February 26, 2010
by Walecia Konrad
Parents should do their homework so they can contribute to an individualized learning plan for a student with a learning disability.
This begins with learning about the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act. Each state’s parent information center can help explain IDEA and how it applies to your family.
A directory of the centers is on the Technical Assistance Alliance for Parent Centers’ Web site. The staff at these federally financed programs can help parents navigate the entire special ed process. More specifics of the law are at wrightslaw.com.
Advocates recommend that parents become experts not only on the law but also on their children’s disabilities. One place to start your research is the local chapter of the Learning Disabilities Association of America. You’ll find a map on the organization’s site, ldanatl.org. You can also look for local chapters of specific disability groups like the International Dyslexia Association.
Many parents decide to have their children tested independently to speed along the process, but this costs $500 to $5,000. Local resources may help defray these expenses. For example, Promise: The Center for Attention and Learning Disorders, at the Lenox Hill Outpatient Center for Mental Health in New York, offers low- or no-cost evaluations for children from low-income families.
But a diagnosis is often just the beginning of the process. In many schools, before children with learning disabilities receive special services, they first go through a process called response to intervention.
This is when learning issues are addressed solely in the classroom, usually with the classroom teacher. While this process can be a godsend for helping children who are performing below grade level (because of a learning disability or for any other reason) it may not always be effective for many special needs children.
“You may find your child losing precious time” because they are in a response to intervention too long, when they should be evaluated for an individualized education plan, said Pat Lillie, president of the Learning Disabilities Association of America.
“We see this as a major stumbling block to effective public school intervention,” she said.
When parents and schools cannot resolve a conflict over how to help a student, they can resort to a due process hearing. Arguments that make it to the due process stage usually involve expensive services like a full-time aid or transferring to a private school.
Much like a trial, this process involves questioning and cross-examining witnesses and presenting opening and closing statements. Parents may want professional representation.
A federally financed program, Protection and Advocacy for People With Disabilities, provides, among other services, special education advocacy help free in each state. (You can find the local group on the Technical Assistance Alliance for Parent Centers’ Web site)
Studies in Illinois show that parents who are not represented by lawyers lose the due process hearing 80 percent of the time in that state. That compares with about 50 percent of the time if they are represented, said Olga Pribyl, managing lawyer for the special education office at Equip for Equality, the advocacy center in Illinois.
Resources for Parents of Children with Learning Disabilities - New York Times