Identifying Struggling Students

Early and accurate identification of learning disabilities and ADHD in schools can set struggling students on a path for success. But identification can be influenced by many factors—and too often is not happening early enough.

Not all children with learning and attention issues are identified in school as having a disability.

Students who are identified by schools as having a disability may qualify for one of two types of assistance. An Individualized Education Program (IEP) provides specially designed instruction, accommodations, modifications and related services such as speech-language therapy to students who qualify for special education. A 504 plan provides accommodations and related services to general education students who are identified with a disability but who do not need special education.

Students with IEPs or 504 plans are protected from discrimination. Schools are also required to report certain data on students who are identified as having disabilities, such as how many repeat a grade, receive out-of-school suspensions or graduate on time.

But many of the 1 in 5 children with learning and attention issues are not formally identified with a disability. When these children receive the right interventions and informal supports, many can succeed in general education. Without enough support, however, children with unidentified disabilities may not reach their full potential and risk falling behind and having to repeat a grade. This could lead to other problems, including dislike of school, absenteeism and dropping out.

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Inadequate IEPs and a Child’s Placement in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE)

PRN note: While this was written for New Jersey parents, the basic concepts apply in all states. The second factor listed is from a fifth Circuit Court case against a Texas school.

An inadequate IEP will make it difficult to consider any child’s placement in an organized way. To assist schools and parents, the department has developed and widely distributed a model form that addresses all the required IEP components.

Next, each placement option is examined not only as it currently exists, but also as it might be modified. Then, each educational placement option is examined in sequence from least restrictive to most restrictive.

Regular class placement is examined as the first option. In New Jersey, the decision-making process must include the three factors of the Oberti decision now incorporated into code and begins with consideration of placement in the regular classroom. Does this mean that each child must be placed in the regular classroom before other placement options are considered? The answer is no. The requirement for a continuum of placement options reinforces the importance of an individualized inquiry, not a “one size fits all” approach, in determining what placement is the least restrictive environment for each student with disabilities.

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Using the School Years to the Max!

Public school is the last mandated service that a student with a disability can access. After graduation, a person must apply to get services and supports and prove eligibility through income as well as disability. Public school is the last opportunity for free education, with a wide range of modifications and a requirement for parent input. Make the most of public school services as you plan for your youth’s transition to adulthood. Here are a few ideas to consider while you and your youth plan in the school setting:

Create a vision for the future. Ask for a planning session at school to discuss your youth’s future. Many districts have planning tools and interest/vocational inventories in place to help with this process. Invite your youth, family and friends, as well as relevant school staff, to your planning meeting. Be sure that you are clear on when your youth will graduate (ask staff to explain graduation options) and that your youth has a voice at the meeting.

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Manifestation Determination Q&A

What recourse does a parent have if he or she disagrees with the determination that his or her child’s behavior was not a manifestation of the child’s disability?

The regulations, in 34 CFR §300.532(a), provide that the parent of a child with a disability who disagrees with the manifestation determination under 34 CFR §300.530(e) may appeal the decision by requesting a hearing.  A parent also has the right to file a State complaint alleging a denial of a free appropriate public education and to request voluntary mediation under 34 CFR §300.506.”  U.S. Department of Education,,root,dynamic,QaCorner,7,.html

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Comments that Parents Hear: “We cannot/will not provide X service(s) to your child during after school activities or nonacademic services.”

If a parent, student or the school decides that the student will or should participate in nonacademic or extracurricular services and activities, the school must make plans that will allow the student to participate in these services and activities. As part of this process the IEP team must consider whether supplementary aids and services are “appropriate and necessary” to allow “an equal opportunity for participation”.

If the student is provided aids, services or accommodations to allow them to participate in academic activities, then it would seem that these would probably be needed to allow “an equal opportunity for participation” in nonacademic and extracurricular services and activities. If the IEP team should feel that this is not the case, the school should provide the parent with prior written notice of why these are not needed.

