but i have nothing but good to say about the people and organizations involved. he’ll turn 3 in december and age out of cdsa, so this afternoon we have a visit scheduled from the school district person to start his transition to school district coverage (which starts at 3). so far, it’s been total confirmation of what i know about him, and guidance to help him to grow to be age appropriate.

  3. I have ADD and have had it my whole life, though it wasn’t diagnosed until graduate school. I also was a good reader and read for pleasure all the time, so that is definitely not incompatible with ADD.1) Can you help provide your child with structure? My single mother also had many organization issues (ADD has a genetic component, maybe she had it too?) and failed to provide me with the structure I needed. Check his backpack for homework, communication from the school, and rotting food every day. Explicitly teach organization and self-management skills.
    2) Please don’t let your son feel bad about himself. Let the little things go and focus on the positive. I have a lot of self-esteem issues tied in with the constant criticism I got from my mother. It can be very frustrating living with a child with ADD. Sometimes it feels like they are doing it on purpose. They are not. They really can’t help but not notice the mess/not keep track of their stuff/get distracted in school.
    3) As Chaya suggested, find something that he is really good at and encourage it.

  4. Can you actually get an IEP without a diagnosis? I thought the point of an IEP was for kids who had specific problems but were mainstreamed. An IEP is a legal document, so I don’t think you can or should try to get one until you know the actual issue you are trying to address (ie attention problems, sensory issues, hearing impairment).Obviously the school should never have tried to give him a diagnosis. It sounds like the main concern is that he had trouble with math, specifically the way it was being taught AND that she is concerned with him starting over and fitting in. I would probably try talking to his teacher near the beginning of the school year (actually scheduling something with her, not just trying to squeeze it in during drop off) and explain that he had trouble understanding math taught in x way and any other concerns you have.
    I think IEPs are hard on teachers since they are legally obligated to follow them. They really aren’t designed for each child to have but for kids who really can’t otherwise function or thrive in a mainstream classroom.

  5. I’m not sure an IEP would be appropriate in this situation. The normal process (and it varies from state to state I think) is that if the classroom teacher thinks there is a problem, he/she will bring the student to a meeting called an SST (Student Study Team) comprised of a team of teachers, special ed teachers, psychologists, administrators, and often the parents are invited to attend. The teacher presents concerns, student work, and the team brainstorms together some modifications that might be appropriate to help the student be successful within the classroom setting. Often these modifications are tried in the classroom by the teacher, and then the team reconvenes to discuss if they have helped or if the next step needs to be taken.If the group thinks that further testing is needed, a battery of tests will be given by the psychologist. Most of the tests are designed to measure a students ability against the students academic performance. If there is a big enough discrepancy services will be recommended, an IEP will be drafted, and the student will begin receiving services. Services might range from 30 minutes per week in the resource room, to full-time in the special education class.
    Unfortunately, if there is not a big enough discrepancy between the students ability and performance, the student might not qualify for services.
    There are also 504 plans that are more easily put into place and that don’t require the legal formality of an IEP. Please ask about a 504 plan. A 504 plan can be started or ended a lot easier than an IEP.
    As a classroom teacher it is my responsibility to make accommodations for all students who have learning needs, regardless of whether they have an IEP, a 504 plan, or nothing at all. I am appalled that a private school (though not surprised) has told the OP that her son needs to be in special ed. There is no reason a student with ADD needs anything (not an IEP, not a 504 plan, or anything else) other than some simple modifications from the classroom teacher, and a little extra help. If there is a specific need in math that he needs addressed, then perhaps an SST and an IEP for some resource services would be appropriate. But to say that without any kind of assessment is irresponsible and lazy.
    In advocating for your child to get tested, know that once an SST team decides to assess for learning disabilities, they legally must perform these tests within 60 days of the meeting. Often, school psychologists are overworked and their testing docket is backed up. Please make sure this is honored if this is the route you choose to take.
    Also know that in many states, you can request to have an IEP formally, in writing, and skip the SST process. Schools don’t advertise that to parents, or they’d have a lot of parents making this request and the testing that is requested through the normal process would get pushed back even further, and the district would be out of compliance and many fines/legal problems would ensue. But if you feel like you are not getting anywhere with the classroom teacher, it is your right to make a formal request in writing.
    If it were me, before creating a legal document such as an IEP for my child, I’d first meet with the classroom teacher and have him/her assess if there really is a problem, or just a delay that can be addressed within the classroom. A really good teacher can make all the difference. But know that typically, a condition such as ADD does not qualify a student to be in special ed. And if they are pushing you to medicate your child, again know that you don’t have to do that. There are many homeopathic things you can do, there are many dietary modifications you can make, and at the end of the day, it is the TEACHER’S JOB to work with that student – medicated or not. It might not be easy, but it can be done.
    Good luck!

