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Your Child Doesn’t Belong in My Classroom

September 30, 2012 in Special Education Advisor Blog by Doug Goldberg

To belong, to fit in, to be suitable, to be appropriate or to be a member of a club, organization, or set; this is what we all want for our children.  So nothing hurts worse than when your child’s Teacher tells you, “Your child doesn’t belong in my classroom.”  What you hear as a parent is a statement of your child’s failings.  What I hear is an admission of a denial of a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) for your child.  Let me give you a few examples of what you are not hearing but is implied in this statement:

  1. Your child doesn’t belong in my classroom because the school will not provide the appropriate aides and supports necessary to educate your child;
  2. Your child doesn’t belong in my classroom because I am not capable of educating your child;
  3. Your child doesn’t belong in my classroom because I don’t want to take the time to differentiate my instruction and find the method that your child learns;
  4. Your child doesn’t belong in my classroom because the District has increased my class size to 45 students and has not provided me with a paraprofessional to help lessen my load;
  5. Your child doesn’t belong in my classroom because I don’t want to follow his IEP because it takes too much time and energy;
  6. Your child doesn’t belong in my classroom because the School District refuses to spend money on children with special needs; and
  7. Your child doesn’t belong in my classroom because I am a bad teacher.

The last example I want to explain, because I realize that I may have angered many educators.  Just like every profession there are a few who are great at what they do, a few that are awful at what they do and many that are somewhere in between.  Teaching is no exception and if you have uttered the phrase, “Your child doesn’t belong in my class,” you land solidly on the far left of the bell curve in the well below average category of Teaching.  Even if you made this statement due to constraints caused by the School District, this statement is not acceptable.  We all have the right to belong, and we also all have the right to be educated.  This doesn’t mean I believe every child should be educated in a mainstream class; inevitably, many school districts will not provide the necessary supports needed for inclusion to be successful.  I do however feel that every child deserves to be respected and to tell them or their parents they “don’t belong” is not appropriate.

About a month ago I went to my son’s back to school night.  This is his first year in Middle School so we spent about 5 to 10 minutes in each class.  The second class I went into was his social studies room and the Teacher started her discussion by stating, “I am going to set the bar really high this year for every student.  I don’t care that this isn’t my honors class I am going to set the bar high and every single student WILL move higher than they thought they could.  They might not all make it to the top but I will take them ALL as high as they can go.”  She then read this poem:

She then walked us through the various methods she uses to teach including visual, auditory, tactile and kinesthetic.  To determine how each of her students learn she conducted a learning style assessment on the first day of school and used those results to modify her teaching style.  If you haven’t realized it yet this Teacher lands on the far right of the bell curve in the well above average category for Teaching.

The morale of this little exercise is that there are good teachers and bad teachers, good school districts and bad school districts.  So, if your child’s Teacher tells you, “Your child doesn’t belong in my class,” it’s time to find a new placement.  It’s time to find a new placement not because your child doesn’t belong but because your child deserves better.  Your child deserves a Teacher like my son’s social studies Teacher who is going to push them and help them fly.

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Top 10 Reasons Why Parents Should NOT WAIT for the Next Annual before Calling an IEP

September 26, 2012 in Special Education Advisor Blog by Dennise Goldberg

1.  If your child is exhibiting new behavioral problems that are interfering with their ability to access the curriculum; your school may need to implement a Behavior Support Plan to extinguish the negative or off task behavior.

