Why Schools Shouldn’t Reject Your Child’s Diagnosis

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).

Conclusion

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.

 

Guest Blog Post: Managing Classroom Behavior For Success – Antonia Guccione, M.S., M.A.

Any teacher will tell you that managing classroom behavior is critical to surviving the first days and weeks of the school year. But how? The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) 2009 provides guidelines of procedures that must be adhered to when disciplining students with Special Needs. Teachers have the legislation to guide them, but do they have a toolkit of strategies to help them manage classroom behavior in a supportive, non-confrontational way?

Get in the Game

Without specific training related to the modification of behaviors of children with special needs, it is no wonder that teacher turnover in the first five years in the classroom is so high. According to NPR. org, schools that do a better job of coping with behavioral issues have significantly better teacher retention rates. So, it is well worth the school’s time and effort to educate not only students, but also teachers in this significant area of professional development.

The good news is that there are a number of very simple techniques that, if applied correctly, can yield positive outcomes for both students and teachers. The bad news is that school districts must be committed to teaching them, but often are not. Many of these techniques have been adapted from work originally presented by Fritz Redl and David Wineman in their book titled Controls from Within: Techniques for the Treatment of the Aggressive Child. These techniques address how to interact with children and avoid confrontational, no-win situations. In the work done by Redl and Wineman, threats and punishments were never used, even with considerably challenging students.

In the Beginning

Long before a student and teacher are in a “no-win” situation that results in disciplinary action, there are things that can be done to create a “win-win” situation. Relationship building is key. People, in general, do things relationally with and for one another. A simple smile can break multiple barriers and set the stage for interventions aimed at establishing positive, caring, teacher-student relationships. One such intervention is called “hypodermic affection”. This is an infusion of affection aimed at breaking through a barrier laden with fear or distrust. When a teacher exudes affection and positive energy, it can go a long way to encouraging a positive reaction from the student.

“Hurdle Help” is another such technique. In this intervention, a student is helped over his barrier to learning and participating with a hint or a strategy. As such, students are helped over their “hurdle” and can participate in the learning and the lesson.

No Words Needed

Non–verbal interventions, such as proximity and touch control, let the student know that the teacher is close at hand if support is needed. On the other hand, planned ignoring can protect a student’s ego if he or she needs a little more time to process a request. To the untrained eye, it may look like a teacher is ignoring the student, but this is in fact a very specific move on the part of the teacher. Often, especially with young children, the purpose of misbehavior can be to gain attention…planned ignoring removes the audience.

Change is a Good Thing

Sometimes it is necessary to “restructure” an activity and redirect a student; change it up a bit! If a student is totally lost on one particular task, find a way to alter the task. For example, if the student is coming up blank for the assigned writing prompt, allow a different subject choice. If other students see this as “unfair”, shine the light on differences among all of the students in the class. If this rule is applied equally to everyone, the trust in the room will grow, as will the respect for one another.

A Little Help Goes a Long Way

Prompting and fading is another intervention that can allow for a non-threatening solution to an otherwise crisis situation, or “showdown”, between a teacher and a student. Prompts can be full physical, partial physical, modeling, gesturing, or positional. If using this intervention, it’s important to proceed from the least to the most invasive prompting and should include a plan for prompt fading to be implemented as soon as possible. Fading means that over time, and as a student masters a skill, prompting will not be needed at all.

Plan Ahead for Success

Equipped with techniques to avoid confrontations, lessons can proceed! Providing a structured learning environment means that a teacher thinks carefully not only about the lesson to be taught, but how it will be introduced, instructed, and practiced for mastery. Have an interesting “do-now” on the board that introduces the aim of the lesson right from the start will motivate cooperation and participation. An interesting little known fact can kick off a lively discussion in any classroom, regardless of the level of the students. Since students learn by doing, elements of activity should be built in to the learning process for optimal gain.

Big Ticket Item – Cooperative Planning

Classroom rules are a necessity for structure and order. It is best if the teacher and student create them together and agree upon them as a unit. Utmost attention should be given that no one is left out of the equation. Inclusion is not just the law; it is the right thing to do. If we can play, shop, and live together in neighborhoods outside of school, why should students be separated in school? A master teacher knows how to differentiate a lesson’s aim, activities, and assessment. Students learn to accept differences and practice social skills important for the world outside the classroom doors when inclusive education is infused within schools.

