Oct 132013

Special Education Advocacy Comments by: Sandy Cook, Parent, To Georgia’s House of Representatives Education Committee Members and Georgia’s Senate Education Committee Members at their Townhall Session on 10 October 2013

“After five years in public school, my oldest son still could not read. He was falling further behind in all subjects. We told our IEP team our son wanted to go to college.

“One administrator laughed aloud, and barked, “Your son may never read well, and he is certainly NOT college material. You just need to lower your expectations!”

“As they had always done, our school ignored our pleas for meaningful instruction. It was CLEAR their expectations for INTELLIGENT children with dyslexia are minimal. I don’t think they realize their low expectations become a self-fulfilling prophesy.

“Thus, I was forced to homeschool. In our first year of homeschooling, my son achieved a 6th grade reading level, and he was fully proficient in reading two years later. My son is now in college, on the Zell Miller Scholarship, and this year he will graduate from college—with honors.

“Scientifically proven programs for teaching students with dyslexia have existed for decades. The programs enable children to read proficiently in three years or less. I used one, and I was easily successful yet Georgia’s schools to continually fail to teach intelligent children to read—in a reasonable time frame.

“Children with dyslexia account for 10-15% of the school population, so you, the legislators of Georgia, can increase school performance across the state with three pieces of legislation in the form of special education advocacy :

1) “ALL Teachers need to be taught Universal Design for Learning and they need to understand children with learning disabilities are not mentally impaired. These kids can learn if they are provided with accessible instruction and properly implemented, proven programs.

2) “Every child with a learning disability needs to be quickly equipped with assistive technology. You wouldn’t withhold audiobooks from a blind student, and likewise we shouldn’t withhold audiobooks from children who have dyslexia. We need to provide assistive technology to all students with specific learning disabilities to keep our children on grade level while we work to overcome their disabilities.

3) “Parents need schools to document the effectiveness of their special education programs so we can make informed decisions about the placement of our children. Schools need to be held accountable for the effective implementation of proven programs.

“Parents need to know: How many years children spend in special education resource classes. They also need to know how many children ever graduate from a school’s resource program.

Special Education Advocacy Efforts

“In summary, Great Outcomes requires that we:
1) Educate teachers about Universal Design for Learning and learning disabilities.
2) Liberally equip Georgia’s children with assistive technology.
3) Empower parents with data so we can make informed educational decisions.

“These three educational initiatives will improve learning outcomes in Georgia’s schools. Thank You for your consideration of these changes on behalf of students with specific learning disabilities.”

Feb 062013

There are basically two options for getting an Educational Evaluation for your child–the public school system or a private practitioner (educational psychologist or neuropsychologist.) A neuropsychologist is your most qualified option.

Option #1: Publicly Paid For Educational Evaluation

The public school system is required, by law, to provide an educational evaluation for any child suspected of having a learning disability at no cost to you. However, the old adage of “you get what you pay for” almost always applies. The school system will test your child and tell you if she has a learning disability in whatever area of disability they determine she might have. Unfortunately, the educational evaluation is often provided without additional information about underlying causes.

For example, your school may tell you your child has a disability in “mathematical computation.”  You can probably figure out that disability indicator by yourself!

Additionally, if you go to the school system, depending upon their understanding of regulations (which is often very poor), they may THINK they can dictate what you do educationally. Some schools have been known to make parent’s lives miserable if they think they have a right to dictate a child’s schooling based upon an educational evaluation.

Option #2: A Private Educational Evaluation

The second alternative is having a professional educational evaluation by a private practitioner. Privately provided educational evaluations are only as good as the evaluator, so be careful who you choose.

We have totally wasted our money before by picking someone out of the phone book based upon an advertisement. We have also had an excellent educational evaluation done by a highly qualified neuropsychologist.  We found our highly qualified neuropsychologist through a recommendation from a special education attorney’s office.

A conscientious neuropsychologist evaluates all aspects of a child’s cognitive functioning including short-term, working memory, long-term memory, attention, processing speeds, comprehension, executive functioning, etc.  While you have already determined your child is having difficulty, you really don’t know what underlying cognitive processes are CAUSING your child’s difficulties.

Why Get a Comprehensive, Private Educational Evaluation

comprehensive educational evaluationWithout knowing the root cause of your child’s learning struggles, it is difficult to know precisely how to meet your child’s needs.

If her working-memory is at issue, then you would need to work on strengthening the amount of information she can hold in her head and manipulate.

If her verbal processing skills, processing speed, reasoning skills, etc. are at issue, then you would need to address whichever causes are at the heart of her learning difficulty.

The root causes are important because otherwise you can waste instructional time providing ineffective programs. As a real-case example, two brothers were both diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder.  The oldest brother’s ADHD was specified as “Inattentive type, secondary to dyslexia and executive functioning.”  The younger brother’s ADHD was specified as “Combined type, Primary.”

What does that mean? It means the oldest brother’s attention deficits were caused by his dyslexia and executive functioning (planning, sequencing, etc.) difficulties. For the oldest, when his dyslexia and executive functioning disorder were overcome, his ADHD disappeared.

Conversely, for the younger brother, his ADHD was primary. It CAUSED his difficulties with comprehension, memory, etc. As a root cause, managing the ADHD itself enabled the younger brother to keep his mind on his studies a LOT better.

As a parent, you aren’t likely to be able to determine if your child’s attention issues are primary or secondary. If ADHD is primary, treating the ADHD is the key. If the ADHD is secondary, then you may need to address the underlying cognitive processing issues to eliminate the ADHD tendencies. It’s a chicken and egg kind of question where only a highly qualified neuropsychologist can determine which comes first through an educational evaluation.

By you obtaining a comprehensive educational evaluation, you will know specifically what areas of cognition you need to work on with your child. The biggest hurdle with such an evaluation is cost.. It is EXPENSIVE. A neuropsychologist usually charges about $1500-$3000 for a comprehensive educational evaluation. The evaluation takes place over multiple days and usually is not covered by insurance unless ADHD is the PRIMARY diagnosis–then it is sometimes considered a medical issue.

If you can’t scrape up the money for testing and don’t want the public school trying to dictate your teaching, then I recommend using multi-sensory instructional methods and cognitive processing exercises as a blanket attempt to meet your child’s unspecified needs. We used Lexia Learning’s Cross Trainer (which used to be available as a computer program via CD, but is now only online).. You can check it out here:

For multi-sensory math instruction, Math-U-See is really good as is Cuisenaire Rods, Base Ten, or any other math program with manipulatives and preferrably an audio/visual component too.  Orton-Gillingham reading programs are supposed to be multi-sensory (although some are very limited in their multi-sensory components).  You can learn more about learning styles and multisensory teaching at:

Depending upon the severity of your child’s problems, you may be able to get away without an educational evaluation, but just know that as you try various avenues, you may or may not be hitting upon meeting your child’s actual needs. Getting a comprehensive, private educational evaluation let’s you know exactly which cognitive and academic skills you need to focus on.