How to Walk Out of an IEP Meeting with a Smile on Your Face ...

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How to Walk Out of an IEP Meeting with a Smile on Your Face ...

This video is a fictional account of what a bad Individualized Education Program (IEP) meeting might look like. If an IEP goes like this, you better call a special education attorney. Contact Montgomery Law for a free IEP review and consultation regarding your child's educational program and placement. Click to play.

TIPS FOR A SUCCESSFUL IEP MEETING

If your child receives special education services, by law he or she must have an Individualized Education Plan, or IEP. The IEP is a legal document that lists your child’s needs, a plan for the school to address those needs, and a method to measure your child’s progress. The IEP must include: a report of your child’s present level of performance; your child’s current educational goals; a list of supports, services, modifications and accommodations the school will provide for your child to help attain those goals; how and when the school will measure your child’s progress toward annual goals and transitional planning to help your child transition to life after high school (Stanberry, 2014-2015). These components will be determined in a meeting between you, the parent, and school officials. Parents often leave an IEP meeting feeling frustrated and unheard. The IEP is the district’s official offer of a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) for your child. By following a few important guidelines, you will leave the IEP meeting with a smile on your face knowing your child will receive the best possible plan for success.

1.     Preparing for the Meeting

  • Establish initial communication with the classroom teacher, principal, or special education teacher. It is important to build a positive rapport with at least one of these individuals before the meeting. It will make you feel more at ease, and it sets a collaborative tone for the meeting.
  • Write down any information you feel is important, and prioritize the areas you wish to address. Notes will help you to ensure everything you wanted to discuss is covered.  Determine which officials will be attending the meeting ahead of time. Walking into a room full of strangers can be intimidating. Knowing the people who will be attending will take the surprise out of the initial introductions.
  • If you have pertinent documents you would like to share with school officials, it is best to send them copies before the meeting. This provides them with time to examine the information.
  • By law, you should have a copy of the district’s reports in advance of the IEP meeting.
  • Don’t allow the district to offer you only one potential date for the meeting. Don’t be intentionally stubborn, but to a point the district has to work around your schedule.

2.     During the Meeting

  • Go into the meeting with a positive, open mindset. It is easy to allow emotions to cloud your purpose. Understand that you are part of a collaborative team working for your child’s best interests. You are an integral part of the IEP team, and you should feel empowered by that fact.
  • The law states that parents must be afforded “meaningful participation” in the IEP meeting. Ask for any special accommodations you may need, such as an interpreter. It is important that you are as comfortable as possible and understand everything related to the meeting.
  • When you are discussing your child, it is important to realize you know him or her better than anyone else. Make sure you personalize the meeting by discussing your child’s specific strengths and needs. Give a face to the name on the IEP.
  • The school professionals will most likely have data about your child with which you are unaware. It is important to accept this information to understand the entire scope of your child’s strengths and needs. School officials may see things you don’t see at home. Keep an open mind to their information.
  • As the parent, it is your job to stay focused on the final outcome and not the process. It is the professionals’ responsibility to come up with a plan to achieve that outcome. If you do not trust the plan, you can contest it in a due process proceeding, either on your own or with the assistance of an attorney.
  • Ask questions about anything that is unclear. Educators and administrators may use unfamiliar jargon and acronyms. Ask them to clarify any confusing terms or concepts.
  • Bring another person, such as a spouse, friend, or other relative, along to the meeting for support. They can also provide a second set of ears in the event you forget something that has been said. It is a gray area as to whether or not you may make an audio recording of the meeting. Notify the school before the meeting as to who will be accompanying you and that you plan to record the meeting, if you are doing so. If you do choose to record meeting, the district will probably also record the meeting, even they allow the meeting to be recorded at all.
  • Include your child in an age appropriate manner. At age 16, your child has the legal right to be included in the meeting. At 18, he or she will be the adult making the decisions for their transition after high school. If your child is younger, come to the meeting with a list of their concerns or thoughts to be shared with the group. You are your child’s second best advocate; they are their own best advocate. It is important to have your child involved in the decision making process when appropriate.
  • You should ask to take the IEP home before signing it after having taken the time to properly review and digest everything that you have just learned. This is an especially good idea if you were undecided about anything, or if you simply want to review it with fresh eyes the next day. Before leaving the meeting, you should sign the area that states you attended the meeting. Signing the attendance page does not bind you to anything, it just says that you were in fact present.

