My child doesn’t qualify for special education services. Now what?

Having a struggling student is probably one of the hardest challenges a parent faces. I can remember asking myself two questions: “Why?” and “What next?”

After my husband and I had our daughter evaluated and learned she had dyslexia, I asked the “Why?” We learned that dyslexia was hereditary. In looking back at my family tree, I could see the thread.

Now we were challenged with the “What next?” question. We had our child in a school that she loved. We didn’t know whether to leave her in her current placement or move her. We knew the school would not provide intervention because she did not meet eligibility criteria for services. Here is information that helped us with our decision.

An evaluation isolates a student’s learning needs and determines the responsibility of an educational system to those needs. Each state has established criteria for a variety of exceptionalities, but not all students meet the state criteria and consequently are not eligible for specific intervention services according to state guidelines.

This doesn’t mean that your child doesn’t have a problem. It means that the state is not responsible for paying for those services.

Students who do not meet eligibility criteria for a particular exceptionality are entitled to accommodations within their classrooms to support their learning needs. These accommodations are guaranteed under Section 504 of the Americans With Disabilities Act. The purpose of accommodations are to “level the playing field” for struggling students. They are tools, procedures, or methods that provide equal access to instruction and assessment. Accommodations do not change, lower or reduce learning expectations.

There are four different types of accommodations:

  1. Presentation Accommodations allow students to access information in ways that do not require them to visually read the standard print. Students who have difficulty or the inability to visually read standard print because of physical, sensory or cognitive disabilities will benefit from these accommodations.

  2. Response Accommodations allow students to complete activities in different ways or to solve or organize problems using assistive technologies or organizers. Students with physical, sensory or learning disabilities such as memory deficits, deficits in sequencing, difficulty with directionality, alignment issues, and organizational issues will benefit from response accommodations.
  3. Timing and Scheduling Accommodations change the condition or location of an assignment or assessment. Students who need extended time to complete assignments and assessments and students who cannot concentrate for an extended period of time are often afforded timing and scheduling accommodations. Additionally, students with health related issues, students who tire easily, and students with special dietary and/or medication needs are often granted similar accommodations.
  4. Setting Accommodations increase the allowable time to complete assignments or assessments, or change the way the time is organized. Students who are easily distracted in an educational environment, who benefit from the use of a scribe, reader, or assistive technology or students with physical disabilities who might need a more accessible location will benefit from appropriate setting accommodations.

Accommodations were the answer to our prayers. Knowing that we were responsible for our daughter’s intervention, we put that in place immediately and met with her school about accommodations. She was given extended time for tests and reading assignments. There was no penalty for spelling errors in her writing, she was given class notes as she got older and she was never called on to read in class unless she volunteered.  Her teachers were great about reading words on tests that she was unfamiliar with, and if she performed poorly on a test, they often did an oral check to determine whether her reading interfered with her ability to pass the test. Having a laptop in high school diminished the effects of her writing issues, as she used speech-to-text software and notes and assignments were always available from both her friends and faculty.

Hurray for accommodations! They enabled us to keep our daughter in an environment that fulfilled her. They can be significant to learning outcomes.


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Written by Maureen Spencer

Maureen is a Speech-Language Pathologist and President of LexiaTech. For the last 14 years, she was the Executive Director of Basics Plus, a private practice in New Orleans that specializes in treatment of dyslexia and other learning disabilities. Maureen was a national trainer in an intervention curriculum for individuals with reading deficits. She continues to teach graduate courses in language-learning disabilities at LSU Medical Center.

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