2.  If your child is struggling academically in the first semester, don’t wait until second semester to address the problem.  If you have to request new assessments; keep in mind the timeline from the day you authorized the assessments.  The school has 60 days* in which to conduct the assessments and hold an IEP, so if you wait until second semester, the school year might be coming to an end; basically, your child has lost the entire year.  * Some States have different timelines so please check the timelines in your State. Read the rest of this entry →

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Likely Story

September 25, 2012 in Special Education Articles by Jess

My daughter was an early talker, but through a series of medical issues which included many bouts of otitis media, she completely stopped speaking. This would be a distressing event for any mother, but it was mind altering for me, a Speech-Language Pathologist. I had been a public school Speech Therapist and Resource Specialist, professions in which I tried to rely on evidence-based practices for both oral and written language problems, but it was only after she was born that I began the journey to tie these areas together. At the time so were researchers, therefore I read everything in the exploration for ways to help. Her oral language did come back, but with typical language disorder markers such as problems with irregular past tense verbs, simplistic sentence formation and irregular sequencing. Her abilities to relate what happened at school, explain what I had just read to her (even when shown the pictures), or to tell something she really wanted to explain were all lost in a sea of confusion. To be sure, her articulation was clear and it seemed she had enough words, but her oral language was off kilter, mixed up and difficult to follow. Then, later in school she had enormous difficulty learning to read and write. My journey with her and the many students I worked with agreed with the researchers.

The good news is that today she is a psychologist with a deep understanding of her many clients. The sad news is that even after years of continuous solid research in literacy, my own rewarding private practice utilizing that research, and then reentering the public schools as a Speech-Language Pathology supervisor, I am finding that there is still this crazy separation between oral and written language services. To be sure, it is not the case everywhere, but is typical. In special education, this division is usually fostered by a predictable pattern of a state’s educational code which dictates the type of assessment a particular professional does, then to service delivery, programs and expenditures. Many special education teams do not understand or even collaborate on what all their combined testing results mean, how together they form a picture of a student’s learning profile or how that profile should guide particular remediation strategies or programs.

The usual suspect is a child who is first referred in preschool for speech or language problems, who then follows the typical story of entering kindergarten and having difficulty learning to read. This trouble prompts a second referral to the school study team where a variety of ideas might be tried. For example, some type of after school tutoring might be advised or the student might receive Response to Intervention services. The young learner goes off to be drilled in reading/writing from an instructor or assistant, with most of them having little or no training in language development. Rarely do the Speech-Language Pathologist and instructor/assistant collaborate. Most times the designated service provider never sees the Speech-Language Pathologist, let alone reads the speech report. I have to be honest here and admit that really there is just so much time available, caseloads are highly impacted, and to make matters very complicated, we have a nation of bilingual learners. However, after trying this tutoring approach and finding the child still struggling, further testing usually reveals a learning problem requiring a Resource Specialist. Again, this professional is frequently not trained in language development, has a one-size fits all reading program that may or may not be relevant to each student, and typically does not work closely with the Speech-Language Pathologist. Everyone is really busy with many students, tons of paperwork and numerous meetings.

The US Department of Education Statistics in 2011 showed learning disabilities accounted for half of all documented disabilities, with speech-language disorders a close second. But, the initial, first referred language problem does not just go away. It just changes its name to learning disability. Therefore, the student’s oral speech and language skills can outwardly seem to improve, as did my daughter’s, but the underlying cognitive language deficit remains, spreading its mighty limbs into written language. There many students stay, lodged amongst professionals, none of whom understands their vital reliance on each other, even though oral and written language skills are as intertwined as brain tendrils.

In 1998, a report titled “What Reading Does for the Brain” (Cunningham, A. and Standovich, Keith, American Educator) discussed the relationship between verbal growth and reading. Research has documented a reciprocal connection between reading and oral language. We learn to read, talk about what we learn, write about it and discuss it in class or with family and friends. Reading increases vocabulary knowledge and cognitive skills. The typical classroom is linguistically based and language driven. The artificial delineation of oral and written language in special education hampers the very reason children are qualified for services.

More than 30 years ago, McCarthy wrote: The most important decision you will make is that of definition- because that definition will dictate for you the terminology to be used in your program, the prevalence figure, your selection criteria, the characteristics of your population and the appropriate remediation procedures.