3.     After the Meeting

  • If you have concerns about anything listed in the document after reviewing the IEP, return the unsigned IEP with a separate document listing those concerns. Contact officials and reschedule another IEP meeting to address your concerns. If you have signed the IEP, but you have new concerns or something is unclear, contact officials for clarification. It is important to note that you may withdraw your permission for all or part of the IEP at any time. You may also ask for a new IEP meeting at any time to discuss new terms. The IEP is a fluid document that can and should be modified and revisited whenever appropriate.
  • Discuss the IEP with your child. It is important to acknowledge your child’s areas of strength and any progress that he or she has already made.  Review the goals and objectives of the IEP so your child knows what is expected of them and what measures will be taken to help them achieve those ends.
  • Keep your copy of the IEP in a safe, easily accessible area. You should be receiving periodic updates on your child’s progress, which you can keep filed with the IEP. Review the information regularly to ensure the goals and objectives are being met.
  • Keep an open dialogue with the teachers and special education teachers. Work together with the educators to help your child achieve their goals. Incorporate activities at home that reinforce the areas being addressed in school.

Final Thoughts on Successful IEP Meetings:

Preparation is key to a successful IEP meeting. Attending the meeting armed with a positive attitude, documentation, and questions will facilitate a positive experience.  Keeping a collaborative mindset and knowing your rights and your child’s rights will ensure a productive outcome implemented to help your child flourish. It is important to note that by no means must you accept what the district offers without protest. If you feel as though the IEP is inadequate and/or inappropriate, consult with a special education attorney. Most attorneys that specialize in school law will gladly take a look at your child’s IEP for no charge and give you their opinion as to whether or not your child is being denied the Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) that they are entitled to by law.

To learn more about your legal rights when it comes to IEPs , give Montgomery Law a call at 215-650-7563.

Note, nothing in this article or on this website is to be considered medical or legal advice. 

We would love to know your thoughts / experiences, chime in below ..

 

           

 

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What's the Deal with Independent Educational Evaluations? The "IEE."

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Is it Wise To Secure an Independent Psychological Evaluation for Your Child?

Psychological Evaluations, usually performed by a masters or doctoral level psychologist, are used in schools, mental health agencies and in hospitals to justify authorization of services, identify psychological disorders and determine a client’s cognitive abilities (e.g., their IQ). School Psychologists, for example, often perform psychological evaluations as part of a child’s IEP, especially if a student has a history of mental illness, poor academic performance, or behavioral issues. In contrast to a Comprehensive Clinical Assessment (CCA), which is usually a psycho-social assessment that lasts 1-2 hours and relies heavily on previous testing and self-report, psychological evaluations take several visits to complete and employ a variety of diagnostic tests, the purpose of which is to either confirm or deny the existence of a learning difference or mental disorder. Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is an example of a common ailment for which psychological evaluations screen, though they can be customized to address a variety of situations and concerns.

Children who struggle with either behavioral or academic issues are often assigned to the School Psychologist for such tests, as public schools in the United States are required to offer additional assistance to children with Learning Differences. While this law is intended to protect children, it also has a way of overwhelming school staff, as the definition of “learning difference” is so broad that in theory every child at a school could qualify for their own IEP. While School Psychologists no doubt do their best to perform a thorough evaluation for all students, the reality is that time is limited and often critical information simply gets missed. Fortunately, parents do have other options.

Concerned parents certainly have the right to seek an independent psychological evaluation. This is no different than getting a second option on any other medical condition. The cost of such an evaluation may be an issue with many parents, but this can be discussed with insurance companies or handled with private pay. There are also certain situations where the district will fund your independent educational evaluation. This can include a wide variety of evaluations, not just psychological evaluations. You have rights under 34 C.F.R. 300.503 to obtain an independent educational evaluation of your child. To learn more about these rights, you may want to consider consulting with an attorney that specializes in education law.

Parents who seek an independent evaluation can find psychologists employed in private practice or in private agencies, where their main role is to perform psychological evaluations for new clients. They tend to have smaller caseloads than their school counterparts and often have the ability and the time to customize evaluations in ways that School Psychologists cannot. Your insurance provider can usually refer you to a provider in your area.

There are dozens, if not hundreds, of different tests that psychologist use to confirm mental health diagnosis. ADHD is a great example of a diagnosis that can benefit from a psychological evaluation. Children are usually diagnosed with ADHD based on diagnostic criteria from the DSM 5, which is the manual that clinicians use to determine if criteria for a mental disorder have been met. Symptoms of ADHD include hyperactivity, difficulty concentrating and impulsive behavior. That seems simple enough. However, there are several other mental disorders that look a lot like ADHD. Children with severe anxiety, for example, also have difficulty with concentration, hyperactivity and impulsive behavior. Trauma also looks exactly like ADHD in children as well, so the presence of symptoms is enough to make a diagnosis, but oftentimes the diagnosis is simply wrong.

