Advice on at least getting an IEP for a sweet kid with OCD
June 4, 2013 10:04 PM   Subscribe

A young junior high aged relative (a cousin’s daughter) has severe OCD with compulsions related to checking and handwriting plus obsessions related to harm/avoiding harm. Immature coping skills/tendencies in many of the adults around her mean that her home life is chaotic at best. She does not have an IEP or adequate mental health services. At the strong recommendation of a regular pediatrician, my cousin did go to the school and attempt to request help/changes. This was a huge step for my cousin given that she also has severe OCD, is very avoidant, and has a lot of shame. She was largely dismissed by a teacher and a principal who said that there was “nothing wrong” that wasn’t due to “home life” and that the child just “needs to work faster”.

There is a potentially complicating factor: the child was formally diagnosed with severe OCD several years ago and prescribed Zoloft by the only child psychiatrist in the area…but was later (allegedly) “dropped” from treatment after my cousin had difficulty filling the child’s Zoloft prescription so decided to scrimp on her own dose of the same drug to give a weight-appropriate dose to her daughter for several days. ( The same child psychiatrist also dismissed the child’s suicidal thoughts). I believe the mother is afraid to approach him again to get any reports, etc. The mother has other reasons to be wary of mental health professionals including one who (allegedly) shamed and "yelled" at her and told her she "needed to wear a bra". The family lives in Ohio. Thanks in advance for any advice.
posted by shylady to Health & Fitness (6 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Is there someone that support your cousin in advocating for her daughter? Most parents find that they have to fight to get the services that their child needs and it sounds like your cousin is easily intimated and needs help in being an effective advocate. When the family doesn't have much money, it is even easily for the kid to get overlooked.

One place to start is find out what resources might be available is to call the Ohio Coalition for Education Resources for Children with Disabilities. Their phone number for one-to-one consultations is available on the their website.
posted by metahawk at 10:34 PM on June 4, 2013

Disclaimer: IANAL, parent should consult an educational attorney or advocate for exact legal advice, this is all based off of my experience working in special education.

She needs to write a letter to the school's resource specialist or district's special education department requesting special education testing. Google to get the contact information of your district's special education department, because they're probably housed in the central office and might be a better contact than the school itself. Also, if you need to escalate things later, these are the people you'll be contacting.

To make things move faster, it would help if she detailed exactly what the concerns are in the letter. Look up the eligibility criteria in your state and use that language to make it as straightforward and obvious as possible for them. In this case, I would look up ED and OHI criteria (emotional disturbance and other health impairment). Stress the adverse educational impact of the suspected disability.

However, you don't even need that. Even just a handwritten, one sentence letter of "To whom it may concern, I would like my child, Suzy Q, tested for an IEP" is enough to satisfy legal purposes. (Though tbh, then they'll just kick it back and ask for more info and the timeline will be extended so it's best to give as much detail now if you can)

Now that it's in writing, the district has 15 days to reply. They can send an assessment plan (yay, testing will happen now) or will tell you why they decided not to test. If they decided not to test, they will also send home a packet of parent's rights ("notice of procedural safeguards") that will detail the steps the parent can take to escalate to the next level. In my experience, the district will test if the parent makes enough of a fuss even if testing really, obviously isn't warranted. Keep escalating.

I'm not from Ohio, but I know they're heavily invested in the RTI method (response to intervention) where you give students lots of interventions before testing. Which is great, ideal for kids with learning disabilities. But technically not required per federal special education law (which trumps state law) and legally not a valid reason to delay testing. They can "suggest" that you try interventions first but you can push back and continue to request testing.

At this point, the school year is nearly over so even if mom writes a letter tomorrow, the 15 day timeline for the district to reply will pause over the summer. Nothing's going to happen until September now. And then, once (if) the district decides to test, there is a 60 day timeline for them to test and hold the IEP meeting.

If the district tests and finds her ineligible for services, look into 504 plans. But also, use the guidelines laid out in the notice of procedural safeguards to keep escalating. Districts don't want lawsuits or expensive arbitration. Good luck!
posted by Nickel at 2:12 AM on June 5, 2013 [5 favorites]

Special ed teacher and parent of middle school kid with OCD and on an IEP here. I've written hundreds of IEPs and 504s.

