Your experiences with individualized education plans for learning disabilibites

This is a preemptive cry for information and experience more than anything else. Here’s the situation: for years, my son has been notoriously slow working through anything language-related. Math he gets in a snap. Science, no problem. Anything involving exhaustive writing is torture for him, though. It takes FOREVER, he sometimes requires some prompting and generally hates it. Thing is, he has straight As in everything this year. Even in those subjects that require him to do a lot of writing. We’re seeing a family therapist (a whole different story) who suggested that part of the issue may be anxiety - he’s been under a lot of pressure from his dad to excel - but just in case we might ask about options for evaluation to see if there’s an underlying learning disability that isn’t being addressed.

This in mind, I called the school counselor and asked if there was any assistance the school could provide to make him a bit more efficient at writing, her opinion on whether he needed an evaluation for a learning disability or what channels I should go through in order to solicit feedback to see if this was an issue at home and school or just at home.

Her suggestion was to assume he had a learning disability and immediately reduce classroom expectations in any subject that seemed to cause him challenges. She then told me that the “interventions” they could provide included just not making him do schoolwork that he found challenging, or just give him full sentences and paragraphs to start off with.

My first reaction was, “What the hell? He’s got straight A’s - I just don’t want him to spend two hours doing something that should take him 20 minutes, and I’m concerned that this has been going on so long and I see it causing him trouble down the road.” Instead, I asked, “Wouldn’t something like that substantially impact his ability to learn the material? I’d like to understand how I can make him more efficient to better prepare him for high school.” To which she admitted it would put him behind, especially if those accommodations continued into high school, at which point he might be pulled into a different more remedial class.

So - for those of you with experience with IEPs or learning disabilities, is this normal? Why would the goal be to just lower expectations instead of getting him to the point where he’s able to keep up? Isn’t this approach ignoring the core issue? I really don’t understand this. I’m probably flipping out for no reason, but I’d hoped to get recommendations from the school on how to help him overcome a challenge, not just take the challenge away entirely. And if they’re suggesting this with my kid, not knowing whether he has a disability or not, aren’t they doing a huge disservice to kids they know have issues?

I’m a former volunteer tutor in a public school and teacher in private school. I have never actually been a classroom teacher in public schools, but I’ve talked to many teachers about these issues and dealt with kids in this type of situation.

I would say that the response you got sounds pretty normal to me.

The bottom line is that under the law, a public school is required to create an IEP for every case of a child who is determined to have any disability, including a learning disability. Various laws and court rulings determine what types of accommodations the school must provide. In some cases, they can grow very expensive and intrusive for the school.

If the school is informed that they have a case of a student with a learning disability (or a student who may have one but hasn’t been tested for it yet) they will try to deal with it in the way that will cost the least to the school and interfere the least in the classroom and the student’s normal daily schedule. The logic of this pushes schools inevitably towards the type of solution that this counselor has offered to you.

Now it may the case that if particular diagnoses are made for a certain student and particular recommendations come from the correct expert, then the parents could force the school to provide a better course of action, such as tutoring for the subject area that the student is struggling with. However, pursuing that course tends to be very difficult and expensive. Some families have been known to hire lawyers to communicate with the school when setting up their child’s IEP and getting the most benefit from it.

I would request a meeting with your son’s teacher to get their perspective on how he does in the area of writing…is he particularly slow to complete written work, need extra time, etc.

It’s possible for a child to have a learning disability and not be entitled to an Individual Education Program if they do not need special education. It would be near impossible and inappropriate to recommend special education for a student who is getting straight A’s.

Such a student might be entitled to a 504 accommodation plan, if it could be demonstrated that some disability was significantly impairing their day-to-day classroom performance. Once again, difficult to do with a student who is doing so well academically.

Yeah, I’m honestly okay with it if he doesn’t qualify for an accommodation; what I’d really hoped for were some suggestions on how to help him manage through the issue, not ask the school to let him avoid it entirely. And if he does have a disability, figure out how to develop strategies to deal with it, while getting his work done.