Clinicians treat ADHD in different ways than they do children who have experienced trauma, so an incorrect diagnosis can be at best counterproductive. Psychological evaluations, on the other hand, can employ a battery of tests specific to ADHD, or to PTSD, or to Generalized Anxiety Disorder, in effect ruling out one in favor of the other.

Parents should have an open and continuing conversation with the psychologists about their concerns. Psychological evaluations can be blunt instruments, but with proper guidance and information from parents, psychologists can tailor their evaluation to meet each child’s individual needs. As there are many different types of assessments, psychologists really rely on authentic and comprehensive information from parents, but also active participation from the child.

On a final note, parents who wish to determine their child’s IQ can certainly do so with a psychological evaluation, provided the child willingly participates in what are boring and drawn out activities. Often, the results of an IQ are either slewed or become impossible to validate because the child refuses to participate, intentionally sabotages himself, or simply does not try. Savvy psychologists realize this and are hesitant to complete the test if the child is not willing to participate.  There is a silver lining to this, though, as a child’s refusal to take such a test can often be an indication of more clinically significant issues, such as test anxiety or even oppositional behavior.

Psychological evaluations, when done correctly, provide invaluable insight into a child’s actual presenting concerns. CCAs, while useful diagnostic tools, often lead to a misdiagnosis, particularly with disorders that present in similar ways in children.  While psychological evaluations are not immune to error, they do employ valid and reliable diagnostic assessments that can help parents and clinicians better understand the nature of their child’s issues. While a school psychologist is certainly capable of providing a psychological evaluation, independent psychologists tend to have more time and more resources which result in more thorough results. To see if your child may be a candidate for an independent evaluation, give Montgomery Law a call at 215-650-7563.

Note, nothing in this article or on this website is to be considered medical or legal advice. 

We would love to know your thoughts / experiences, chime in below ..

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I THINK MY CHILD MAY BE GIFTED; WHAT SHOULD I DO TO ENSURE THAT THEY RECEIVE AN APPROPRIATE EDUCATION?

PARENTING THE GIFTED CHILD

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You have noticed your infant is unusually alert, has a lengthy attention span, and sleeps much less than other children his age. As a toddler, he displays a high energy level, an almost photographic memory, and he is developing an extensive vocabulary. Perhaps your child has intense reactions to noise, pain and frustration, and she seems sensitive and compassionate beyond what is usual for her age. As a preschooler, your child is fascinated with books and demonstrates a vivid imagination, which may include imaginary friends. She displays an active curiosity and a keen sense of humor.  Your child thrives at using abstract reasoning and problem solving skills. All of these qualities may be signs that your child is gifted. 

If you suspect your child is gifted, it is important to take steps to verify your suspicions and then form a strategy to nurture your child’s unique gifts. Below is a plan of action to ensure early identification of your child’s giftedness, and to provide the understanding and challenges that your child will need to flourish.

1.     Speak with the Pediatrician

Keep an open dialogue with your child’s pediatrician. They will be able to provide you with information about whether or not your child is developing at an advanced rate. They are also a good source of information concerning local parenting groups for parents with gifted children. The doctor will also help you to brainstorm ideas about how to handle your inquisitive little one when it comes to skills and sleeping patterns.

2.     Help Your Child Discover Their Interests

Help your child to discover new interests by providing them with numerous opportunities to explore their creativity. Reading is a crucial part of expanding any child’s mind, and allows them to develop their imagination. Pretend play allows children to explore ideas and situations they are learning about from their books or witnessing in real life. Also, provide scaffolding opportunities where you demonstrate a difficult activity, such as putting together a puzzle. Discuss each step as you go, and then allow your child to explore it for themselves. Provide your child with access to a multitude of opportunities, such as art, music, sports, dance, etc. As they try new experiences, they will develop their own interests and learn new skills.

3.     Keep an Open Dialogue with the School

Once your child has reached school age, it is important that they spend time with other students who have similar abilities. Gifted students function best in an academic setting where they are allowed to progress at their own rate. This helps them develop independence by allowing them to make their own choices and use their unique creativity.

Become involved in your child’s school, and speak with the teacher(s) and administration about the best way to help your child thrive in that setting. Many schools have gifted programs that allow gifted students to spend part of their day with other students with similar abilities. If your child seems unchallenged, you may want to consider early entrance or acceleration.  This is a decision that should be thoroughly considered because it may not be the right method for your child. Grade acceleration is usually best done, at least from a social perspective, before the child reaches an age where they are established in their peer groups. If your child shows an interest in advancement, they are most likely ready for it.