  6. I know there are a lot of public school teachers and former teachers around here, so I know we will all have a lot of good advice in this situation! I taught HS English in PA for 10 years and have a lot of experience with students with IEPs.In PA (and NJ is similar, if not exactly the same), the way you initiate one is this: You call the school where the child will be attending and speak with the Guidance Counselor. He or she will set up a testing series with the School Psychologist (usually a district-wide position, so expect some delay in having the testing done). You may need to be persistent, but remember that there is a huge influx of parents making the same request and there will be a testing backlog for the school district. You can have educational testing done privately, with an educational psychologist you hire yourself, but most school districts will not initiate services without test results from their own psychologist. Sometimes the Guidance Counselors do the testing, as well.
    The psychologist will evaluate your child’s test results and gather an IEP team to determine his needs IF the test results warrant services. They may not. In that case you will have to use non-school resources (Sylvan, private tutoring, etc.) if you still think your child needs additional help.
    The IEP team will include you, the psychologist, the guidance counselor, a regular-ed teacher and/or a special-ed teacher and maybe an administrator (principal, assistant principal). You’ll all sit down, probably more than once, and hash out the educational services your child will need to reach his potential in the areas in which a need was identified. These services will be implemented, you’ll see how it goes, and you (or any member of the team) can reconvene the IEP team meeting at ANY TIME to revise or reevaluate your child’s needs. Reevaluations are required at least annually.
    It is so important to remember you are ALL on the SAME TEAM. Everybody on the IEP team wants what is best for your child even though it MAY seem like each person has contradictory ideas about how to get there. It really, truly is NOT an adversarial process. Also, IEPs are SO COMMON and the adustments necessary for success are SO EASY to integrate into a child’s day that you should have no fear about your child being ‘singled out’ or ‘labeled.’ Only the people on the IEP team will know your child has one. Other children, especially, will have NO CLUE.
    Finally, just to clarify Moxie’s statement — the school and its employees are REQUIRED BY LAW to follow the IEP. There’s no ‘theoretically’ about it — if you feel it is not being followed, you reconvene the team and make the adjustments necessary. If someone refuses to implement the IEP (which they will not, if they want to keep their job), they are in violation of the law and can, and should, be held legally liable.
    It’s a long and exhausting process, but worth it to see a child blossom with the support that’s best for his needs. I’m sure you’ll hear horror stories about it, both here and IRL, but please know that they are the minority. Most students who need special services do get what they need and do very well with it all. I’m sure you guys will, too. Good luck!

  7. I have written and sat in on hundreds of IEP meetings. I agree with Julie completely. I don’t think an IEP is appropriate in this instance, at least not yet. I would put him in school, get him tutoring in math (or do it yourself at home http://www.math-u-see is a great math curriculum and really teaches mathematical thinking). Unless the child has a significant learning disability, I would avoid any labels and would not pursue testing or an IEP.

