School districts are required to seek out and assess students in all areas of suspected disability. That means, if a teacher notices a child is having problems holding a pencil properly, the school has to offer to assess the student ‘s fine motor skills. If a teacher notices a child is exhibiting ADHD like symptoms such as inability to focus, the school must offer to assess and provide a psycho-educational assessment.
Assuming the parent agrees to allow the assessment, the Districts’ assessment would seek to determine if the impairment is serious enough to impact the student’s education. If the impairment is serious enough to impact education, then the District must offer the student services and or therapy in that area. The current reality is though, that unless a student’s issues are quite severe and disruptive, schools will often fail to talk to parents about the assessment process. It is thus up to parents to request that school district assess their children in the areas of suspected disability.
One area where many students are overlooked is in the area of speech and language. Parents who have usually been living with the student since birth are likely so used to the child’s speech and processing that they might not even notice potential issues. Or, as frequently happens, the parents just don’t realize that speech and language or social skills is something that their school has a duty to assist their child with.
For example, I recently met a parent of a 6th grade student with high functioning autism attending school in Long Beach Unified School District. That student gets mostly A’s, but has problems with speech, and has problems making friends. The student has poor communication skills, is not able to do simple greetings, and often does not understand what others are saying. For example, when another student says “Hi”, this student would just make an high pitched sound, and would not respond with words unless student knew the other child well. I was shocked to learn that this child was not receiving any speech and language therapy. The student’s mother said a few years back the District had said student did not need speech anymore, and had taken it away.
This is a fine example of a school district getting away with violating the law, and getting away with it because a parent doesn’t understand their rights. The parent did not understand the concept of receptive language and hadn’t heard of “social language”. Once I explained the difference between receptive and expressive language, the parent at once realized her child did indeed need speech and language therapy. The student had the ability to speak fine, but her issues were with understanding spoken language, and with social language.
I told parent that she did not have to agree to having her child’s speech therapy taken away. It had previously been in her IEP, but at a meeting District just announced it was taking it away. Parent did not know she had a right to object or that District needed her permission to take it away. The District then presented parent with a new IEP without speech, and parent signed it. In doing so, parent gave up the speech therapy for her child.
If parent wanted to keep the speech all she had to do was to refuse to consent to the elimination of speech in the IEP document. In that way, she would withhold her consent to the reduction, and District would have to keep offering the speech therapy. For example, parent could have written on the IEP document on the signature page “I consent to the entire IEP, except that I do not consent to the elimination of speech therapy”. The school district would then have to keep on providing the speech as the previous levels.
In other words, a school district can’t take away services without consent. If a parent refuses to a reduction or elimination of services, the school has to keep providing it pursuant to the last IEP it was recited in. FN1
Keep in mind speech therapy has two parts – there is the speaking part, and then there is the understanding or processing part. Social language is also part of speech. So if your child having problems understanding the speech of others, or is having problems “getting” what the other kids are saying, you may want to request a speech and language assessment. Do specify the areas in which you are concerned. You can request it just by sending a letter or email to the school’s principal.
FN 1 The only way for the school district to be able to stop providing the therapy or service is to sue the parent by filing a Request for Due Process with the Office of Administrative Hearings. The suit would be for an order from the Judge finding their offer of FAPE was acceptable and ordering the IEP to be implemented. Don’t let this prospect scare you. It is rarely done. And even if it is done, all you have to do to stop the suit is agree to the reduction or elimination of services.