4.     Ask for a Gifted Individual Education Plan (GIEP)

If you believe your child’s educational needs are not being met, you have the right to ask for a Gifted Individual Education Plan (GIEP). The school will first assess your child to determine their giftedness. This is accomplished using achievement, I.Q. and ability tests. Once giftedness is ascertained, a meeting is scheduled between the parents, regular educators and gifted educators and administration to determine a plan of action for your child. This is a working meeting where all members brainstorm ideas to meet your child’s unique needs. Together, this group will produce a roadmap for your child that encompasses not only the pullout gifted program, but also their regular education courses. It is important to remember that at the end of the meeting, you have the final approval of the proposed plan.

The GIEP addresses your child’s strengths and needs and assesses any modifications needed in their regular education classes, as well as any additional measures to be taken. It includes your child’s present levels of educational performance, their goals, short term learning outcomes, and specially designed instructions. At the end of the meeting you will be asked to sign a Notice of Recommendation Assignment (NORA).  The NORA allows the District to implement the GIEP.

As the school year progresses, make sure that the plans incorporated into the GIEP are being implemented into your child’s educational experience. If you have concerns, or if the plan is not working for your child, ask for another GIEP meeting to discuss changes. You may ask for this meeting at any time, not just once per year. 

5.     Be an Advocate

As in any other situation, it is important for you to be your child’s advocate. Meet with teachers early in the school year and continue regular communication throughout the year. Stay involved by volunteering in your child’s class, if you are able to do so. Join a parent’s group focused on parents with gifted children. This is important because it can be difficult to know how to best handle your gifted child. Having the support of others in the same situation will provide you with a solid foundation of knowledge and comfort during the trying times.

It is important to keep in mind that raising a gifted child comes with a unique set of triumphs and challenges. Providing ample opportunities for exploration and problem solving will nurture your child’s uniqueness. By accepting and respecting your child’s individuality, creativity, and curiosity you will instill a love of knowledge and strengthen their self-worth.  If you feel as though your child may be gifted, but that your school district is holding him or her back, you may want to consider hiring or consulting with an education attorney. Your child is afforded certain legal rights with respect to their education and attorney intervention is sometimes the appropriate solution. To learn more about gifted education check out the Pennsylvania Association for Gifted Education’s Website. Joseph Montgomery proudly serves as their legal advisor.

To learn more about your legal rights when it comes to obtaining appropriate gifted education services for your child , give us a call at 215-650-7563.

Note, nothing in this article or on this website is to be considered medical or legal advice. 

We would love to know your thoughts / experiences, chime in below ..

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MY CHILD IS BEING BULLIED. HELP!

What should you do if your child is being bullied...

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The American Psychological Association defines bullying as, “aggressive behavior that is intended to cause distress or harm, involves an imbalance of power or strength between the aggressor and the victim, and occurs repeatedly over time. Bullying may take many forms, including physical, verbal, relational and cyber” (“Bullying and School Climate,” n.d.). Bullying is linked to decreased self-esteem, lower academic success, depression and suicide in its victims. Parents are the key to helping their children successfully overcome bullying.  By implementing the following game plan, parents can ensure their child’s mental and physical safety.

1.     Ask Questions

Certain groups of students are more likely to be targeted, for example, based on disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, weight, race or religion (“Bullying and School Climate,” n.d.). Despite this fact, bullying knows no bounds, and many children who are bullied keep it a secret. Victims may feel it is deserved, especially if they already have low self-esteem. They often suffer in silence because they feel humiliated, and they don’t want to embarrass their family. Parents need to keep the lines of communication open with their child. If you notice your child has become withdrawn, angry or emotional, investigate the situation.

2.     Be Your Child’s Ally

If your child confesses that they are being bullied, assure them they have your full attention and support. Let them know you will help in whatever way you can. Your first course of action is to become knowledgeable about the school’s anti-bullying protocol. This will provide you with a solid foundation when meeting with school officials. Also, make sure to document every incident in detail. Provide the dates, times, actions, and results. Going into a meeting with school representatives, armed with facts, provides you with knowledge and power to advocate for your child.

3.     Schedule a Meeting

Meet with your child’s teacher(s), guidance counselor and principal, face to face, to inform them of the situation. If your child has special needs, or an IEP, which includes other professionals, make sure those professionals are also at the meeting. Determine any knowledge officials have concerning incidents involving your child. School officials must document known incidents of bullying, and it is your right to request copies of those documents pertaining to your child.

As difficult as it may be, try to keep your emotions out of the discussion. Go in prepared with the facts, and discuss the detailed times, places, and descriptions of the incident(s). This will help officials understand the seriousness of the situation, and assist in forming a plan to correct the problem. Once a plan is agreed upon, make sure it is documented and signed by all members present. Make sure you leave the meeting with a copy of the document.