The more I think about it, the more I’m starting to regret calling the school counselor. When my son was in first, he was evaluated by the school for ADD/ADHD and was determined to be in the clear; that was at the suggestion of a school counselor after my son got in trouble for being “too squirmy.” Our pediatrician diagnosed him with being a 7-year old at the time. And of course, when speaking with the middle school counselor, she brought up having him tested for ADHD again. She’s never spoken to him, though or had a conversation about him with one of his teachers. I’ve heard ADHD is under-diagnosed, but it seems like every single time I’ve talked to a counselor about my kid they’ve suggested ADD/ADHD testing. Most of the parents I’ve spoken to have had the same experience, which makes me more than a little disappointed.

While the school counselor is a good place to start to communicate with the school, I would still suggest you ask for a face-to-face meeting with the teachers to hear what they have to say about his daily performance, work habits, attention, etc.

Based on what they say, you may then have a basis to request more comprehensive evaluation, ADHD screening, or something else.

A diagnosis isn’t about making excuses: a diagnosis is about learning how someone processes something so that you can determine what tools they need to be successful. For example, a kid with ADHD ( and it presents in a lot of ways, and is often not diagnosed, so it’s not a bad suggestion from a school) needs to learn different ways to organize and manage their time. The ways that work for most people won’t work for them, so relying on that playbook to teach them to be self-managers is an exercise in frustration. Learning disabilities are the same way: he may have a very specific cognitive difference that means he’s processing things differently. Neither his counselor nor his teachers can diagnose this: if you are worried about it, have him tested.

It is really weird that she was willing to put accomodations in place. She wasn’t talking about an IEP: an IEP is a very specific legal document that takes a series of meetings and actual evidence to implement.

I wouldn’t put much weight in his grades. Grades can be measures of compliance more than anything. Is he learning? Are you satisfied with his growth?

Thanks - we’re actually getting some referrals for a child psychologist from the family therapist we’ve been talking to in order to see if there’s any underlying condition we need to understand as well. With respect to his grades, he has shown immense improvement from last year to this year. And he’s also taking more responsibility for his own work and organizing himself.

My big concern is the speed and efficiency with which he operates and how stressed out he becomes when he has certain writing assignments because he knows they’re going to take hours. I also worry about quality of life and ensuring he has the tools he needs to do this himself. I was really shocked when the first reaction was, “Well, if you like, I can shoot out an email now to his English teacher and ask that she reduce all his homework. So, if other students need to write six paragraphs, he could just write 2 or 3.” That wasn’t at all what I was expecting.

And thanks for your comments, Kelby - we definitely plan to meet with his teachers in the next week.

I would ask, in writing, that the school assess him for learning disabilities. Under federal law, they must do so. His writing problems do sound like something that may need to be addressed as a disability. As you note, you don’t want something to come out of this that will slow him down, but you DO want him to learn skills that will allow him to move forward in life in areas that require writing.

You should also proceed with getting a diagnosis from a child psychiatrist (not a psychologist), so that you have a fuller picture.

None of this testing obligates you to change anything about the way your child is managed at school, but you should know what is or is not happening with him as far as any learning disabilities go.

The fact that the school counselor was so immediately accommodating suggests to me that the school is aware of his difficulties.

My background in this area is 6 years or so working with IEPs for my son, in two school districts, 4 schools. I had to involve legal help at one point.

Well it depends on what the issue is… A child with emotional problems can be diagnosed and treated (usually with medication) by a child psychiatrist. The can also help with ADHD, especially the treatment piece.

However, they would be unable to definitely identify a specific learning disability, which should be done by a psychologist.

We’ve had experience of both IEPs (ILPs over here) and, specifically, not being able to complete writing tasks in anything like a sensible amount of time. Except, not both together.

