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Advocacy

You are the voice for your child in the education system. Most parents are unprepared for this role at first, but the more you know, the more you will be able to do for your child.

Click below for answers to the following questions about advocacy:

Question 1: How do I set up an IEP for my child with ADHD?
Question 2: I suspect my child might have dyslexia. What should I do?
Question 3: I feel as though my child's skills are regressing. What should I do?
Question 4: My child's school says that my child is very bright, but they want to hold him back because of his poor reading skills. I want him tested for a reading disability. What should I do?
Question 5: I don't feel like my child has received the kind of help that she needs in the public school, so I've put her in private school. How can I get the public school to pay for it?
Question 6: What should I do if my child has an IEP but is not making any progress?
Question 7: How do I teach advocacy skills to children with LD?
Question 8: I am concerned my child's school is not really following her IEP. What can I do about this?
Question 9: How do I know when my child no longer needs an IEP?
Question 10: My child was tested in kindergarten for dyslexia but they didn't find anything. What should I do now that he is in 3rd grade and still struggling with reading and writing?
Question 11: My son's school would like to place him in a self-contained classroom. I don't agree. What can I do to make sure my child has the best possible learning environment?
Question 12: My son is far behind in school both academically and developmentally. Should he stay back a grade?

Question:

How do I set up an IEP for my child with ADHD?

Answer:

All parents should start in the school's front office. Ask to speak with an administrator and bring any type of documentation and work samples you may have. In order for an individual to receive any type of accommodations, the individual must provide documentation of a specific disability. For a valid and accurate diagnosis, an individual needs a full psycho-educational evaluation through a licensed or otherwise qualified professional. Ask the school for this type of screening/evaluation.

Note: A diagnosis of ADHD is not enough to qualify a child as learning disabled. In cases where students receive services for an ADHD diagnosis, either through an IEP or a 504 Plan, the coding is usually Other Health Impaired (OHI). The following articles from LD OnLine relate to diagnosis of ADHD and might be useful to you.

Finally, you may wish to contact any of the following organizations who specialize in advocacy and legal rights of parents:


Question:

I suspect my child might have dyslexia. What should I do?

Answer:

It is important to address reading problems early so you can begin getting your child the appropriate help. You can use our Target the Problem activity to get a general idea of your child’s academic strengths and weaknesses. More comprehensive information can be found on the article page.

The following articles describe specific characteristics common to students with dyslexia and other learning disabilities. You may find it helpful to read these articles to determine whether you see similar characteristics in your child:

If, after reading these articles, you still suspect your child is showing signs of having a learning disability, it is within your rights as a parent to request a free educational evaluation through your public school. Whether or not he is found eligible for special services, the evaluation will help determine your child's academic strengths and weaknesses and how best he learns. The following articles describe the steps involved in the evaluation process, including your rights as a parent:

After this process is complete, you can use the information from the evaluation to help you make a decision about the next step in your child's educational path.


Question:

I feel as though my child's skills are regressing. What should I do?

Answer:

It is alarming to feel that your child is no longer making progress and may even be losing skills, but it will benefit him if you recognize this early and intervene.

Speak with his teachers about your concerns and share any samples of his work that reflect these concerns. Together, you can decide which step should be taken next. If you and his teachers feel that the level and amount of services and accommodations your child is receiving need to be revisited, then an IEP meeting should be convened.

You may also consider asking that the concerns you have about your child’s academic progress be discussed at the school's next local screening meeting. At this meeting, you and the other members of the local screening committee will decide if further evaluation for your child is warranted.

At both meetings, it is important to discuss the possible reasons for your child's current struggles to help determine the next course of action. For example, perhaps your child was able to compensate for his disability before, but now that he is getting older and the schoolwork is getting more challenging, his ability to compensate is being strained and the achievement gap between your child and his peers is widening. His apparent regression may also be signs of stress from knowing that he is falling further behind. It is imperative that the emotional component of your child's educational experience be addressed.

The following articles illustrate how to make the most of these meetings and include information about your rights as a parent throughout the special education process:

You and your child's teachers should be able to work together to develop an educational program that will meet his needs and help him reach his academic potential.


Question:

My child's school says that my child is very bright, but they want to hold him back because of his poor reading skills. I want him tested for a reading disability. What should I do?

Answer:

Because your child is bright yet still struggles with reading, it can be challenging to offer the right support. You can refer to the following articles to see the characteristics that some children with learning disabilities exhibit:

If you recognize your child's reading struggles in these articles, voice these specific concerns to professionals at his school and request that your child receive an educational evaluation. This evaluation is free and within your legal rights as a parent to request. This article will give you an overview of the evaluation process:

The article below has suggestions on how to be your child's most effective and informed advocate for his educational needs:

Whether or not he is found eligible for special services, the evaluation will help determine your child's academic strengths and weaknesses and how he best learns. This should guide you in supporting your child academically and emotionally in the years to come.