The school should be able to articulate the steps taken to provide the student the opportunity to participate in the services and activities. If the parent can document that these steps have not lead to an equal opportunity to participate, they can share this with the school in writing, and request a meeting to discuss “appropriate” steps to achieve the opportunity for participation. The parent can also use the IDEA and state dispute resolution processes to try to resolve disagreements on this issue.

Recall the Law

Schools (a) “must take steps, including, the provision of supplementary aids and services determined appropriate and necessary by the child’s IEP Team, to provide nonacademic and extracurricular services and activities in the manner necessary to afford children with disabilities an equal opportunity for participation in those services and activities.” “(b) Nonacademic and extracurricular services and activities may include counseling services, athletics, transportation, health services, recreational activities, special interest groups or clubs sponsored by the public agency, referrals to agencies that provide assistance to individuals with disabilities, and employment of students, including both employment by the public agency and assistance in making outside employment available.” 300.107

“Supplementary aids and services means aids, services, and other supports that are provided to regular education classes, other education-related settings, and in extracurricular and nonacademic settings, to enable children with disabilities to be educated with nondisabled children to the maximum extent appropriate”. 300.42

Possible Responses

“My child wants/needs to participate in X activity/service. What steps needed to put into place to achieve this?”

“I am requesting that my child receive X aids, service(s) to allow them to participate in (list services and activities).”

“I do not understand why the aids, services, and supports my child receives in other settings cannot or do not need to be provided for nonacademic and extracurricular aids and services. Please try to explain again so I can understand.”

“I am requesting written notice of why my child will not receive the aids, or services they are receiving in other settings in (list nonacademic and extracurricular services and activities).”

What can I do if the school isn’t following my child’s IEP?

It is important to always maintain a good relationship with your child’s school district. When difficulties arise, a parent needs to maintain that relationship. Sometimes parents find out or believe that the district is not following their child’s IEP. When this situation occurs, it is essential for the parent to act quickly and to take the right steps in resolving the issue.

The first step is to write a letter to the principal. Many times the implementation or appropriate implementation of an IEP can be handled quickly and effectively by a school administrator.

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How Can We Help Kids With Transitions?

Many children struggle with transitions, which are common triggers for behaviors that range from annoying (whining, stalling) to upsetting (tantrums and meltdowns).

There are many ways parents and teacher can help kids have an easier time with transitions — and be able to behave better—but  it may take a little experimentation to find out what clicks with each particular child.

These tools are useful  to help kids of all stripes with transitions. But for kids with ADHD, anxiety, autism, or sensory processing, this kind of scaffolding is particularly crucial and can make the difference between a good day and a bad one. Over a period of time it can help pave the way for success.

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Texas Autism Supplement

Texas regulations (TAC 89.1055) require ARD/IEP committees to consider eleven strategies for students with autism. Schools sometimes use the term “Autism Supplement” to refer to a form that they use at ARD/IEP meetings to address these strategies. This fact sheet can help parents in the development of adequate and appropriate strategies for their child with autism.

While all eleven strategies must be considered, TEA does not require that all be implemented. The ARD/IEP committee determines which strategies should be included in a child’s IEP. If it is decided that services are not needed in one or more area, the IEP must include a statement to that effect and the “basis upon which the determination was made.” “The statement may address the services collectively or individually.” (TX Administrative Code, and the TEA Autism Guidance document)

Schools must consider strategies based on peer reviewed, research-based educational practices to the extent practicable. The U.S. Department of Education says peer-reviewed research “generally refers to research that is reviewed by qualified and independent reviewers to ensure that the quality of the information meets the standards of the field before the research is published. However, there is no single definition of ‘peer-reviewed research because the review process varies depending on the type of information to be reviewed.” They also say “to the extent practicable…generally means that services and supports should be based on peer-reviewed research to the extent that it is possible, given the availability of peer-reviewed research.”

If a school uses a specific form to address the eleven strategies, it is important that this document support and not contradict other parts of the IEP. For example, speech goals/objectives and staff ratios in the IEP should be consistent with what is listed in strategies 7 and 8.