ILP … this may be less relevant to your experience in a high school (it is high school, right?) but FWIW we started off with an ILP in a school with an excellent reputation for looking after kids with disabilities, and “just not make him do things he finds challenging” was very much NOT the strategy employed, it was all about doing things in the classroom to ensure that he was keeping up with the learning the other kids were doing. And it was ultimately successful and the ILP went away - not that this is always the outcome, but we were very happy. Which is all pretty much to say I don’t know anything about how an IEP would actually be implemented in your kid’s school, but I share your dubiousness about the strategy you describe - it was not what we experienced.

About the writing tasks taking forever - this is an ongoing issue here, I can’t say we have the problem fully conquered, but we have strategies in place. So I’d like to ask - what is it specifically about writing tasks that is the problem? Have you quietly observed or sat down with him to work through together a writing task that he finds challenging? In our case it’s a failure at the creative/imaginative step, combined with a severe resistance for anything to do with personal introspection or feelings about things and a dislike of breaking things down into steps (which is what I tend to focus on when we’re working on this together … he’s VERY resistant to the idea of extra scaffolding steps he thinks they’re dumb AF even when my scaffolding steps have actually helped him to complete a previous writing task in the area:smack:) So what sort of writing tasks is your son having problems with? And in what sort of way?

Former Special Ed teacher

I find the counselor’s suggestion that you “assume he is learning disabled” to be… let’s go with strange.

First of all, PL14-942 is the federal law that deals with special education. The basic rule is that any child with a disability is entitled to free public education in the least restrictive setting possible. The diagnosis of a condition which falls under the law is made with testing from psychologists and medical doctors. Some of the testing may be administered by a school counselor provided they are qualified. But NO single teacher or counselor can say “he’s xXX” and that’s that.

If the counselor really said that they could lower their expectations of your son, I’d question that. You’re not lowering your expectations, but altering the delivery method. You don’t eliminate the assignments if he is capable of showing that he’s absorbed the information. I knew a woman who has a college degree, but her dyslexia was so severe that she did everything on tape. Has your son tried doing written assignments as a recording? This is no walk in the park. He’d have to learn some new skills such as outlining to organize his thoughts and critically listening to his homework before turning it in.

What about outlining? Is he having trouble actually physically writing? Is he getting words and letters backwards? Does he have trouble putting together sentences that are spoken? Are they out of order or the syntax awkward? Is he a big reader or does he avoid the written word altogether? Can he make a list of the facts, but then can’t turn that into a narrative?

There’s a lot of questions to be asked here and much better alternatives than “ok, we won’t make him do homework”. I think you’re right to be concerned about their response.

And what does your son think would be a good alternative?

Another former special ed teacher here. In a perfect world, *every * student would have an IEP.
A well-designed IEP is not about lowering expectations, it’s about establishing goals and designing a strategy to meet them. If your son understands the material, then his difficulty in writing should be dealt with by providing him with alternative ways to demonstrate his competence.

Our oldest started avoiding writing assignments in middle school. It looked like he was just being lazy, and he didn’t really say anything to make us suspect that wasn’t the case. He went to college, where he crashed and burned in spectacular fashion. Your son is to be commended for having the work ethic to actually do what doesn’t come nearly as easily as the other parts of school. We had our son tested by an educational psychologist, and sure enough there was a writing disability (he was in the bottom 15% or so in written communication, whereas he scored in the top 1-2 percent in just about everything else. It sounds like your son could succeed without accomodations, but getting him tested might make his remaining time in school a lot more pleasant.

Our son is applying to a liberal arts college that is known for working well with students who have disabilities. He seems excited about the prospect of going back to school spring semester.

overlyverbose, you’re making a mistake if you think the school will try to do anything out of the ordinary. They will try to make it as easy as possible for the teacher to teach the class as a whole. If that means cutting back workload for one kid, so be it.

