Is Special Education for Some Children a Waste of Time and Money?

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

How does an IEP team determine if a student with special needs is entitled to services such as Occupational Therapy and Speech Therapy? Is the team allowed to say that because a student has a very low IQ, services like OT and Speech would not be helpful? In my school, an IEP team wants to deny a student these services or offer them in very small amounts.

The IEP team may say they don’t have to offer quality services to children who have low IQs. This is not legal or accurate.

The IEP team is really saying that providing these services to a child who has cognitive impairments or multiple disabilities is a waste of time and money because the child is incapable of benefiting … or because other children will benefit more from these services.

Providing a FAPE to Kids with Severe Disabilities

In the years after the law was enacted in the 1970s, schools often took the position that they didn’t have to provide a free, appropriate public education (FAPE) ( to children who were severely disabled.

For decades, courts ruled against schools that used that argument.

The law says that if a child has a disability and needs special education, the school is required to provide the child with a free appropriate public education (FAPE) which is a special education program designed to meet that child’s unique needs.

  • The IEP must meet all the child’s needs that result from the disability.
  • The IEP must include all related services and all supplementary aids and services that the child needs.

The IDEA does not say that schools are required to provide a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to all children with disabilities except children who have more severe disabilities – children who have low IQs, cognitive impairments, multiple disabilities, etc.

What the Law Says – and Where

I can tell you what the law says but this probably won’t do you much good unless you know where to find answers to your questions about the law and what it requires.

If you are advocating for a family who is dealing with these problems, and the IEP team is providing the family with incorrect information, you need to know how to find answers to questions about what the law requires.

The IDEA and federal regulations, with commentary, and analysis of what a specific part of the law means, and decisions from the U.S. Supreme court about related services are in Wrightslaw: Special Education Law, 2nd edition:

You can also go to the IDEA 2004 area of the Wrightslaw website where you will find information that will help you:

Are Kids with Severe Disabilities Exempt from State and District Tests?

My child has a severe disability. is he exempt from taking state and district assessments?

No. All children must take state and district assessments. Decisions about whether your child needs to take an alternate assessment should depend on your child’s unique needs, not on the category of his disability.

Most children with disabilities are able to keep up with their peers academically and take standardized tests successfully if they are receiving specialized instruction designed to meet their unique needs.

School Says My Nonverbal Child “Cannot be Taught” to Communicate

My child has autism and is nonverbal. He gets angry and frustrated because he cannot communicate. I want the school to teach him a way to communicate, but the school claims he cannot be taught.

Your nonverbal child with autism must have a way to effectively communicate.

Most people can use speech to communicate in a social context. For children with autism, communication and social skills are interdependent.

Your nonverbal child needs services from a specialist who can teach him a functional method of communication.  The IEP team must develop an appropriate communication program based on a comprehensive assessment of your child’s needs and abilities.

If your child cannot speak, the IEP team must also consider his needs for assistive technology. The team should schedule an assistive technology evaluation to identify his needs and how to meet these needs.

Learn more about Special Factors in IEPs.

Finally, we have a page about Autism, Autism Spectrum Disorders, PDD & Asperger Syndome with FAQs, articles, legal resources, recommended books, free publications, and a list of information and support groups:

Re-edited from a post originally published 03/06/2009

  1. My son’s draft of his IEP for preschool so far is stating he’s below average in the areas of speech, language and social development @ 9% and it’s not deficient bc he’s not 7%. They are saying with what words and phrases he says that it is typical for that age (the prevent is lowered bc he’s not saying much, but bc it’s less for them to evaluate it’s also less deficiency). Everything is typical “for that age”. But the 2 psych reports state he’s in need of speech and language and social development.

    • Scores below the 25th percentile are below average. I would ask them for their justification for denying services when he is clearly below average. Request an IEE for the evaluation and ask them to relook at eligibility. They are saying he has to be 1.5 standard deviations below average instead of 1.0. That doesn’t make sense. Request to see the regs that show a cut off of 7th percentile since they are hung up on that.

  2. Need help w/state code. Did IDEA really intend for this to happen? Our district can deny services to a child designated SLD if they determine that the child’s disabilities are primarily the result of one or more of five different factors, including emotional disability.
    My district has a reputation for doing this, even if the child has several private diagnoses of dyslexia, dysgraphia, & language disorder over the years, & their needs due to these disabilities have not been met. Which can cause anxiety.

    • I believe the intent of IDEA was to remind schools that students could be struggling because of missing instruction or poor/inappropriate instruction rather than a disability. However, they have given educators little direction on how to determine this. So some schools choose to use this rule, but most do not. A due process complaint with strong documentation could be successful in some cases. State laws regarding schools serving students with Dyslexia could benefit a lot of students.

  3. To Beth:
    My school provides OT services to children, whether they have an IEP or not. However, we cannot bill for reimbursement unless the child has an IEP.

  4. I am a program manager on an IEP for a student that was diagnosed with CP at birth. (First grade) He is at a point where he no longer qualifies for SLP. Also, he is performing at grade level. However, his handwriting is poor due to muscle weakness, and he is unable to go to the bathroom on his own. He needs help pulling his pants up/down, zipping/snapping, etc…Does this student qualify for OT services as a “stand alone” service for handwriting deficits and toileting skills? Our OT has evaluated him and he qualifies for her services. Please advise. Beth

  5. Where in Wright’s Law 2nd ed. can I find the information pertaining to the question presented about services being denied based on cognitive impairment? I have the book, but I cannot find the places where this is discussed and I need to read it and be able to refer to it to fight the school district. Thank you.