Strategy 1 is extended educational programming (for example: extended day and/or extended school year services that consider the duration of programs/settings based on assessment of behavior, social skills, communication, academics, and self-help skills). TEA notes this should be based on an assessment of the individual student’s needs. The Guidance document says that the “ARD committee should consider a student’s functional communication system, which may require instruction and intervention beyond the normal school schedule. The same may be said for interpersonal and behavioral skills, based on an assessment of individual student need.” The 2007 report on Autism by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says that an “effective early childhood intervention” includes “provision of intensive intervention, with active engagement of the child at least 25 hours per week, 12 months per year, in systematically planned, developmentally appropriate educational activities designed to address identified objectives.”

Strategy 2 is daily schedules, reflecting minimal unstructured time and active engagement in learning activities (for example: lunch, snack, and recess periods that provide flexibility within routines; adapt to individual skill levels; and assist with schedule changes, such as changes involving substitute teachers and pep rallies). The AAP report says that effective interventions should have “a high degree of structure through elements such as predictable routine, visual activity schedules, and clear boundaries to minimize distractions.”

Strategy 3 is in-home and community-based training or viable alternatives that assist the student with acquisition of social/behavioral skills (for example: strategies that facilitate maintenance and generalization of such skills from home to school, school to home, home to community, and school to community). TEA guidance says that a “student with autism may have difficulty generalizing skills from one environment to another.  In-home/community-based training is an option an ARD committee may choose for a student with autism in order for them to learn or reinforce social skills in a variety of settings.”

Strategy 4 is positive behavior support strategies based on relevant information (for example: (a) antecedent manipulation, replacement behaviors, reinforcement behaviors, reinforcement strategies, and data-based decisions; and (b) a behavior intervention plan developed from a functional behavioral assessment that uses current data related to target behaviors and addresses behavioral programming across home, school, and community-based settings). The TEA guidance document notes that these are examples of potential strategies rather than a requirement to use a specific methodology. The examples are some of the specific strategies/processes that have been shown to be effective for students with autism, but are not all possible strategies. It notes that the ARD has the responsibility of selecting interventions based on the unique needs of each student and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to providing services to students with autism. It is important that this item be coordinated with strategy 9, social skills and strategies. Often “problem behaviors” are a result of deficits in social skills.

Strategy 5 addresses that beginning at any age, but at least by age 16 futures planning for integrated living, work, community, and educational environments must begin that considers skills necessary to function in current and post-secondary environments.

Strategy 6 covers parent/family training and support, provided by qualified personnel with experience in Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), that, for example: (a) provides a family with skills necessary for a child to succeed in the home/community setting; (b) includes information regarding resources (for example: parent support groups, workshops, videos, conferences, & materials designed to increase parent knowledge of specific teaching/management techniques related to the child’s curriculum); and (c) facilitates parental carryover of in-home training (for example: strategies for behavior management and developing structured home environments and/or communication training so that parents are active participants in promoting the continuity of interventions across all settings). TEA guidance is limited on resources and access to resources, only adding that schools should provide information regarding available local resources. Even though Texas has many rural areas, and local resources are often limited, there is no guidance on what local means. Some schools and Education Service Centers provide funding for parents to attend workshops and conferences in and outside of their Service Center Region.

It is noted that parent training should be offered that fosters continuity across settings and focuses on generalization of IEP-related skills and include areas such as behavior management, interpersonal skills, communication training and/or structured environments across all settings. It notes that the provision of in-home training should be based on the individual needs of the student. It says that training could be a person working “face-to-face” with parents and/or the student or could be providing a videotape to the family to teach/learn specific skills. It is important that staff, especially paraprofessionals, working with a family have appropriate and on-going training. This item should also be coordinated with strategy 10.

