Recently, I have heard (far too many) stories from parents that the schools are taking away services from their child and/or denying providing services because the school does not believe the child’s diagnosis. This is wrong and illegal on so many levels, but I will adress the three (3) most important reasons why schools should never deny or reject a child’s diagnosis.
1. Only licensed physicians (medical doctors, doctors of osteopathy, and/or nurse practitioners depending on your state law) may provide a diagnosis and most IEP team members from the school district are NOT licensed physicians (school psychologists are not licensed physicians).
As an example, in New Jersey (and most states have similar laws to my knowledge) a person must have a license to “practice medicine or surgery”. N.J.S.A. 45:9-6. Diagnosis is practicing medicine. N.J.S.A. 45:9-5.1.
If one of the school staff suggests or takes the position that your child doesn’t have a diagnosis that has been confirmed by a physician, ask such person if he/she holds a physician’s license in your state.
2. Many diagnoses are “hidden” disorders or neurological problems, but should not be denied simply because you can’t “see” them.
If a child has Down Syndrome or Cerebral Palsy or Muscular Dystrophy or is an amputee, the disability is likely obvious. (I prefer not to automatically assume it is.) However, many disorders like Autism, ADHD, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Dyslexia, Cystic Fibrosis, Sensory or Auditory Processing Disorder, Krohn’s Disease, Depression, and others are what I call “hidden” disorders because they are often not obvious just observing a child. This is another reason that only licensed physicians who understand what tests need to be performed in order to make the proper diagnosis should do so. I’ve heard teachers and school administrators (people who should know better) say, “But [he/she] looks normal!” What an awful comment about a child with a disability.
Frankly, I can’t understand why school personnel even question this. For example, I have diabetes – a neurological disease. Looking at me, you would not know this. I do long charity bicycle rides of 70+ miles. Most people would say, “He seems fine.” While that may be the outward appearance, does it mean that I don’t have diabetes or that the disease does not affect me? It is wrong to deny that.
The huge problem with this is that when services are denied because the school does not observe the disorder, the child’s disorder may have devastating effects. Children with Autism may have meltdowns; children with ADHD may be distracted in classes; children with Auditory Processing Disorder may become disoriented or frightened; children with Krohn’s Disease may become exhausted; etc. Once this occurs, access to education is impeded. This is exactly what IDEA, 504, ADA, and other laws are designed to prevent.
3. Schools may respond that they don’t witness how the disability impacts the education, but they also don’t see the aftermath when the child arrives home.
While it is true that under IDEA and 504, there are two parts to the question: (a) does the child have a diagnosis that fits them within an eligibility category? and (b) does the child need special education and related services or accommodations because of the disability? 20 U.S.C. 1401(3)(A); 29 U.S.C. 794.
However, children have amazing capacity to overcome their disabilities. In colloqual terms, they can “hold it together” during school hours, but then come home and “let it all out”. Children know home is their “safe space” and if anxiety, frustration, fear, depression, anger, or similar emotions build up during the school day because the disability is not being recognized by the school, the parents must bear the brunt of those released emotions in the home.
In fact, the U.S. Department of Education issued a guidance letter that states “IDEA and the regulations clearly establish that the determination about whether a child is a child with a disability is not limited to information about the child’s academic performance.” USDOE Guidance, Letter to Clarke (2007). That means behavior should also be considered – whether in school or in the home, because remember a parent is a critical member of the IEP team. 20 U.S.C. 1414(d)(1)(B)(i).
Schools should not reject a child’s diagnosis made by a licensed physician because (1) it is unlikely that an IEP team member is a physician; (2) just because they can’t “see” the disability doesn’t mean it’s not there; and (3) they need to consider all effects of the disability, including behaviors at home triggered by the failure to address the issues at school.
If a school rescinds services to your child under an IEP or takes away the IEP because they don’t believe your child has a disability, contact a special education lawyer ASAP.