  8. Your best resource is the school. You can be totally frank with them about the fact that you don’t know if he needs one, if it will help, or what – you don’t know if he’s less interested in math because of how it was taught, because he has a learning disability, or because of a learning style thing (Mr G didn’t like math at first because he’s an auditory learner, and math is a visual process in the early levels – but once it clicked, it CLICKED, and he’s not maybe loving it, but doing well anyway). Ask. There’s no way I could tell you from here if an IEP is appropriate. I can tell you that my nephew is incredibly intelligent, read well above grade level, and had an IEP, which was essential to his success, from what we can tell.My kids have various issues that affect their function at school, but do not have IEPs, and don’t need them. But it is a discussion you have with the school, first. Assume they’ll want to help, and back them up (the effort to make sure the testing happens, for example, is not to hold their feet to the fire, but to help them keep things moving when they’re so overwhelmed by so many requests at once – they NEED your help, give it as much as you can!).
    Good luck! You can also go to one of the places like Sylvan to get testing done initially, and work from that side first – but I’d still keep in touch with the school so they know what you’re pursuing, and can help you navigate the process.

  9. My very limited experience here is as a teacher, and my only advice is to be wary of making initial statements like he “seems not to understand math as it was being taught by his teacher.” Anything that smacks of blaming the teacher is likely to rub folks the wrong way (and since you’re switching schools and teachers is largely irrelevant anyway).I would definitely check into getting him tested for math issues and find out as much as you can about the math curriculum being used in the new school and see what modifications/alternatives might be available.

  10. In NJ, each school district has what is called a “child study team” made up of counselors, etc. When she enrolls her child in school, I think that she should be very frank with them and say that his old school had identified him as potentially having ADD, but that as his mother she sees no signs, but that he did struggle with math. She could ask that he start in his new school, be observed carefully, and be tested by the child study team if she and his teacher and the child study team agreed it was warranted after he had been there for 4-6 weeks? Because isn’t it possible that he may respond comepletely differently in a new environment? Then, if everyone agrees that he is still struggling and would benefit from testing, the child study team will do that and the parents and school officials will meet and then determine if an IEP is warranted and go from there. It might not be necessary as some others have mentioned–the school may be able to make modifications/alternatives without going through the official IEP process.

  11. @SarcastiCarrie- my take from the outside (my kid is not yet old enough for school, I have lots of relatives who are/were teachers, but in a different state than the one I live in) is that some parents just come in with a combative tone towards public schools. They assume that the schools aren’t going to do right by their kids, and that they’ll have to fight for everything. I suspect this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, although the teachers I know work very hard to separate their opinion of a child from their opinion of his/her parents.Of course, some teachers and administrators probably come in with a combative tone, too. Its like the old saying about doctors- half of them are below average!
    Even in a pre-preschool (aka day care) that we’re paying a boatload of money for, I’ve already run across some parents whose attitude surprises me. I don’t see the point of making things so adversarial. It seems unlikely to be as successful as a collaborative approach. But then, I’ve never been in the situation of being sure that my child was being misunderstood by her teachers.
    I think Ashaki is getting a lot of good advice from the teachers here. I always find it useful to read these threads, even though we’re still several years away from school. I learn so much from everyone.

  12. Here’s how it works in our schools (Texas):1. Call the school and ask to speak to either the principal, or the administrator who handles special services.
    2. Explain your concerns and specifically ask for diagnostic testing.
    3. Follow up weekly to monitor the progress of the assessments and analysis.
    4. That will get the ball rolling toward an appropriate and effective IEP. Stay in active communication with the school and don’t hesitate to voice your concerns and questions. School personnel are often overworked and understaffed, but they are sincerely committed to doing what is best for students.
    Good luck.

  13. I’d like to also agree with the commenters who have recommended waiting to see how he responds to a new learning environment. It is quite possible that he will benefit from a different approach, perhaps combined with prescribed interventions under the school’s RtI (Response to Intervention) program.