A student’s oral narrative production provides an integrated picture of several language skills at the same time, thus allowing a comparison of words, sentences, and narrative structure (Liles, 1993; Liles, Duffy, Merritt, & Purcell, 1995; Miller, 1981; Miller & Chapman, 1981; Miller, Heilmann, Nockerts, Iglesias, Fabiano, & Francis, 2006). Studies have demonstrated that the oral narratives produced by learning disabled children are likely to be shorter in length (Leadholm & Miller, 1995), use fewer different words (Miller, 1991) have less complex syntax (Gillam & Johnson, 1992), and lack a cohesive structure (Catts, 1993; Catts, Fey Tomblin, & Zhang, 2002). A study in 2007 by Foley, Wasik and Justice on children’s oral narratives and connections to reading comprehension showed that high passage comprehenders as compared to low passage comprehenders scored higher on number of words, number of different words, number of propositions, number of nouns, number of episodic events, and reference cohesion at the sentence level. In a comprehensive assessment, these language skills may be further contrasted with non-verbal cognitive skills, memory, processing, reading and writing scores.

Oral narratives are integral to literacy development and are contained within the continuum of state grade level standards starting as early as preschool. Take, for example, the following excerpt from the CA Language Arts Content Standards in Reading for Kindergarten-

  1. Ask and answer questions about key details in a text.
  2. With prompting and support, retell familiar stories, including key details.
  3. With prompting and support, identify characters, settings, and major events in a story.

In order to ask and answer key questions about a story read in class, a student must have a fundamental knowledge of stories in general. In order to retell a familiar story, whether fictional or a real life experience, a student must be able to sequence events, use a variety of words and be able to tie all of the parts of the story together. Shared assessments among team members and the subsequent program goals within the area of narrative discourse would help eliminate the division among professional assessments, provide a framework for close collaboration and direct therapeutic strategies. The chart below shows the development of literacy as it moves through the grades.

Oral and written narrative ability is embedded in all languages and cultures, uses all of the components of language and is part of every state’s curriculum standards at every grade level, whether for English language learners or English only learners. It has been demonstrated to be crucial for overall reading comprehension. By working together, understanding what all the assessment means and striving for narrative goals, we are achieving collaboration and are focused on developing the student’s language skills within the framework of the content standards. We are devising a likely story of success for every learner.


Catts, H. W., Fey, M. E., Tomblin, J. B., & Zhang, X. A Longitudinal Investigation of Reading Outcomes in Children with Language Impairments, Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, Vol. 45, 2002.

Foley, Joan, Wasik, Barbara, and Justice, Laura M. Barbara A. Wasik, & Laura M. Justice. Children’s Oral Narratives: Are There Connections to Reading Achievement, Presented at the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association Annual Convention, 2007.

Gillam, R. B., & Johnston, J. Spoken and Written Language Relationships in Language/Learning-Impaired and Normally Achieving School-Age Children. Journal of Speech and Hearing Research, Vol. 35, 1992.

Hedberg, N. L., & Westby, C. E. Analyzing Story Skills: Theory to Practice, Tucson, AZ: Communication Skills Builders, 1993.

Leadholm, B. J., & Miller, J. F. Language Sample Analysis: The Wisconsin Guide, Madison: Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, 1995.

Lilies, Betty Z. Narrative Discourse in Children With Language Disorders and Children with Normal Language, A Critical Review of Literature, Journal of Speech and hearing Research, Vol. 36, 1993.

Liles, Betty Z., Duffy, Robert J., Merritt, Donna D. and Purcell, Sherry. Measurement of Discourse Ability in Children with Language Disorders, Journal of Speech and Hearing Research, Vol. 38, 1995.

Miller, J. F. Assessing Language Production in Children. Baltimore, MD: University Park Press, 1981.

Miller, J., & Chapman, R. The Relation Between Age and Mean Length of Utterance in Morphemes. Journal of Speech and Hearing Research, Vol.24, 1981.

Miller, J., Heilmann, J., Nockerts, A., Andriacchi, A., & Iglesias, A. Can Language Sample Analysis Be Standardized?, Presented at the annual meeting for the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, Miami, FL, November, 2006.

Miller, J., Heilmann, J., Nockerts, A., Iglesias, A., Fabiano, L., & Francis, D. Oral Language and Reading in Bilingual Children. Learning Disabilities Research and Practice, Vol. 21, 2006.