And don’t rely on their experts. They assume boys with issues have ADHD, instead of just being boys. They push for an ADHD diagnosis and drugs.

Do you have the financial means to have your son tested for a physical disability by an independent Occupational Therapist? The writing issue may well have a physical root (poor motor skills, poor upper body core strength).

That can make writing difficult, which in turn has the potential to ramp up anxiety, in a viscous circle.

Can you explore assisted technology, like a chrome book or various apps that turn written sheets into e-docs that then can be filled in by using a finger rather than a pen?

Good luck and big internet hug - I know how stressful this can be for all of the family.

Two different topics.
IEP - 2 cents from a parent of a girl on the autism spectrum who has had an IEP from Kindergarten to 8th grade. It is really helpful to have an advocate that understands IEP’s *and *your son to write one together with the teachers/school. I think it is fair to say there is a tendency to write the IEP for the lower end of expectations rather than the higher end. As a parent with no experience, you kinda go with what the teachers recommend. Having an experienced advocate is really helpful to help set and navigate the IEP goals. Our ABA program manager, a hero, was involved after the first year or two, and she greatly helped to raise the bar for what my daughter was capable of and should be striving for. The program manager was seriously advocating to increase expectations because my daughter was fully capable of exceeding those expectations (she’s autistic, a few grades behind on specific subjects but not dumb, and a maestro at playing on adult sympathies to avoid having to work hard). Do NOT for an instant think about dumbing down the standards for your child. Instead the conversation is what tools (diagnostics/evaluation, special writing skills class, etc) to make him successful now and in the future.

Anxiety. Tonight I finished 9 weeks of anxiety group therapy (my daughter in the teens class, me in the parent peer group) at the local children’s hospital psychiatry clinic. It changed my life and my other 8th grade daughter’s life dramatically for the better.

I’m just a parent but your son may have perfectionism anxiety, or his “Tiger Dad” pressure, or more general anxiety. I would investigate the anxiety angle because a) it’s really easy to sneak up on you during the puberty/middle school years and b) making it better is not that difficult.

Here is a simple framework using the scared of a dog example. Child sees dog >> child feels anxious (anxiety skyrockets and triggers fight or flight reflex) >> child avoids >> adult comforts or “rescues” >> child anxiety decreases >> child reinforced for avoidance >> rinse lather repeat.

Instead of avoidance, should inoculate in a mindful, structured way to show that the anxiety is an irrational fear and how to get over it. Instead should focus on “exposures.” Something like start by looking at dog pictures and then progress to watch dog videos, go to the pet store and see dogs behind glass, stand in a room with a dog on a leash, pet a dog…then the framework changes to
child sees dog >> child feels anxious >> child continues looking at dog >> child’s anxiety decreases >> adult praises the brave behavior >> child learns “I can handle it”

This is a really simple principle, probably need some coaching on how to enact, and takes effort to execute. There are some rough moments for the child, as they have to practice behaviors that are difficult.

It snuck up on me. I woke up one day this summer realizing my 13 year old was paralyzed with fear of ask a grocery store employee where to find something, was deep into anorexic food avoidance, wouldn’t raise her hand in class, was terrified of being called on in class, scared of the dark, etc. We started the group therapy and the first “exposure” was the fear of the dark. Our exercise was she would walk about 30 feet in the backyard to close the chicken coop gate. Started with outside lights on, me standing out on the porch, and her running back to “safety” with my praising about how brave she was, understand it is really tough, did a great job, was a real trooper. Then slowly evolved night after night to me not being so close, turning off the light, only walking, me waiting inside the house. Seems pretty silly, huh? BUT 3-4 days of this and she understood that this was working and that eventually her anxiety is going to go away or be manageable. I am not exaggerating that the food avoidance issue started tapering off and within a month or so disappeared. We’ve been working on exposures for talking to store employees (she likes a special art pen that is locked in a display case, so I buy her a pen if she on her own finds an employee, gets help, tests the pen and then meets me at the check out), forcing herself to raise her hand in class once a day (and is now doing it multiple times and knows it won’t kill her), I’m working with the school for a 504 plan so she works thru the hand raising, getting called on and doing presentations, starting to wean her off the night light, etc.