  14. (Credentials: I went to school to be a special ed teacher, but never taught due to acute burnout).The first step is to get a real diagnosis. Teachers are NOT qualified to diagnose ADD on their own. It was inappropriate for the teacher to suggest a diagnosis. She should’ve referred the parents to their doctor.
    Teachers are not doctors, psychiatrists, etc. They can suspect all day long, but there is a process to get a true ADD diagnosis, which requires behavioral evaluations to be filled out by teacher, parent, doctor, psychiatrist, etc. before a true diagnosis is put into place.
    It would be tragic for this child to be placed in special ed if he doesn’t actually need to be there. It would be tragic if his symptoms are coming from a different source (poor eyesight? limited hearing?), and instead of being treated for the actual cause, he gets pigeonholed as a “troubled” student and treated differently as a result. He could’ve just had a crappy math teacher!! He could’ve just been sitting too far from the blackboard or the teacher in that particular math class!
    Seriously, the parents’ actions in this case can affect their kid’s entire school career, and his entire future. They should not fool around with an unqualified diagnosis. It’s dangerous. The teacher who said, “your child should be in special ed,” should be reported to the principal, because that is unethical behavior, private school or not.
    The parents need to speak to their primary care physician about the school’s specific concerns (attempt to get documentation of the child’s behavior from the previous school), get a referral to a mental health professional, get an objective assessment from the mental health professional, and go from there.
    The doctor is also not qualified to diagnose ADD, and if he simply offers a prescription without evaluation and due diligence, they need to find a new doctor.
    If the Mental Health Professional (NOT the private school teacher/s, not the doctor) thinks that there’s a problem, he or she will direct the parents on how to deal with the school, will prescribe appropriate medications, etc. With proper treatment, the kiddo might just need a little tutoring to catch up to his peers.
    Please encourage this parent to get an appropriate mental health diagnosis before any educational decisions are made.
    In the event that the kid DOES have a diagnosis that makes an IEP necessary, the best thing the parents can do is know their rights under IDEA 97. A PDF is available here:
    (click on the link at that page)
    …and demand nothing less than the full measure of what the law allows your child.
    Many schools won’t immediately offer the full measure of a student’s rights, because it’s expensive and all schools are broke. But you have to demand it, and you have to have a good solid knowledge of your rights.
    You have the right to take anyone (including a lawyer) to your IEP meeting. If you have a friend who has a kid with special needs, you can take him/her. If you have a reason to take your psychiatrist, s/he can be included. Seriously – learn your rights and demand what you’re entitled to under the law. And you will have to demand, unfortunately.
    But first, get the kid a real diagnosis.

  15. “It would be tragic if his symptoms are coming from a different source (poor eyesight? limited hearing?)”Note for all suspected ADD kids’ parents – my brother-in-law was “diagnosed” with learning disabilities which we finally found, at age 28, were related to major sleep apnea (waking up 90 times/hour). After surgery to remove his relaly large tonsils and fix a deviated septum, he’s finally alert, attentive, and happy for the first time in his life.
    DO NOT overlook simple physical exams for things like this.
    His mother used to joke that she never worried about him as a baby (sleeping in another room), because she could hear him snoring from across the house.
    Just sayin’.

  16. @Brooke – IEPs are for any student whose educational plan differs from the norm, at least that’s how it was when I was in school. So yes, kids with learning disabilities or needing special accommodations have IEPs, but students who are in advanced programs (they call them different things at different schools) may also have them.@SarcastiCarrie – like someone else said above, I think some parents come into the process in a combative way, which is unfortunate. In other cases, for kids who need more accommodations than the schools want to provide (in my experiences, this seems to occur more frequently with children on the autistic spectrum), usually due to cost, the parents become legitimately combative, have to hire advocates and so on.
    I thought Julie and Mrs. Haley gave excellent advice.

  17. When our daughter started second grade, at age seven, she had a hard time focusing, and was behind in math. We wondered if she had ADD, and maybe she does, a little, but we worked with the teacher and she caught up and basically seemed to grow out of it. I think because she wanted to succeed she developed strategies and coping mechanisms. I’ve heard that seven is a hard year for kids, and a huge amount of maturing occurs. That was certainly true for us.I don’t have any advice about what you should do, but I thought I’d mention that the situation may look very different at the end of the year.