Carol Murphy, MA, CCC-SLP
Board Certified Educational Therapist
Licensed and Credentialed Speech-Language Pathologist
Learning Disability Consultant


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Approximating typical: navigating the label “high functioning autism”

September 24, 2012 in Special Education Articles by Jess

School can be a difficult place for children with autism. It can be particularly tricky for those who approximate typical, who seem almost to be like everyone else. These are the children who are sometimes referred to as high functioning (children with HFA-High Functioning Autism or Aspergers).

I don’t like the term high functioning, because I have noticed that it has sometimes come to imply or equate needs less support, or gets less understanding.

These children do not have less autism- they have the same challenges with joint attention, understanding nonverbal social and communication cues, (including body language, facial expression, tone, figurative language, and nuance), understanding the perspective of others, and getting it that expectations for social communication continually shift based on context. They can be brilliant with collecting and memorizing astounding quantities of static information, like listing every planet in the Star Wars realm, or knowing the exact day of the week for a certain date. In contrast, relative knowledge and dynamic situations can be very difficult indeed – in other words social communication and understanding the perspective of others.  Read the rest of this entry →

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Military Dependent Students with Special Needs

September 23, 2012 in Special Education Advisor Blog by Doug Goldberg

A recent study by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that better oversight is needed to improve services for military dependent students with special needs.  Currently, the Department of Defense runs a worldwide school system that includes the operation of 196 schools in seven states and twelve foreign countries.  These schools serve approximately 85,000 children worldwide broken up to 58,000 overseas and 27,000 domestically.  Of those 85,000 students worldwide about 12% or 10,200 students receive special education services. Read the rest of this entry →

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Surviving the First Month of Middle School

September 20, 2012 in Special Education Advisor Blog by Dennise Goldberg

Wow….it’s only been a little over a month since my son began middle school but it feels like it’s been much longer!  So many changes and new challenges my son had to deal with; actually, we as a family had to address.  Before I begin, I must tell you that this is the first time my son is in general education without having access to an aide in the classroom to ask for help; he’s doing it all by himself now.

One of the first challenges was preparing my son to use a combination locker.  The week before school started, I went out to dinner with a close friend of mine who has a son that was also beginning middle school.  I told her I was concerned about my son being able to use a combination lock at school because of his fine motor and processing issues.  My friend told me that she bought a combination lock at the store so her son could practice before school starts….what a brilliant idea!  Of course we immediately bought a lock and made my son practice using it every day before school began; I highly recommend this to parents to alleviate any anxieties your child may have using a combination lock, it was a great help!  When the day came and he received his locker combination, he was able to turn the dial with ease; however, since it was a brand new school, the latches didn’t work well because they were too stiff.  You know how we are as parents, the very next day my husband went to his locker and applied WD40 to the latch……anything to make it as easy as possible for our kid! Read the rest of this entry →

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Social skills in deaf or hard of hearing children

September 19, 2012 in Special Education Articles by Jess

Individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing cannot hear all or certain sounds due to an inability to detect these sounds within their ear. They can communicate different ways which include manually and orally or both. Some people with a hearing impairment wear hearing aids or have a cochlear implant in order to aid in the hearing process.

The causes of a hearing impairment or deafness include genetics, diseases, medication, or trauma to the ear in some way. Parents of children who are deaf or hard of hearing have options in regards to their education. Their child can be in a residential school, which is strictly for children with hearing loss. They could also be in a public school and receive special education services, or they can be in a mainstreamed classroom with no special education modifications or accommodations. Read the rest of this entry →

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Special Education in Public Schools

September 18, 2012 in Special Education Articles by Jess

According to the National Education Association, student enrollment in special education services has increased 30 percent over the last decade. Of the students who receive special education services, 75 percent receive all or a portion of their education in general education classrooms, affecting how instruction and services are delivered to all students in the public education system.

