Fighting for the Educational Needs of Your Learning Disabled Child: Know Your Rights

 The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) “requires public schools to make available to all eligible children with disabilities, a free appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment, appropriate to their individual needs.

IDEA also requires public schools to develop an Individualized Education Programs (IEP’s) for each child with a disability. These plans include all special education and related services that will fulfill the educational needs of these students.

This all sounds great in theory.  In reality, parents of learning disabled children have to fight for their children from day one.  If you suspect your child has a learning disability, it can be an uphill battle to have her evaluated by the school district and to ensure she is receiving all the services available to her.  Just ask Nancy Graves, mother to a learning disabled child, Danielle, and co-author of  Surviving Learning Disabilities Successfully: Sixteen Rules for Managing a Child’s Learning Disabilities.

Ms. Graves states in her book “Instead of starting with an attitude of believe everything they say until it is proven wrong, you should believe no one and believe nothing. Why?  Because they (the school districts) are protecting their limited resources and their rules.  That inherently puts you and the school at cross purposes and does not automatically provide what is best to meet your child’s needs. The school district’s financial and/or attitudinal constraints are not your problem.”

I have found there are three types of school systems.  The first, the one you hope you live in, has a wonderful team of professionals who will immediately evaluate your child, develop an IEP with your input and make sure that IEP is followed to the letter by your child’s teachers.

The second type of school district means well, but they are overburdened, understaffed and drag their feet.  This may be the school district with the “financial constraints” Ms. Graves mentions.  You or your child’s teachers may express a concern in September that is not acknowledged until June.  Now your child has spent the entire school year needlessly struggling, losing more and more confidence, and possibly developing a dislike for school and learning.

The third type of school district is the antagonistic district.  This is the school district with the “attitudinal constraints” mentioned above. Here, they blatantly refuse to have your child evaluated, and if they finally do, they will fight against anything you want to make your child’s education a success.  Fortunately these districts are usually few and far between.

My first piece of advice is to talk to other parents of learning disabled children and find out what type of school system your child is attending.  Information and knowing what you are up against is your best weapon.

Second, you don’t have to do it alone.  Even if your child is attending the first type of school district, get an advocate.  You can contact the National Center for Learning Disabilities and they will connect you with an advocate.  An advocate is simply someone who will work with families to ensure that a child is provided with an IEP that truly meets her needs.  They will work with you and the districts’ team of professionals to develop an appropriate plan and to monitor the effectiveness of the plan.

If your child is attending the second or third type of school district, I suggest seeking out a private evaluation.  Don’t count on these types of districts to evaluation your child in a timely manner, if at all.  You can ask your pediatrician or other parents for recommendations.  Also, Internet Special Education Resources will provide you with a nationwide directory of evaluation and advocacy services.  Once you are armed with the information from a private evaluation, a school district will have to act sooner rather than later.

Finally, you are your child’s best advocate.  No one knows your child better than you.  Follow your gut.  As Ms. Graves states, “You are the only person who can act on behalf of your child.” If you do not feel the school district is doing enough for your child, make a nuisance out of yourself.  Unfortunately the harsh reality is that the squeakiest wheel gets the most oil.

Sandi Duffy

Excerpts from:  Surviving Learning Disabilities Successfully: Sixteen Rules for Managing a Child’s Learning Disabilities. Copyright 2007 Nancy E. Graves and Danielle E. Graves .

Sandi Duffy works as a freelance writer and educator.  She hosts a blog entitled A Widow for One Year where she shares her journey as a recently widowed single mother of two young children and is working on a memoir entitled Young Widow…One Woman’s Journey Through the First Year and Beyond.  Ms. Duffy is also involved in raising funds for pancreatic cancer research through the Lustgarten Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer Research. 

Other related SMW articles: Coping with the Stresses of Single Parenting a Special Needs Child