4.     Move Up the Chain of Command

If you feel your concerns are not being addressed by the teacher(s), guidance counselor, and principal, you may need to move up the chain of authority. Report your concerns to the school superintendent, school board, or state and federal law enforcement. It is important to make sure your school district is taking the situation seriously. Again, make sure you are tracking every incident with dates, times and facts. Details are crucial when discussing the incident, especially when talking with law enforcement. If you feel that despite your best efforts you are not being heard and you don’t feel as though your child is safe, contact an attorney.

5.     File an Official Complaint

Principals are required to notify the school and local authorities when a child is being threatened.  Parents should file a complaint each time there is an incident, not just the initiating occurrence. If the event rise to the level of being criminal, file a complaint with the local police. If you are unsure, contact an attorney.

6.     Get Professional Help

Arrange for your child to see an individual therapist to deal with the anxiety, depression and low self-esteem that often accompanies bullying. Suicide, attributed to bullying factors, is on the rise. Make sure your child has your support, and that of a professional therapist, to help them cope. This is the best way to ensure their mental and physical health and safety.

7.     Regulate Technology

Limit and/or monitor your child’s access to technology. With the advent of the internet, bullying has taken on a more sinister and widespread forum. Keeping track of your child’s cyber interactions can prevent them from being the victim of cyberbullying. Report any cyberbullying issues to the school and local law officials.

8.     Contact the U.S. Department of Education

If you are not receiving the help you need from your school officials, the U.S. Department of Education may be able to help. They take bullying seriously, and they may investigate the situation and assign an educational consultant to the case.

9.     Contact an Attorney

If you feel your concerns are being ignored, contact an attorney to handle your case. It is your child’s legal right to receive an education free from harassment. If you are not sure whether to contact an attorney then you should contact an attorney. Most attorneys accept free consultations and would be happy to talk to you, especially if a child’s safety is on the line.

10. Demand that your child’s rights are being protected.

Students face academic challenges every day of their school career, but they have the right to an education free from intimidation and harm. Parents can advocate for their child by knowing school policy, keeping lines of communication open with their child and the school, and demanding the schools help in assuring their child’s safety. With you as their warrior, your child will survive the bullying and thrive as a successful member of society.

To learn more about your legal rights when it comes to bullying, give us a call at 215-650-7563.

Note, nothing in this article or on this website is to be considered medical or legal advice. 

We would love to know your thoughts / experiences, chime in below ...

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MY CHILD CAN'T MAKE FRIENDS. HELP!

What should you do if your child has trouble making friends ...

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In many ways, the ability to make friends is purely a function of personality. Extroverts, for example, draw their energy from interactions with others. They like to talk and interact and be heard, because extroverts draw their energy from those with whom they interact. On the flip side, you have introverts, who tend to be more quiet and reserved. It’s not that they prefer isolation, but they draw their strength from within and do not rely on others for stimulation the way extroverts do. The good news is that one personality type is not any better or worse than the other. This is especially true for adults, but for children the issue gets a bit murky. Extroverted children tend to be more sociable and therefore tend to have more friends. Introverted children, however, are not as naturally comfortable in social situations, so many times worried parents perceive a problem where in fact there is no problem at all.

Some children are just shy, which is normal and certainly not cause for alarm. The truth of this statement is often lost on worried parents, who have in their minds a vision of what a well-adjusted child should look like in social situations. If a child is introverted, is it the parents’ responsibility to help them make friends? If it is, how do they go about doing that? If it isn’t, what should they be doing instead? The actual answer to these questions has more to do with understanding what a child actually needs in the first place.

Consider the concept of sociability. Like personality or mental illness, sociability exists on a spectrum, where “0” is low functioning autistic and “100” is full blown psychopathic narcissism. One of the defining characteristics of autism is marked impairment in social situations. One of the defining characteristics of narcissism is the belief in a pre-ordained right to be the center of attention. As should be evident, this is not an either-or situation.  Each and every one of us falls somewhere on that spectrum, hopefully somewhere near the middle, something that we might lazily describe as “normal.” But what is normal? More importantly, when should parents start to worry that their child’s behaviors are abnormal?

The answer is: it depends. It depends on the child, their personality and what they want. If a child is an introvert and prefers to spend their time alone making sandcastles, that is not a defect of character or a sign of mental illness – that’s a normal, well-adjusted personality. Some kids play king of the mountain; some kids are content to dig in the sand. Parents often make things worse by trying to fix something that is not broken.

Consider the following: Many years ago, two upper middle class parents took their eleven year old son to see a prominent child psychologist. The parents had tried everything to make their child more sociable. They figured that group lessons at the local country club would be just what the doctor ordered.  Golf lessons, tennis lessons, dance lessons, swimming lessons – the list was exhaustive. To their surprise, their son would come home every day in tears, despite the gobs of money they were spending to make him happy. He was obviously miserable, but they didn’t know why. All the other children seemed to be having so much fun. Why was their boy so different? Exasperated, the boy’s parents brought him to the psychologist and explained their plight.