It is difficult to imagine that 60 years ago, students with disabilities were fighting just to be able to have an education, while today’s schools support an inclusive model. The landscape of special education has shifted dramatically in public schools and certainly for the better. But what special education is? How it has changed in public schools over the years? And what it looks like today? Read the rest of this entry →

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How to Thrive as a Special Needs Family and Community

September 17, 2012 in Special Education Articles by Jess

We live in a world that is fast-paced, high-tech, image driven and unforgiving, fueled by sensationalized media and reality television shows portraying what is now considered by many to be “normal”.  Add to all of this a special needs newborn, child or adult in a family, and reality becomes a sub-world driven by a lifetime of challenges that require incredible commitment, compassion and persistence, as well as a lifespan of specialized planning and services.  To thrive instead of simply survive as a family affected by special needs, it is important to have a socially integrated lifestyle with acceptance and great support groups, both personally and professionally.  Read the rest of this entry →

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Lessons I Learned on how to Build a Successful Classroom

September 13, 2012 in Special Education Articles by Jess

Three Key Components of a Healthy Classroom

My first year teaching was one of the hardest things I have ever gone through. I took more college classes than I could count and was determined to make myself a successful teacher, but what I discovered is that to be a successful teacher, I had to have a successful classroom. I have reflected upon my years of teaching and all of my education and have composed a short list of what a successful classroom looks like; a passionate and purpose-driven teacher, an active and collaborative classroom, and a sense of community. Pretty simple, right? Now that I reflect it seems so, but I have had a lot of trial and error along the way. Let me quickly discuss the three aspects of a successful classroom and include some ideas with you…

A Passionate and Purpose-Driven Teacher:

Being a passionate and purpose-driven teacher is the first key to making a classroom successful. I started my teaching career young and I initially wanted to get into teaching because I thought I was “good with kids” and I could picture myself teaching. What I found was that teaching was not for wimps! I found that it was not a seven-hour day filled with going from lesson to lesson. I realized that I had to have purpose in every activity and every step I took. I needed to be passionate about what I was teaching; otherwise my students would not be either. If I can share anything with you on this area is to be mindful of your attitude as a teacher. Do things on purpose and avoid giving students work to fill time. Be enthusiastic about teaching and learning. Share with students any personal struggles you had with learning a particular subject area, but also include how you overcame it. Encourage them, inspire them, and be consistent with them.

Active and Collaborative Classroom:

I cannot stress the impact that an active and collaborative classroom has on teaching and learning really has.  So many times (and I have been guilty myself) teachers get stuck in a routine or want to be a “Sage on the Stage” teacher. Many times we teach the way we were taught, but I can tell you from experience, it does not always work. While I agree lecture has a time and a place, it needs to be used in moderation. We really need to focus on our students and get them engaged in the learning so that the learning is meaningful.  Further, I have a personal preference to collaborative learning. In fact, this was the reason I wrote my dissertation on it. I watched time and time again how my students enjoyed collaborative learning and how they retained the information so much better.  From my experience, I would encourage you to have fun in your class. Play meaningful games, create activities that foster growth, and laugh. It does take time to do these, but I promise the payoff is great.

Sense of Community:

This term was drilled into me while I was in my doctoral program and I really adopted it because I found the true importance of it. Having a sense of community in the classroom takes out a lot of drama and biases and allows students and the teacher to be a team.  One thing I found that helps establish a community is to do some fun activities in the class so that everyone can get to know one another. These can be short ice-breaker type activities or just a rapid-fire activity where the teacher asks the students what they did over the weekend, their favorite piece of candy, thoughts on the last activity, etc. It is equally important for the teacher to participate. I know many teachers do this on the first day of class, but I recommend that these are done regularly. As your students get to know one another, they begin to build relationships. As those relationships grow, so does their comfort level. When students are comfortable, they can relax, ask questions, and learn without fear of embarrassment or any other possible insecurities.

Dr. Jessica Alvarado is an Assistant Professor at Ashford University where she is the program chair of the child development program. She has a true passion for education and hopes to continue to inspire her students in the years to come!

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