  18. My kid is only 4 so we got the IEP to get him into a special ed preschool program which might be different than for a kid already in school. I contacted the school district to set up the initial screening (they look for medical causes first). We went through that and it was recommended he get the more thorough evaluation. From that evaluation, we developed his IEP. It was a lengthy process (initial phone call in February, placed in his school in September).We did not have a diagnosis at the time of the IEP. He was later diagnosed on the autism spectrum, which we certainly suspected at the time.
    I have nothing but positive, gushing, loving things to say about the therapists who evaluated Max. It was the most thorough screening he had had to date (and he’d had several). It was the first time I felt like someone really listened to me. They got him into a great program that works for his needs and he’s thriving.

  19. Depends on the school district and the laws. Here in Colorado schools are moving to the RTI model (Right to Intervention). This allows kids to get the help they need w/o going through the staffing process. If he is only struggling with math he may not qualify for an IEP. She needs to call the school psychologist to begin the staffing process. If the school doesn’t have a psychologist she should contact the special ed teacher for the school and ask how to initiate.On another note, no one should ever “diagnose” a child without having done a full evaluation. That teacher was incredibly unprofessional.

  20. Take my advice with a grain of salt as it comes from having assisted in special ed and as an aunt and not from being a teacher or a parent in that situation but…… my feeling generally is, if a child has had a problem for only one school year, it’s not necessarily the child’s fault. I couldn’t tell from the post if this was a grade 1 & 2 issue, or just a grade 1.
    My comments assume the second.
    I’d start with a comprehensive look at everything physical: hearing, eyesight, checkup. I’d call the school and get in touch with the teacher and talk about my specific concerns about math (and leave the rest of it).
    And I’d up the math activities at home – have him count the carrots as you cook, sort pennies, whatever. Everything concrete you can find.
    I would not blow the SST whistle until perhaps October. I would definitely NOT go for an IEP unless he isn’t learning with a new teacher.
    I am not slamming teachers here but some teachers are just not good with boys. If he had math at a time that he needed more physical activity that might explain both the ADD and the math issue. You add that to a “spiralling” curriculum where the smart kids learn if they wait a unit out, it will go away… bingo.
    Honest; it might not be more complicated than that. Of course you need to know.

  21. I did some training on special ed law a year or so ago. The trainers were a bit anti-school district and taught parents to be combative (in my opinion), I think because so many parents had had poor experiences with their autism spectrum kids. However, I still walked away with a lot of good tips. You can find them here: http://treatingautism.wordpress.com/2008/03/03/special-ed-law-tips/All that said, I do still agree with the commenters here who say don’t jump straight to an IEP.

  22. I would be very careful about getting and IEP. When my kids were in school, this may have changed, the fact that you had an IEP or asked for one stayed on a child’s permanent record for his entire school career. Although most times who cares if you can get the help your child needs. I just wanted to let you know this. We went through this with my son.ALSO I watched a report about a school that decided to use “standing desks” with a “kicking bar” to help those who need to focus. The kids could sit on a stool if they wanted to or stand through the lessons. Since you can’t be fully diagnosed with ADD or ADHD until age 7 those with “possible, probable ADD or ADHD” were allowed to kick this moveable bar all day if they needed to so they could focus on school work. THE CHANGES WERE AMAZING. The concentration level and grades went way up. Even those who didn’t have ADD or ADHD benefited from this.
    If you want more information, I’m looking into to representing these desks, email me at sharon @proactiveparenting dot net.

  23. Sorry to not have read the posts, but in Canada an IEP is only used for children with severe learning disabilities.In Canada Ashaki’s son could be sent for testing to see if he truly has trouble in math or if he simply learns differently than how the teacher was teaching. If he has difficulty in math a program would be set up for extra help. Also, some sort of modification in the classroom so that he can be successful at whatever level he is at-as opposed to continually struggling to achieve at what the other kids are doing.
    Sounds to me like he may just learn differently than the other kids in his class. He may need things explained to him differently or in a variety of ways before he understands it. If he is a good reader he may needs to read the instructions rather than simply hearing them from the teacher. i.e. he is a visual learner rather than an auditory one. One thing to keep in mind is that he can be a good combination of different styles of learning too, and one thing may not work, you may have to incorporate many things. Hope this helps a little.
    *Note – Canada does not have universal education practices. What I wrote applies to the province of Manitoba.