After considering their story, the psychologist sat down with the boy and looked him in the eye.

 “Do you want to learn how to golf or to dance or to swim?” the psychologist asked.

The boy shook his head no meekly.

“Well, what do you want?” the psychologist questioned.

The boy’s lip began to quiver. “I want to learn how to paint.”

The parents looked at one another with surprise. “What should we do?” the father asked the psychologist, confused.

The psychologist grinned and replied, “I’d start by buying a brush.”

Parents often make the mistake of seeing their child as someone they should be, rather than as someone they actually are. Some kids will be king of the mountain. Some kids will play in the sand. And others will draw that scene for others to enjoy.  It all comes down to personal choice, which is a construct of personality. We can no more change this than we can the color of our skin.

If parents want to help their child make friends, they must first recognize that any attempt to do so must first start in the home. Parents cannot waltz into a school and appropriate friends, but they can teach their child the concepts of self-worth and value. Parents cannot prevent children from making “bad” friends, but they can instill in them a sense of morality. And parents cannot protect their children from the inevitable loss of childhood friends, but they can teach them self-confidence and esteem. If a child is comfortable within their own skin, there is no social situation they cannot handle. Our lives are the culmination of all the lessons we have learned, and the best strategy for parents is to ensure that our children feel empowered, confident and secure. This is the real way to help our children make friends. It also happens to be the best way to promote success in most every other aspect of their lives.

However, with all of that being said, sometimes therapy is the appropriate remedy and evaluations may be necessary. You have a legal right to request that your school district complete an evaluation or, in certain situations, allow you the opportunity to obtain an independent evaluation that the district funds.

Note, nothing in this article or on this website is to be considered medical or legal advice.

To learn more about your legal rights when it comes to obtaining social / emotional supports for your child, give us a call at 215-650-7563.

We would love to know your thoughts / experiences, chime in below...

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MY CHILD WON'T GO TO SCHOOL. HELP!

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It is fairly common for children to fear school. It’s also fairly common for parents to misunderstand the reasons why.

It is fairly common for children to fear school. It’s also fairly common for parents to misunderstand the reasons why. Parents, generally speaking, are many years removed from the educational process and have moved on to worry about more pressing matters, like work and taxes and mortgages and relationships. For parents, it is easy to forget or even to romanticize the negative experiences they had in school. Time has a way of diluting and distorting memories. Adults also have fully developed cognitive abilities that are tempered by experience and wisdom. In short, adults have perspective. We are able to look back on childhood experiences through the lens of adulthood and see those experiences for what they actually are – moments in time that molded us into who we are today.

This is not the case with school aged children, who are actually experiencing this process in real time. While some kids absolutely love school, many succumb to its various stressors. After all, school is equivalent to a 40 hour work week, so it is not unlike their job. It’s also their primary source of social interaction. This is wonderful for children who are extroverted and outgoing, but not so much for kids who still struggle with boundaries issues, social nuances, sexuality and their own identity. If your child has a fear of school or even flat out refuses to go, it’s important that parents take the time to understand why their child feels the way they do. Here are 3 things to keep in mind:

1.       School can be a miserable experience for many children.

Children are often anxious because they have very little control over their lives. In most cases, they have no say in which school they attend, which teachers they are assigned, when they get to eat or even when they get to use the bathroom. Imagine being in that situation. Many mental health issues stem from the feeling that we have no control in our lives. It may well be the dominant source of anxiety for us all. For children, they really do have no control and on some level they know this. High achieving students seem to accept this and even thrive in school settings, where structure and consistency and positive reinforcement in the form of grades and feedback from teachers provides motivation and security. But what if a child has a learning disability or an attention-deficit disorder? For them, the exact opposite becomes true.

As adults, we’ve all had jobs where we have become burnt out or frustrated with our bosses. While it is not an easy task, we do have the option to find employment elsewhere. Children, on the other hand, are stuck. They have no choice but to remain in school, regardless of how miserable the experience. If a child starts to struggle in school in the first grade, that struggle compounds with interest. They don’t have the option to reexamine their lives and make a career change. They are stuck in that situation for twelve years!

Because children lack adult coping skills, there is a correlation between poor academic performance and disciplinary problems. A child who struggles with reading gets frustrated with their Language Arts class so they act out, because misery is terrible, especially when you are a child and you have no say in your situation. There is a phenomenon in psychology known as “learned helplessness,” which is basically when a person stops trying because they are convinced there is no solution to the problem. While it may not actually be true to say that there is no solution, learned helplessness is about perception, and our perception is our reality. If your child has reached this point, is it really surprising that they would fear school or even refuse to go?