It’s a Cultural Thing

Practicing these simple techniques can improve the climate and culture of each teacher’s classroom, and by extension, the climate and culture of our schools.

This article originally appears in The Autism Notebook Magazine, Aug./Sep. 2016, South Florida Edition, p. 7.  Online edition can be viewed for free at:

http://virtualpublications.soloprinting.com/publication/?i=328613

THANK YOU FOR OUR GUEST BLOGGER:

Antonia Guccione, MA; MS is a consultant, educator, and writer. As an educator, she has forty years’ experience designing and chronicling model programs for students with a diverse set of Special Needs

SchoolKidsLawyer.com truly appreciates this.

 

The Dangerous Use of the Word “Cure”

I’m shocked. It takes a lot to shock me these days, but I am admittedly shocked. My alarm has been set off by numerous recent studies into the “cause” of Autism. I’m not alarmed purely because of the research, but rather what it may implicate and the resulting frightening thoughts of how we, as a society, would implement a “cure”.

There were studies attempting to link childhood vaccinations to Autism, but those studies were found to be faulty and in one case “an elaborate fraud”, but nevertheless absent of a link between vaccines and Autism.  See Autism Speaks Policy Statement on Vaccinations and Autism; and CNN report about the British Medical Journal’s retraction of Dr. Wakefield’sstudies as fraudulent.

Another recent study published in the August 12, 2013edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics links induced or augmented labor to Autism.  Still another report by the New York Times attempting to say that Autism and cancer were linked via a “cancer gene” was exposed as extremely unreliable.

This brings me to my concern; actually, two concerns.

The first – that because Autism is a hot topic and the rapid increase in the number of cases of Autism in the population is startling to some (disregarding the fact that proper techniques to diagnosis Autism are a recent event proving that there is not an increase in the development of Autism, but rather an increase in number of discovered incidence) the media jumps on any report that seems to find the “cause” of Autism – I can do nothing about.  What sells “news” and media is beyond my control and I can do nothing other than be exasperated.

The second concern, about which I believe I CAN do something, is what I believe is the next step that follows the discovery of the “cause” of Autism – the “cure” for Autism.  This should be a source of alarm and concern for everyone and, frankly, is a disturbing and dangerous use of the otherwise constructive term “cure”.This dangerous use is attempting to redefine “cure” to mean “prevention” rather than its true definition.

Most dictionaries define “cure” as follows:

cure: n. 1. a means of healing or restoring to health; remedy. 2. a method or course of remedial treatment, as for disease. 3. successful remedial treatment; restoration to health.

Source: Dictionary.com, http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/cure?s=t

Thus, “cure” means to “restore to health” or “remedy”.  In other words, if you have a virus or disease, the cure may be a drug or treatment that restores you to health. In a sense, chicken soup may be viewed as the cure for the common cold.  (I know several Jewish mothers who swear by that.)  This definition refers to healing people who are currently alive.

How can this be bad?

On August 14, 2013, the Autism Support Network’s Facebook page posted this question: “Would you terminate your pregnancy if you knew your child would have autism?”  Thankfully, the responses were unanimously “no” and several people were puzzled why an “Autism support network” would even pose that question.  The members of this network are parents of children with Autism who have already been born.

The insidious and heinous implication of this question is that we, as a society, will view abortion or intra-uterus genetic alterations as a “cure” for Autism.  People are seeking to prevent Autism.  While that, too, sounds like a noble pursuit, it is extremely dangerous and Orwellian in its possibilities.  What is next? Sterilization of those who have a gene that causes Autism or those who have Autism?  Government-imposed removal of reproductive parts of people who have Autism in their family history?

I know these examples are extreme and hopefully absurd, but I do wonder how this urge to find the cause of Autism has led to tenuous research projects and where such research might lead.

I have a better idea.  Rather than spend millions (perhaps billions) of dollars on fruitless research into the cause of Autism (which is most likely genetic and not “curable” absent one of the horrific methods I describe above), redirect those funds to research into therapies or providing services for families that have living, breathing, wonderful children with Autism.  The daily lives of such families are rife with challenges and they deserve all of the help and support that we, as a society, can muster.

If you want to redefine the word “cure” when it comes to Autism, redefine it to mean “support”.