Strategy 7 is providing a suitable staff-to-student ratio appropriate to identified activities and as needed to achieve social/behavioral progress based on the child’s developmental and learning level (acquisition, fluency, maintenance, generalization) that encourages work towards individual independence (as determined by, for example: (a) adaptive behavior evaluation results; (b) behavioral accommodation needs across settings; and transitions within the school day). TEA guidance says ARDs make these decisions on an individual basis considering the setting, a student’s communication abilities, and present level of competence in each area of instruction. It also notes that as a student makes progress, “there should be less adult supervision, more self-monitoring and therefore, a higher staff to student ratio.” While not stated, the implication is that the school is working towards increased individual independence.

Strategy 8 addresses communication interventions, including language forms and functions that enhance effective communication across setting (for example: augmentative, incidental, and naturalistic teaching). TEA guidance says that staff “may wish” to consider these items and “language forms and functions that enhance effective communication across settings. Teachers should also consider a student’s style of learning and the portability of a communication strategy.” Strategy 1 mentions a student’s functional communication system. One source says “Simply said, functional communication is not just about speaking; it’s about making yourself understood, even if it means using an aid like a communication board, or speech generating device. It’s also about being able to do this independently; just saying yes or no in response to a question does not fit the definition of
functional communication.”

Strategy 9 is about social skills supports and strategies based on social skills assessment/curriculum and provided across settings (for example; trained peer facilitators (e.g., circle of friends), video modeling, social stories, and role playing). TEA does not add any additional information to this item. However, it should be noted that social skills assessments and curriculum exist and educators and parents should be aware of them for a variety of students, in addition to those with autism. It is also important that this item is correlated with social skills goals in the IEP. As mentioned, this should be coordinated with strategy 4.

Strategy 10 covers professional educator/staff support (for example: training provided to personnel who work with the student to assure the correct implementation of techniques and strategies described in the IEP). TEA simply notes that schools “are responsible for training teachers and paraprofessionals to effectively implement programs for students with autism. Training may include a foundation of scientifically-based research intervention strategies.” What is not mentioned is the importance of providing this support in a timely manner. Parents should request that the IEP state a timeline for doing this. If this is not done, the parent should request a written statement of why the school is not willing to state a timeline. It is also important that the parent and school monitor that these supports and, sufficient training are provided and the provision is documented.

Strategy 11 is on teaching strategies based on peer-reviewed, research-based practices for students with autism (for example: those associated with discrete-trial training, visual supports, applied behavior analysis, structured learning, augmentative communication, or social skills training). TEA notes that the strategies listed are only some of many instructional options that the ARD committee can consider, but does not list any additional options. They then state that while “it is the responsibility of an ARD committee to make decisions regarding appropriateness of strategies based on the unique needs of an individual student, there is no one-size-fitsall approach to providing services to students with autism.” This statement reflects decisions made in numerous court cases. However, it is important and appropriated for parents to monitor and question whether their child is making reasonable progress under the method being used. If the child is making little or no progress and/or it appears that the school is using a “one-size-fits-all approach” without considering the unique needs of the child, the parents have a basis for challenging the method being used.


HB 21 Passed in the 2017 Texas Legislature Special Session

Grant programs for students with Autism, and another for students with Dyslexia were approved. $20 million is budgeted to fund ten public or charter schools for each program for two years beginning in the 2018-19 school year. The programs are for children three through eight years of age. Parents must give consent for their child being in the program.

The programs must incorporate: evidence-based and research-based design; the use of empirical data on student achievement and improvement; parental support and collaboration; the use of technology; meaningful inclusion; the ability to replicate the program for students statewide.
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Signs Your Young Child Might Be Struggling With Anxiety

Childhood is full of new experiences that can feel scary to young kids. Think about learning to ride a bike or starting at a new school, for example. Kids with learning and attention issues may be even more likely than their peers to worry about school, social activities and change. And they may be more likely to develop anxiety.

Do you think your preschooler or grade-schooler may be struggling with anxiety? Here are some signs you might see, according to John Piacentini, Ph.D., and Lindsey Bergman, Ph.D., experts from the UCLA Child Anxiety Resilience Education and Supports (CARES) Center.

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