2.  Perception is reality.

We all experience things differently. This is also true for trauma and explains why some soldiers come home from wars and resume normal lives while others suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and never recover. Trauma is not so much about an event but rather our perception of it.

Consider Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans in 2005. Social psychologists conducted research by interviewing local residents and what they discovered was remarkable. People who experience trauma (like, say, a hurricane or a school shooting) tend to fall into one of two categories. The first category is the Victim. People who are “victims” tend to see themselves as helpless victims of circumstance, unable to control the outcome of their lives. The second category is the Survivor. People who see themselves as “survivors” tend to draw strength from the experience. They recognize that a terrible event has befallen them, but they also know that they have control over what happens next. In short, victims perceive helplessness whereas survivors perceive strength.

Does your child see themselves as a victim or a survivor? Bad things happen to victims. Survivors persevere. While our attitude is not a singular factor, how we perceive ourselves is critical to self-esteem, and self-esteem can be an Achilles heel for a child.

Children can adopt the “victim mentality” as well, sometimes for very real reasons. Bullying is probably the best example of this. Bullies come in many forms. When we think of bullies we tend to think of kids bullying other kids, which is true, but some teachers, coaches and administrators are perfectly capable of adopting these roles as well. Educators are human beings and are thus subject to the same failings as the rest of us. They can play favorites, hold grudges and even flat out dislike certain children. This again goes back to the power of perception. If a child perceives that a teacher “is out to get them,” it might as well be true. And of course there is also the reality of “same age” bullies who may often threaten actual physical harm. These days, social media sites like Facebook and SnapChat have made it all too easy for bullies to terrorize and humiliate their peers. “Cyberbullying,” as it is called, is a phenomenon most parents never encountered, as it is a fairly new tactic for bullies. Parents who are not aware of their children’s interactions with and on social media sites will find themselves at a distinct disadvantage.

Children are dealing with threats their parents never encountered (i.e., Cyberbullying) and doing so with limited cognitive and emotional resources. Adults can reflect upon childhood events through eyes tempered with wisdom and the passage of time, but children are dealing with these issues for the first time, with little insight and no perspective. For a child, a slight by a friend or a mean word from a teacher is nothing short of a calamity.     

3.  Social Anxiety and Phobias are real, too.

In the clinical world, one of the ways in which a trait becomes a disorder is by its “clinically significant” behaviors. We all experience anxiety from time to time, but anxiety that impairs your ability to function is clinically significant. Anxiety and Panic Disorders have different classifications and diagnostic criteria; social anxiety and phobias can fall under these two categories, depending on severity and other key factors. The more common disorder, social anxiety, presents as marked fear or anxiety in social functions (e.g., school). One nervous instance does not a diagnosis make, so it is best to leave actual diagnosis to a trained professional. This goes for phobias as well, which are irrational fears that cause significant distress. The keyword there is “irrational.” If a child gets bullied every day at school, that is not a phobia. That’s a normal response. However, if a child has an irrational fear of anything, this is cause for concern. Phobias tend to have roots in actual trauma. In other words, phobias don’t just show up for no reason. People who suffer from phobias have usually either experienced or witnessed something traumatic, even if seems like is has little to do with the phobia itself.

For parents, the key thing to understand here is that social anxiety disorder and panic disorder and phobic disorders are mental and/or medical health issues that do not respond to traditional parenting techniques or behavioral consequences. For some children, social anxiety is maddening and overpowering, and professional intervention is usually a must.

Statistically, these types of disorders are not the likely culprit, but parents should be aware that in some cases children are legitimately terrified of school, and forcing them to go without offering them help is at best counterproductive.

Recommendations for Parents

So what should a parent do if their child refuses to go to school? Here are some general suggestions to help you, the parent, make the decision that is best for your child.

1.    Therapists are taught to believe everything that their client tells them and nothing that their client tells them. This is a good suggestion for parents as well. Listen to your children. Kids are often paranoid and prone to exaggeration, but listen to what they have to say. Ask questions. Use reflective listening skills. If your child says “I hate school!” say something like “So, I hear you saying that school is difficult and upsetting for you.” This may sound trite, but people love to be understood, and reflective listening lets them know that you both listen and understand. Often, kids just need to be heard.

2.    Remember that adults and children think differently. Under the age of 12 or so, children have difficulty understanding abstract concepts like responsibility, ethics, or justice. Telling a 7 year old that they are screwing up their future is a waste of time. Instead, focus on solutions. If a child is nervous about social interactions at school, have them practice with you. Remember, your child is experiencing these issues for the first time and lacks your experience and perspective.

3.    If your child tells you that a school official has physically touched them or made sexual advances, make a report to Child Protective Services. They can be reached through the local sheriff’s office. You can make a report to the school as well, but CPS is obligated by law to investigate. A school official might dismiss the accusation, whereas CPS will not.