  24. @ Aaron – in most US school districts, IEPs are used for any children who are classified as special education – including gifted children, in which case they specify enrichment activities.I would wait before requesting and IEP in the OP’s case. It is entirely possible that her son just didn’t respond to the instructional methods that were being used. I would, however, mention to his new teacher that he struggled somewhat with math last year so that she can be on the lookout for issues.
    I’m a case in point. I went to a parochial school through 8th grade. I nearly failed math in 4th grade, and struggled to the point that I was put into remedial math in 5th grade.
    My 4th grade teacher had us broken into ability groups. She would teach one group while the other groups worked on assignments or even took tests. While I was able to block out the sounds of the building falling down around me (metaphorically, of course) in Language Arts (the other ability grouped class), I couldn’t do that in Math.
    In 5th grade, because I was in a much smaller class (8 kids as opposed to 45), I didn’t have to worry about that as much. The teacher worked with us virutally one-on-one, and because there were so few of us, we were able to work at our own paces. She soon discovered that my primary problem was noise distracting me (and because she had me for language arts in a different year, she knew it wasn’t an issue in that class). She worked out a system where once she instructed me and gave me my assignments, I oculd go out into the hallway to work on them, where it was quiet.
    By the end of the year, I was at the top of the grade in math. She passed on the information she learned to the 6th grade math teacher, and I was back with the rest of the class, working out in the hall when I needed to and for all tests if the teacher was teaching another group.
    The moral is try to work with the new teacher first before you request an IEP. It will be a quicker process, and it may be less stressful for you, the child, and the teacher, ultimately.

  25. One of Moxie’s questions was what those of us who struggled in school wished our parents had done. I started to have significant problems with math in second grade, and continued to struggle all the way through calculus (which I had to take twice to pass, after taking pre-calc twice!). I then went on to earn a Ph.D., so part of my point is that years of Cs and Ds in math did not, in the end, matter. But my main point echoes Chaya’s–my parents were always clear that I had some real talents in other arenas, that I had to at least try in math, that grades were not a reflection of me or my talents, and that we can’t all excel or even be good at everything. Especially by high school and college, teachers were very eager to assign labels to my math issues, and maybe some testing would have helped me identify what my problem was and how to mediate it. But since I was really good at some other things and supported by my parents in my pursuit of those things, I grew very comfortable just saying, “I’m not good at math.” I think it’s okay to accept our limits.

  26. wanted to pop in any also say that “mothering.com” has a kick-ass special needs section, in which you’ll find incredibly knowledgeable, helpful parents who have been through all of this a thousand times. they will have first-hand advice, and there’s usually someone who has been through darn near exactly what you have. and as a parent who is about to start this process myself (with a dd who has a diagnosis), my guess is that “combative” parents come into this instinctively protective – that’s what we’re wired to do. that doesn’t mean there’s not often room to take a deep breath, listen more closely, and compromise a bit better. i promise, though, until you have a child with special needs, you have *no* idea what it means to advocate for your biggest, truest love – every single day… best of luck to you, OP :)).

  27. I work in special education in Washington State, so the laws may differ slightly, but this is how it works here. Call the school your child will be attending and ask to speak with the psychologist. The psychologist usually manages all evaluations for IEPs. It’s likely that they’ll want to give your child a bit of time at his new school before doing an evaluation, to see if he does better/worse in their program. If they, along with you of course, decide an evaluation is warranted, they’ll discuss with you what areas they want to include in the evaluation (reading, math, writing, speech and language, motor skills, adaptive skills, and/or behavior). They’ll use a variety of methods, including standardized testing to determine if there is a deficit that significantly impacts his ability to participate in the regular class. Please remember that “special education” is a service, not a place! Many students receiving some sort of special education spend most, if not all, of their school day in what is traditionally thought of as a regular education classroom. They just get pulled out (or help in class) for the specific areas they need help in. You would probably be surprised how many students receive some form of special education (for instance, speech therapy), and the rest of the kids think nothing of it as they’re so use to seeing a number of kids going in and out of the room for different reasons. Please, don’t feel like it’s your fault, or that he’ll be “different”. Always get a second opinion, but if you hear the same thing over again, please trust the education professionals. They really are there to help you and your son.