    The question was “How does an IEP team determine if a special needs student is entitled to services such as Occupational Therapy and Speech Therapy? Is the school team allowed to say that because a student’s IQ is very low, they do not feel that services such as OT and Speech would be helpful? Using this reasoning, the IEP team wants to deny the student these services or offer them in very small increments.”

    My daughter is CI and autistic, she also had auditory processing disorder. But they are denying her speech, ot & Pt

    • Even though (child’s) middle school agreed my son will benefit for the services this was the response of the case manager. “(Child) was discharged previously from the PT and OT services. They are not a part of this reevaluation because he was previously discharged by those specialists. They are the specialists that make those determinations”

  6. Our IEP team interprets the “multiple disability” definition to mean that a child must have mental retardation (intellectual disability) plus another disability to qualify. (MR has recently been changed to “intellectual disability” in state regulations) The basis for this is that both of the examples listed include MR (now intellectual disability)

    My child has two LDs, other health impairment, ADHD, emotional disability, but isn’t MR, so they won’t even consider if his needs are severe enough to receive services as multiple disability.

    What can I show them to convince them to change their ruling?

  7. My grandson has various learning disabilities and is in the 7th grade. For the first 5 years of schooling he was in confined special ed classrooms, but now is in a regular classroom because my daughter now lives in PA. He has been doing great, so we thought. His report cards had A’s and B’s. We just got a call from his special ed teacher who said that he is doing terrible and that she just found out that in his IEP he was suppose to be getting Speech help for the last 3 years and never did. She said he is doing so bad that there is no way he will be able to survive in High School. My daughter has an IEP meeting on 4/23/09. My daughter was in special ed classes herself growing up, so she is not very comfortable or understands too well what to do about this. What should we do?

  8. I teach in a middle school. My class is called “Learning Skills” and is designed to assist students who are identified as special ed students, w/ learning strategies. I am certified spec ed. Recently a student was dismissed from spec ed services “no longer SLD in Math” but remains in this class. I am not comfortable w/ this arrangement and believe he should be on a 504 to address his ADHD issues and failing grades. I was not his coordinator. The intervention specialist said “He is staying in this class until the end of the year because she said so”, there was no team decision and no discussion during the dismissal meeting. I was not present but two who were said no discussion on continuing him in the class took place, the IS said it did, but there are no conference notes to back up her story.
    Do I have a leg to stand on? Is it a compliance/legal issue to continue to serve this student in a 100% disabled (LD/ED/OHI)environment? He is missing out on having a REAL extracurricular class. I have been trying to get a sensable answer from admin. for a month. I can not accept one person’s decision on this.
    Could anyone direct me to a law / statuate/ mandate….. that can back this up? I believe it is not legal to continue to service him in this environment and have asked for a written statement to be placed in his files……..stating who made this decision. Prior to dismissal he was fully included except for the period he was/is in Learning Skills.

  9. This is a very timely topic for me. My child is multiply disabled and suffers from bi-laterial coordination issues. My child is unable to functionly write or type to demonstrate his knowledge, yet my team has refused (officially) to provide services to address his needs.

    Here’s food for thought … would an IEP team ever propose to reduce or discontinue services for a child that is Deaf and also has C.P.? I mean … they will always be deaf and they might never be able to effectively use sign language? What about an SLD kid that after years of resource reading still isn’t making adequate progress? When does the school decide to stop teaching this child?

    The answer is NEVER! Using a child’s disability against them as a reason to deny them an appropriate education is called DISCRIMINATION!

  10. Sharon,

    You are right, it is no fun to make or consider these type of decisions. Related services are to help the student benefit from special ed. After years of service from an OT or PT to a child w/ cp for their non-dominate arm or speech therapy to a child with Down syndrome, does the child need it to benefit from special ed. Or is this a situation where another agency should be providing the service?

    What if a football player who was in special ed, injured a leg or arm, should special ed funds provide OT/PT to help him return to play?

  11. Chuck –
    My personal feeling is that it is extremely difficult to judge when a student is no longer benefiting from related services. Just to think about all the reasons a child may slow down, or even stop making progress, makes my head spin. Plateaus happen often and can be long in duration. If you wait through them, you often get a surge of progress. By cutting, or eliminating services, you will never know what amount of additional progress could have been made.
    Some children reach a point when progress slows – but does that mean it’s over? If we don’t continue the services the child’s true potential in an area may never be reached.
    It’s a really hard call to decide when a service is no longer benefiting the child. I’m glad I don’t have to make that call. I just have to do the arguing to keep the service.

    Sharon 🙂

  12. The staff that I worked w/ & most other special ed directors understood what you are saying. Where this came up periodically was with students who had received related & speech services for years. The feeling was that the student had reached a point where the service was no longer helping the child to be involved in or make progress in the general ed curriculum or meet other educational needs.

  13. In NYC, an separate evaluation must be done before a child can be mandated for related services such as OT, PT, and Speech/Lang. If the evaluator finds that the student has deficits, then the service is offered.
    When the student gets older, however, services are usually reduced – NOT CUT – because the needs become more geared to life skills than to academic development. This doesn’t usually occur until the child is in the sixth grade or higher.
    If a child is in a life skills program, then services are continued because that is the program designed to meet the unique needs of the child and the services would be addressing the issues that are being dealt with in the classroom.

    Hope this helps.

    Sharon 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Please help us defeat spam. Thank you. *