Because your child is bright, he may currently be able to compensate for his learning difficulties. But as he gets older and the reading material in school gets more challenging, it may become increasingly difficult to compensate, and he may fall further behind as a result. But the earlier the cause of his reading weaknesses is determined and addressed, the better chance your child has of truly reaching his academic potential.


Question:

I don't feel like my child has received the kind of help that she needs in the public school, so I've put her in private school. How can I get the public school to pay for it?

Answer:

Public schools will only pay for private placement if they feel they cannot meet a child's educational needs in the public system. At this point, it would be beneficial for you to arrange to meet with one of the heads of the special education department in your school district to discuss your concerns.

Review your child's educational evaluation at this meeting, with particular attention to the discrepancy between her ability and her academic achievement in the public school. Share your concerns about your child's placement and the level of services that the public school thinks is appropriate to provide her. The following articles may give you some ideas of ways that you can make the most of this meeting:

The following article provides a good summary of the special education process and describes actions that can be taken when there is disagreement between the parent and the school:

One aspect of the laws governing special education is that all children are entitled to a free, appropriate public education (also known as FAPE). The key is for you and the school district to come to an understanding about what FAPE means for your child. What can sometimes be frustrating for parents is that a free, appropriate public education must also be balanced with the least restrictive environment (LRE). This means that there needs to be the right balance between providing your daughter with the educational services, supports, and accommodations she requires to reach her academic potential and giving her access to the general education setting as much as possible.

Intuitively, it would seem that it would benefit almost all children to be in a self-contained, center-based, or other, more restrictive environment, particularly because of the low teacher to student ratio. But there are many factors to consider when determining appropriate placement. The questions of FAPE and LRE as they relate specifically to your child should be addressed.

You may wish to request that the head of the special education department also arranges to meet with you and the other members of the IEP team in order to create a new IEP that will address your child's needs in a way that is satisfactory to both you and the school. As the parent, you have the final say in all aspects of your child's education. The school cannot implement any IEP that you do not agree to and sign.


Question:

What should I do if my child has an IEP but is not making any progress?

Answer:

Because you feel that your child is not making progress, it is important to request an IEP meeting as soon as possible. At this meeting, there should be a detailed discussion about the type of assistance your child is receiving and for how long each day. You should also ask her teachers if your child is making progress toward meeting her IEP goals and objectives. Request documentation, such as your child's work samples and assessments, to support their claim.

You and the rest of the IEP team may need to rewrite your child's IEP in order to ensure that she is receiving the type and amount of services, accommodations, and modifications she requires to reach her academic potential. Consider bringing a friend or family member with you to the meeting to offer moral support, to be a second set of ears to keep up with all of the information shared during the meeting, and to help keep you focused on what you want to achieve during the meeting. The following articles may give you some other ideas of how you can make the most of this meeting:

Your child's IEP is a legal document that her school must follow. If you do not feel that her IEP is being met or that you and the school can agree on an IEP for your child, then there are steps you can take. The next article outlines what can happen if there is disagreement about the IEP:

You can also contact the Parent Advocacy Resource Center in your state or find other local support centers . They may be able to provide you with information, suggestions, and guidance specific to your child's needs.

Additionally, you can find information about your child’s rights in this guide to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004 (IDEA), which is the current federal standard for special education. Also of interest may be the National for Learning Disabilities’ Parent Guide.

Parents can be the strongest and most knowledgeable advocates for their children, so trust your instincts and don't give up until your child receives access to education that meets his or her needs!


Question:

How do I teach advocacy skills to children with LD?

Answer:

It is critically important to help children understand themselves and develop healthy self-esteem. Some of the information below is written for adults, so be sure to modify it to make it age-appropriate for children.

There are also excellent books available for children. The LD OnLine Kids section features a large selection of good books to help children handle learning and attention issues. For example, you’ll find Survival Guide for Kids with LD by Fisher and Cummings and The Creeps in Room 112 by Bennett, as well as books for much younger students. You can also find excellent articles written by children.


Question:

I am concerned my child's school is not really following her IEP. What can I do about this?

Answer:

Share your concerns with the IEP team at your child’s school immediately. The following articles from LD OnLine have information about parental rights and the IEP process that might be useful to you.

In addition, you may wish to explore LD OnLine's directory of Parent Advocacy Resource Centers.

Lastly, if your child’s IEP is still not being followed, contact an educational advocate or special education lawyer. LD OnLine has a Yellow Pages directory that might be helpful to you and the Wrightslaw website has useful information. Remember to listen to your instincts and trust that you have tremendous insight and knowledge about your child.