  28. I didn’t have time to read all of the responses but in skimming did at least see a few that echoed what I wanted to say– it sounds like he’s a smart kid, and maybe math isn’t his thing. Not necessarily a special needs situation. I was in the talented and gifted program and graduated school two years early, but when I did graduate, I was definitely not in the higher level math classes. My brain just doesn’t work that way. It’s OK to excel in one area and skate by in another!

  29. Haven’t had time to read the comments but just wanted to point out that there is a recognised developmental disorder called dyscalculia. It is basically like dyslexia but for math. It isn’t widely known about but if math problems persist over several years then you might want to track down a psychologist who has heard of it.

  30. As a school psychologist, and mom, I am worried about a school that would tell a parent a kid needs an IEP for ADD. ADD is diagnosed as a physical diagnosis by a doctor, or as an educational diagnosis by a team of qualified individuals — which would have to include the parents. This is not some willy nilly diagnosis made by a teacher or principal. And it does NOT require that a student is in special education. It requires that teachers make accommodations.The new movement in education is called Response to Intervention (RTI). This is a tiered system of education, which attempts to meet the needs of all learners through a progression of interventions. It starts with a solid, evidence based general education curriculum. Because, really, how do you know if a kid is struggling, if you can’t be sure that the school is simply not meeting his or her needs?!
    I would say, it’s good that the family is switching schools. Hopefully, the next school is more attuned to individual student needs, and will analyze the whole picture before jumping to special education. This kid sounds like he has lots of strengths!
    I would communicate any and all concerns with the new school– including the teacher and the school psychologist. Also, download this document to learn your rights as a parent, and to learn more about the process.
    Good luck. The OP sounds awesomely in tune already with a very confusing system. More power to you!!

  31. I know Moxie and the person corresponded a few times, so I may be off track – but from what Moxie posted the situation reminds me of a problem a friend of mine had. Her son is at a private school. Her son and the first teacher didn’t hit it off. The teacher was insistant the son had some sort of autism disorder. Everyone else who knows the son well thinks he’s fine (even his pediatrician) just not exactly the typical seven year old and at the same time the things the teacher had problems with are typical boy things (not sitting still, the standard stuff people worry about boys and the education system).Please don’t assume that because he had a problem in a private school, he’ll also have a problem in the public school. The public school classroom he is placed in may suit him better than the private school classroom did.

  32. As mentioned above, it’s entirely possible that this little guy was just not in a school that was a good fit for him (and I’d definitely not put a lot of stock in professionals who said things like “this kid needs special ed–he has add”—-though statements like that are made all the time by people not qualified to make that diagnosis).An ADD diagnosis is a whole process, not one person’s statement—-and what to do for a child who does have ADD is another whole process (not “he needs special ed”). Both processes are governed by federal and state regulation.
    Moxie, I actually do this professionally (special ed advocacy) and would be happy to hear from this reader via email and offer whatever help I can.

