Words Matter When It Comes to Learning Issues December 2, 2016

By Susan C. Stone and Mary Jo O’Neill 

Attending an IEP or 504 plan meeting can be intimidating for parents. Walking into a crowded office with an intervention specialist, a classroom teacher, the school  principal, the director of special education and a speech therapist compounds the overwhelming concern for the immediate situation. Does your child have a learning disability? What special actions must be taken? How will this positively or negatively affect your child’s attitude toward school or the future?

It’s important to understand that the goal of your child’s school is to provide your child a free and appropriate education (FAPE) that may include an IEP or 504 plan that offers accommodations and/or services.  These services allow your child to learn in the most effective way and access the curriculum.

The problem, however, is that some state and local education agencies are reluctant to use the terms dyslexia, dyscalculia and dysgraphia, when those terms are applicable. If your student has trouble recognizing the letters of the alphabet, struggles to match letters to sounds, has difficulty learning new words and has trouble rhyming, these are signs that he/she may have dyslexia. When your learner is in the middle school and he/she struggles with reading and spelling, grasping a pencil or using proper grammar, this could be a sign of dysgraphia. Likewise, a young child who struggles with processing mathematical equations may be coping with dyscalculia.

Nevertheless, some schools will not place these terms on important documents.  Perhaps, it’s over concern for labeling a child. Whatever the reason, it does a disservice to parents and children to avoid these terms.  Identifying the problem is the start at finding a proper solution.

There is good news: Michael K. Yudin, Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services in the United States Department of Education, released a letter in October 2015 that should bring encouragement to parents and educators.

“Ensuring a high-quality education for children with specific learning disabilities is a critical responsibility for all of us,” Mr.  Yudin writes.  “Dyslexia, dyscalculia, and dysgraphia… are conditions that could qualify a child as a child with a specific learning disability under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). There is nothing in the IDEA that would prohibit the use of the terms dyslexia, dyscalculia and dysgraphia in IDEA evaluation, eligibility determinations, or IEP documents,” Mr. Yudin noted in his letter.

Mr. Yudin confirms that these terms add clarification to appropriate accommodations and related services to be delivered.

It is important to always remember that IDEA gives your child the right to a free, appropriate public education. The purpose of IDEA, as stated in 20 U.S.C. 1400(d), is “to ensure that all children with disabilities have available to them a free appropriate public education that emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment, and independent living.” If you, as a parent, believe that your child’s educational needs are not being met by his or her IEP, you have the right to request a meeting at any time to address your concerns.  The fact that you consent to an IEP initially does not mean that it cannot be changed. If your child has a specific learning disability such as dyslexia, dyscalculia, or dysgraphia that is not being addressed, make sure those needs are addressed at the meeting. Your child might qualify for specifically designed services for these conditions.

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