It really is transformative. I’m frankly shocked at all the anxiety resources I’ve gone to that don’t explain that for large percentage of anxiety sufferers, this actually works.

Note: for the school 504 plan. The district psychiatrist that visits the school occaisionally was all for enabling avoidance. “If your daughter can’t hand presenting to the class, then we can accommodate her to only present to the teacher.” After biting my tounge, I said that is the exact opposite of what we are going to do. In fact, we are going to put into place a mindful, step by step process where she will at least stand with her group for presentation and work her way up to giving a full presentation." The school counselor is young, energetic and totally bought into the exposure approach and said she would educate the district person.

Overlyverbose, you’re on the right track. Don’t lower standards. Work with the school on the right tools for your son to continue to make his straight A’s with a reasonable amount of effort into the communication. He’s already making the grade, so the real challenge is for how to do it more effectively and in a way that sets him up for lifelong success.

My son is only in kindergarten, so our experience is not necessarily generalizable, but the school has been happily amenable to providing him with extra support personnel for his attention issues, without pressure one way or the other regarding medication. They are also adding some extra classwork items into his day to address his signs of boredom. Certainly, the larger goal is to keep the class as a whole on track, but the school has been enthusiastic in supporting him individually as well.

As others have noted, however, we went through a detailed process that involved meetings and testing.

Thanks so much, everyone for your feedback. I’m sorry I wasn’t able to respond to some of the questions yesterday (work + helping out w/scouts = no time), but here’s a summary.

What my son seems to be challenged with is not necessarily the mechanics of writing, but getting started. He seems to understand the logical progression of a story, but is challenged with beginning an assignment or knowing when it’s appropriate to use other resources. He also is very literal, so if he is instructed to do X, he will do X and X only until nudged by me or a teacher to consider other avenues. Sometimes convincing him that those other avenues are ok takes a very long time and causes conflict, which increases his anxiety.

I did speak to him briefly this morning about what he thought. I let him know that I’ve seen enormous improvement in his motivation and really appreciate all the hard work he’s been done and let him know that I’d spoken to the counselor who was following up with his teachers. I asked him if he felt he needed less work and was met with an emphatic “absolutely not, mom - that’s going to put me behind, and I want to be ahead.”

So I let him know that I’d talk with him further but we will probably talk to an outside specialist who can give us better suggestions. I also do want him to someone who has experience dealing with childhood anxiety. I think that may be a large part of the problem and why he shuts down when writing. It has always been a huge issue for him, even in preschool.

He has had a few tests where he’s had some accommodations back in elementary. Those accommodations included having an opportunity to have the instructions read to him and to read them and being placed in a separate quiet room. They seemed to help, but not make a huge difference.

Overlyversbose, When you talk about writing assignments, is the problem the physical writing or the organization of thoughts?

Are you talking about paper and pencil, or any writing? Some kids I’ve seen who didn’t like to write were more willing to try when given a computer or laptop.
Of course, I’ve been on the education crazy-cycle for 27 years, and have seen more and more use of such gadgets, especially in middle and high school. Has that been a factor?

I highly recommend checking out anxiety therapy in your area.

At least for my kidlet, having peer therapy was very helpful. You learn you’re not alone, your group members share a lot of the same challenges, they helped each other along, they supported each other when they had to do in class exposures. It was great. My daughter and one of the other kids are probably going to be friends - at least they have an activity together this sunday.

For my daughter, 1:1 is kinda tough as it’s just you with the therapist. In group, it’s lets about you only.

You need to find a program where the parents get their own therapy group. I learned tons. AND you are a key part of the exposure process.