Question:

How do I know when my child no longer needs an IEP?

Answer:

Children with IEPs should be reevaluated at least every three years. This evaluation is often called a "triennial." Its purpose is to find out if the child continues to be a "child with a disability," as defined by IDEA, and what the child’s educational needs are.

IDEA was originally enacted by Congress in 1975 to make sure that children with disabilities had the opportunity to receive a free and appropriate public education, just like other children. The law has been revised many times over the years. The most recent amendments were passed by Congress in December 2004. Because the law is continuously changed and updated, school districts must modify how to determine if a child has a disability. Check with your child’s school to see what eligibility criteria they are currently using.

IDEA 2004 states:

  • The local educational agency (your child’s school) is no longer required to consider a severe discrepancy between achievement and intellectual ability in oral expression, listening comprehension, written expression, basic reading skill, reading comprehension, mathematical calculation, or mathematical reasoning.
  • A school may use a process that determines if a child responds to scientific, research-based intervention as a part of the evaluation process.

If informal testing states that a child is working at grade level, the school may feel he or she no longer meets their eligibility criteria. Be an advocate for your child. You are his or her voice at all the meetings you attend. Here are some links to articles that may be helpful.


Question:

My child was tested in kindergarten for dyslexia but they didn't find anything. What should I do now that he is in 3rd grade and still struggling with reading and writing?

Answer:

It is often challenging to detect learning difficulties in very young children. When your child was tested in kindergarten, he may have been able to compensate for his learning challenges to the point where there was little discrepancy between his ability and achievement. In order to be diagnosed with a learning disability and receive special education services, a child must exhibit both a processing deficit and a discrepancy between what he is capable of doing and what he is actually achieving in school.

As your child gets older, it may become increasingly difficult for him to compensate, and the gap between his ability and potential achievement may widen. If your child does have a learning disability, it will be easier to detect now than when he was in kindergarten. The following articles describe characteristics common to children with dyslexia and other learning disabilities. Look through them to see if you recognize any of your child’s challenges in these descriptions:

If you see some of these characteristics in your child, you may want to request that his school give him an educational evaluation. It is within your rights as a parent to request a free evaluation and to have a vote throughout the evaluation process.

The educational evaluation will help you and the school better understand your child’s academic strengths and weaknesses and how he learns best. The following articles will give you a clearer understanding of the evaluation process:

Please be sure to share any of the interventions that you have been trying at home and the concerns you have. The following articles may give you some insight as to how you can make the most of the local screening meeting and subsequent meetings in this process:

Your willingness to help your child at home will go a long way in giving him academic and emotional support, as well as the comfort of knowing that he is not alone in his struggles. The articles below suggest ways you and your child can work together at home:

Remember that you are the strongest and most knowledgeable advocate for your son, so trust your instincts and don’t give up! The sooner your son receives the assistance he needs and the quicker you and his teachers work together to develop a plan for home and school, the closer he will be to fully realizing his academic potential.


Question:

My son's school would like to place him in a self-contained classroom. I don't agree. What can I do to make sure my child has the best possible learning environment?

Answer:

School districts are required to educate students with disabilities in regular classrooms with their non-disabled peers in the school they would attend if not disabled, to the maximum extent appropriate. This is commonly referred to as the least restrictive environment (LRE).

To become more familiar with the law, check the following sites for information about the legal aspects of Special Education.

If you believe the school's decision is not in the best interest of your child, you may wish to contact one of the following organizations specializing in advocacy and legal rights of parents. These organizations can provide advice for your specific situation.


Question:

My son is far behind in school both academically and developmentally. Should he stay back a grade?

Answer:

Your question about retention at grade level is a challenging one. Most of the research done on the subject points to damaging social effects as well as a lack of long term academic improvement for most children. That said, given the way most schools are currently structured, moving students on to higher grades who are lacking skills and knowledge is also unlikely to ensure academic success. The following article may help you understand the challenges involved in that decision process and proposed strategies to overcome the issue.

If your school is one in which 1) at-risk students are given intensified learning experiences; 2) differentiated instruction is provided; 3) teachers are continually improving their skills; 4) lessons are geared to ongoing performance assessments; and 5) very young students receive the help they need early and often – you can safely support promotion for your child. If you are not convinced that your child will get the support he needs to succeed in the next grade, you may want to strongly support his retention. In addition to academic factors, it is important to weigh the child's age, size, emotional maturity and physical development when considering retention. Also examine the program that will be offered – it should be a new, challenging experience not a repeat of the same lessons and texts.

"There is no substitute for books in the life of a child." — May Ellen Chase