4.    If your child is truly struggling, consider finding a qualified play therapist in your area. Play therapy has an innocuous sounding name, but it is quite effective with children. The idea behind it is that children communicate through play, and therapists can use play as a therapeutic intervention to build self-esteem and self-confidence and get to the root of what is truly going on. In many cases, children are not actually aware as to the source of their anxiety. Play therapy can help bring these issues to light, and equip both parents and children with tools to use for emotional self-regulation.

5.    In some cases, there is a medical component to maladaptive behaviors in children. Hyperthyroidism, for example, looks a lot like depression. Hyperactive children often really do have an actual issue with their brain chemistry. Often, it is beyond their control. A medical professional can determine this one way or the other. At the very least, it is wise to rule out any underlying medical causes for behaviors.       

Whatever the reason that your child won’t go to school, it’s very serious. Truancy charges are possible and obviously missing school will set your child back. Your child should be evaluated by a profession to determine what's actually going on. You have a legal right to request that your school district complete an evaluation or, in certain situations, allow you the opportunity to obtain an independent educational evaluation that the district funds.

To learn more about your legal rights when it comes to requesting an independent evaluation, give us a call at 215-650-7563.

Note, nothing in this article or on this website is to be considered medical or legal advice. 

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THE GLUTEN FREE DIET AND AUTISM. IS THERE A CONNECTION?

www.SpecialEducationLawyers.org

According to the theory, children with autism process gluten and casein differently than people not considered to be on the autistic spectrum.

Parents of children with autism have unique challenges. Children with autism often have restricted social interaction and will frequently focus on one item, while excluding all external distractions. This can be noticed as early as infancy. Social cues, such as voice tone and body language, which are developed as a child ages, will frequently be missed. Oftentimes the child has a difficult time gauging the emotions of others.

One of the most alarming behaviors for parents of children with autism is the frequent repetition of self-abusive behaviors such as biting, banging their head against the wall and behaviors such as twirling and self-rocking (stimming). Some children with autism may also have other conditions such as seizures, Tourette syndrome, ADHD, and other learning disabilities. While several medications are being used to treat the symptoms of autism, many parents are using specialized diets to treat the symptoms.

The gluten-free / casein-free diet, known also as the GFCF diet, is one of the alternative treatments being used by parents of children with autism. While the medical research behind this diet is in its infancy, parents who have used it have reported positive changes. The research that has been conducted is promising, but not yet conclusive.

Two proteins are removed in the GFCF diet: casein, found in milk and milk products and gluten which exist in wheat, rye, barley and certain oat products. The diet doesn't just include the obvious choices like bread and cheese, but also the processed foods that contain gluten and/or casein. The suspected reason for the improvements may be that autistic children are more likely to have allergies or be more sensitive to these foods, but even when no allergy is detected, children with autism still show behavioral improvements.

According to the theory, children with autism process gluten and casein differently than people not considered to be on the autism spectrum. The brain of a child with autism will treat the introduction of gluten and casein as a false-opiate, which will enhance many of the symptoms, especially the self-destructive ones. In order for the diet to be effective, it must be followed completely. One study conducted showed that a child who strays from the diet as rarely as once every six months will not improve as much as those who stick to the diet with 100% commitment.

The main problem with this diet is that gluten and casein are so prominent in foods, whether directly or indirectly, that the ability to do clinical trials has proven difficult. Those parents who have been able to stick to the diet do not need to wait for the medical science to catch up, they see the improvements in their children first hand. The length of time for improvement varies, but most children studied showed improvements to their social and cognitive behaviors, as well as speech functions, in eight to twelve months.

It is important to understand that the GFCF diet does not work on all children with autism. According to the Website AutismSpeaks.org, nearly half of autistic children suffer from gastrointestinal symptoms. Perhaps it is that gluten and casein proteins cause inflammation to GI tracts or perhaps there is a more direct correlation between gluten and casein in regards to behavior. Science is showing that children with autism that have food allergies and digestive problems are gaining the most out of the GFCF diet.

It is important to consult the child's physician before opting for a dietary change as these can sometimes have unexpected side effects.

We'd love to read your comments - if you have thoughts / ideas / experiences please post below...

 

For more information, please visit the sites below:

http://www.webmd.com/brain/autism/gluten-free-casein-free-diets-for-autism

http://www.parents.com/toddlers-preschoolers/health/autism/autism-diet/

http://www.autismspeaks.org/node/112986

http://www.generationrescue.org/resources/nutrition-guide/

http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/autism/detail_autism.htm#268263082

 

Nothing on this website, including this article, is to be considered medical or legal advice. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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