Nickel's got it. I'll add that that if the girl is already formally diagnosed with OCD, that's considered a disability under the law and qualifies her for either an IEP or a 504 plan, so the district will have to help.

She needs to work faster is classic OCD behavior. Sheesh. If she could, she would. The poor kid.

Here's the difference between a 504 and an IEP: The Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) is a plan or program developed to ensure that a child who has a disability identified under the law and is attending an elementary or secondary educational institution receives specialized instruction and related services and includes measurable goals and objectives.

The 504 Plan is a plan developed to ensure that a child who has a disability identified under the law and is attending an elementary or secondary educational institution receives accommodations that will ensure their academic success and access to the learning environment. It does not have measurable goals and objectives.

Because the girl already has a diagnosis and is struggling in school, she should be receiving services, and yes, she needs to get tested because an important component is the teacher assessment of how the student functions in class. Sounds like they've already noted she works slowly. That's the OCD and she can receive support and accommodations for that.

In my district, kids with OCD are placed on an IEP and in a specialized program for emotional disorders and they have a "study skills" class where they learn to cope with their disability and function in class. In many districts, kids with OCD get placed on 504s because this type of program doesn't exist, but they still receive accommodations to help them.

Years ago, kids with OCD would be given accommodations to allow them extra time, but it actually turns out that only feeds the OCD. Instead, now OCD kids are graded only on the work they hand in. They're allowed to take oral tests. They can leave the classroom to speak with a counselor to pull themselves together.

Here are some resources that speak directly to IEPs and OCD.

Thanks for being a supportive friend.

Bear in mind that OCD waxes and wanes. You want to ensure the school covers the worst possible scenarios.

Feel free to memail me if you have any other questions.

Lastly, this kid has to get to a competent child psychiatrist and possibly medicated with an SSRI. Celexa can work wonders with kids who have OCD. Unfortunately, one of the common "black box" side effects is suicidal thoughts, so when the kid tries a medication, your friend really needs to be on top of that possibility. A good psychiatrist can help work with her. But SSRIs can minimize a kid's OCD symptoms immeasurably and then they can successfully access therapy and learn to cope.
posted by kinetic at 4:20 AM on June 5, 2013 [5 favorites]

Intervene on your cousin's behalf with her school's Inclusion Advisors. Gather her paperwork together and go down to the school. She is entitled to an evaluation and to an IEP based upon it.

A kid can't advocate for herself and if her parents are unable or unwilling, then someone like you can help.

I intervened for one of my students. She was a single mother and because she had no help at home, she was struggling. I spoke to her counselor, explained the problem and she was able to enroll in an alternative school that offered child care. It made a HUGE impact on this student's life and her ability to graduate from high school.

Sometimes, even if something is obvious, school administrators will not see what is plainly in front of their faces.

Once you make the first bit of noise though, they've GOT to follow up.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:50 AM on June 5, 2013

I'd start helping her keep a log or notebook or something. Emails her reminders (and you, if you help as an advocate) to follow up on things. I majorly dropped the ball on following up on people who promised to follow up and lost a lot of time and ground because of it.
posted by tilde at 5:54 AM on June 5, 2013

She should work with Disability Rights Ohio, who have a ton of resources and actually will go to bat for her (they're lawyers, paid for by the state.) They're specifically for protecting the rights of Ohioans with mental illness and developmental disabilities, and so are very used to dealing with clients who have some level of disability or impairment - they will not yell at her or say she must wear a bra. The number is 800-282-9181; I suggest you or she calls tomorrow morning.

I also suggest you look through this.

If your cousin is stressing over not knowing exactly what they'll want or need, this is the guidebook she needs. It's from Columbus City Schools, but most of it applies to what all the districts in the state do; page 11 is the "permission" form the parent gives when the school is going to do an evaluation.

Oh, and this is the Ohio Department of Education Accommodations Manual, but it may be a bit overwhelming. It was written by and for administrators.

She should also report those mental health "professionals" to Disability Rights Ohio, and the AMA.
posted by SMPA at 4:55 PM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

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