In the NeuroDevelopmental Science Center at Akron Children’s Hospital, two Lindsays – Dr. Katrina Lindsay and Lindsay Akers – help kids with disabilities so they can achieve their potential in the classroom. Dr. Lindsay is a licensed pediatric school psychologist, and Lindsay Akers is a licensed school psychologist.
The “two Lindsays” work in the School Success Clinic. They provide recommendations to parents and schools throughout the region to put in place special services for students with conditions such as autism, learning disabilities, and speech and language impairments. Their backgrounds as school psychologists are a huge help when it comes to navigating an array of school systems and a slew of federal and state regulations.
Recently, they sat down to answer questions parents often have about Individual Education Programs – or IEPs. These are plans that serve as the foundation for receiving special education services. Federal law requires public schools to create an IEP for any child found eligible under one of 13 educational disability categories.
How does the process work?
A parent concerned that a child has a disability that interferes with learning should put a request in writing for a school-based evaluation. The letter needs to go the special education director or pupil services director, the school psychologist and building principal. A dated letter is critical because it starts the clock ticking. Districts have 30 days to respond.
With parental consent, schools have another 60 days to conduct an evaluation and sit parents down with the evaluation team to discuss results and eligibility. If the child has had outside testing and recommendations, that information will be considered as well. The whole process can take 3 months, so that’s why you want to get the letter out as soon as possible.
Is a medical diagnosis necessary?
For medical conditions that can impact learning, such as ADHD or Tourette syndrome, you need a medical diagnosis. But not for the other conditions spelled out in the federal law. Those include autism, learning disabilities, physical disabilities, emotional disturbance, traumatic brain injuries, speech and language impairment, intellectual disability, and visual and hearing impairments.
It’s important to keep in mind that even a diagnosed condition such as ADHD does not necessarily guarantee a student will receive an IEP. It has to be evident that the disability interferes with the student’s education and requires specially designed instruction.
What does an IEP provide? Will my child be in a regular classroom?
An IEP will outline support services, such as specialized instruction, speech therapy or occupational therapy. In most cases, children remain in a regular classroom, but they may be pulled out of the classroom for intervention. Schools have to look at the least restrictive setting, so they want to keep special-needs students with their typical peers as much as possible.
Do all schools have to provide special services?
Public schools are obligated to provide services based on needs outlined in their evaluation (Evaluation Team Report). But private schools and charter schools are not bound by the federal law to implement specialized IEP services.
What are other options are available?
For some kids, we recommend a 504 plan. That’s a federal law requiring public schools to make accommodations for students with disabilities that impact a major life activity. Unlike an IEP, a 504 plan doesn’t call for specialized instruction or services. It often involves accommodations and/or modifications that can be managed by the teacher, such as preferential seating, technology aids or modified class schedules or assignments.
How often are IEPs updated?
They have to be reviewed at least once a year. A student is re-evaluated at least once every 3 years to determine continued eligibility.
How can the School Success Clinic help?
Our team can provide diagnostic information related to our assessment and interviews and make recommendations to schools. Many of our patients have confirmed or suspected disorders such as ADHD, speech and language delays, anxiety, depression and learning disabilities. We may be able to help if your school district rejects your request for an IEP or if you have trouble getting services. Parents sometimes come to us if their child has an IEP but is still struggling in school or if they want a second opinion.