  33. It sounds like this is a case where a really thorough diagnostic assessment would be useful. Many people have mentioned going through the school – I’m a huge fan of public schools, but I also think that they often fall down badly on this particular task. If it’s financially feasible (a comprehensive assessment can run $3,000), or if you can find a free clinic (many universities with child clinical psychology tracks either have their own or are affiliated with clinics, so that their students can gain experience in educational assessment) I’d recommend getting an outside assessment, then bringing the results to the school to discuss any accommodations he may need.There are LOTS of things that could be going on that would lead a 7-year-old to have attention/focus issues and trouble with math. A comprehensive assessment should include:
    1. VISION AND HEARING TESTS. Start here. If you take your kid for 8 hours of assessment and find out at the end that he is hearing impaired, you’ve just wasted a lot of time and money to find out that he can’t answer questions he can’t hear.
    2. A cognitive assessment/IQ test. Most people will use the WISC (Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children). You should ask the psychologist if they administer the full test or only the core subtests; given the attentional/math issues you will want them to at least do the supplemental arithmetic and cancellation subtests.
    3. An achievement assessment. If the person you see uses the WISC for IQ, they’ll probably use the WIAT for academic achievement. This will give you a sense of unevenness in his academic abilities compared to norms for his age group, and whether his achievement in any particular area is significantly above or below the range that is consistent with his general level of cognitive functioning (from the IQ test).
    4. A continuous processing task. This is a quantitative way to get at “attention” and “impulse control” that doesn’t rely on a parent or a teacher saying “he kind of looks spacey sometimes.” It’s a really basic task, but can provide a LOT of information. Two common ones are the Conners CPT and the TOVA (Test of Variables of Attention), I prefer the TOVA because it is longer and can pick up on issues where kids are able to hold it together for a while, but fall apart when they have to focus for a long period of time (the Conners is 14 minutes long, the TOVA is 22).
    5. Tests of visual and auditory perception. This is different from just the ability to see or hear – these tests get at whether and how the child is able to USE that basic perceptual information. Knowing what the problem is, as specifically as possible, will help you identify the right problem-solving strategies.
    6. A test of fine motor skills. Sometimes this can come into play in math – for example, if the kid just isn’t getting his numbers lined up right on the paper, he’s going to have a really hard time adding and subtracting.
    7. Parent and teacher reports of general behavioral/emotional/social functioning, and something specific to the possible attention issues. You want one of the more “broad” measures to make sure you’re not missing something – anxiety, depression, social problems can all influence performance in the classroom. And you also want a specific, normed scale to get at possible ADHD behaviors (NOT just a checklist of the symptoms that says “do they have this?”) to get at whether parent and teacher perceptions of the relevant behaviors are within age-appropriate norms.

  34. Hi. I’m a mom by day and tutor by night. I work with kids struggling in reading and math. Some of them have established learning differences and IEPs. What I have observed is that getting an IEP is a process of patience and assertive advocacy on the part of the parent. Once you’ve got one, you’re good, but it may take a loooooong time to push through the process.I’m also currently reading The Mislabeled Child by Drs. Eide, which I think is really fantastic and they come right out and reference studies showing that math instruction is, all too often, of poor quality. The book is full of practical advice and information–I highly recommend it.
    My advice is don’t wait on testing if you think there is an issue. It won’t hurt to find out for sure. Being impervious to math is a red flag. Even with poor instruction, he should pick up something. If it’s bouncing off his brain, you need to do something. Don’t wait. Parents who wait end up with very sullen teenagers who can’t be motivated to learn–I know because they end up being my students. Very often I’m called in much too late to help, too much of their identity is wrapped up in being the failed student. So I’m all for lots of early intervention.
    Also, my experience is that private schools are quite limited in providing services to kids. I’ve been amazed at the poor quality and lack of options, especially considering how much money parents are shelling out. My area of expertise is foreign language and I can tell you I’ve seen too many teachers who do not know what they are doing skating by in private schools. So I agree with whoever pointed out that it could be a personality issue, it could even be that the teacher isn’t very good, or an organizational psychology problem.
    Either way, pursue the testing and get some empirical data on what your child’s abilities are. The results of those tests will really direct you as to what the next step should be.
    Beyond that, I have started a math focused blog to try and offer resources for struggling kids. It’s a fledgling effort, but I hope to eventually develop it as a resource to struggling kids and parents: http://findmathtutor.com/

  35. Check out the articles below. They are great overviews on learning disabilities and add/adhd, ad free and each article includes recommended web resources and places to find more help at the end. The third article about Parenting a Child with Learning Disabilities includes a PDF file that is an overview of the IEP process. The ADD/ADHD article is part of a series of articles on parenting a child with ADD/ADHD.Learning disabilities
    ADD/ADHD – Overview
    Parenting a Child with Learning Disabilities

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