Do learning disabilities improve but still exist?
October 11, 2014 12:30 PM   Subscribe

A child I know has struggling with output (verbal, written) for quite some time. He has some other issues, too. He has diagnosed LDs. He worked hard over the summer and has improved. The school seems to think that his writing isn't a concern. This conflicts with the opinions of other specialists. How do the parents make sense of it?

His parents got a psych ed and the psychologist diagnosed an output disability, among other things, and giftedness. After about 4-5 months of tutoring and practice and some other interventions, the child's writing has improved a lot. He's getting Cs and C-s on papers and, even in the first month of school, has improved from last year when he was performing 3 grade levels (years of school) below.

The child has had tutoring, typing lessons, therapy for anxiety and so on.

In a recent meeting with the school, the school tried to make it out like there shouldn't be any concerns with the boy's writing, because he is getting Cs. (He's gifted and reads at a 10th grade level, fwiw.) He's had assessments from OTs saying he has output problems, has had a psychologist diagnose output disorder and another LD, and his tutor (who is also a special needs teacher) said he has a clear output disorder. And, obviously, C isn't even average. The parents had previously asked if anxiety or focus might be causing the LDs, but the psych said, no, these are definite LDs.

The school, on the other hand, doesn't seem to have buy in about the LDs. They don't seem to be accommodating his LD - he's getting C-s on assignments - and they haven't yet written an IEP. The parents are concerned the school, which has previously declined to do a psycho-educational assessment (resulting in the parents go private), does not take the LD seriously and may try to argue against it. The school special needs teacher previously said she didn't believe the psych ed and that she knew the child better than the psych (and apparently the child's own parents, tutor, therapist, OT and teacher grandparent). The special needs teacher even said that she felt the child's performance was the way it was because sometimes he gets lazy, distracted or can't be bothered. (The child's other medical issues would explain some of that, as would the LD, mind you.)

The parents aren't interested in an argument and just would like to know how to make sense of this. To them, it makes sense that, with tutoring and support and strategies, a child could improve over a six month period *but still have an LD and still be performing at a level below that you would expect for a gifted child*. They don't want to be accommodating something that isn't real - yet it sure has seemed real till now - and they don't want their child to slack off. But they also don't want to put undue pressure on him and the psychologist assured them before that the LD is for real. Also, it seems that maybe he could just have had a lot of help to get to this level and maybe it won't be the same in three weeks. And the parents don't think you should need tutoring to maintain a C level if you are a gifted and motivated kid - it seems to them that it sort of shows he has great potential, not that he doesn't have an LD. But they aren't sure.

How do they figure this out? Obviously, time will help, but there are several professionals who think it is real and the child's parents thought it was real before they even turned to professionals. And they think it's kind of crushing for a kid to be getting C and C- papers if he isn't being accommodated for an LD and is already anxious about writing.
posted by acoutu to Education (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe read up on Dysphasia. My son may have this. He can talk about what he reads but he can't write about what he reads. It has been a battle to keep him from being held back a grade. You have to read all those regulations and fight without being fighty. You have to quote chapter and verse and get the school admins on your side.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 1:11 PM on October 11, 2014

[This is an answer from an anonymous commenter.]
My younger brother (about 1.5 years younger) had this same issue. He is smart, but had dyslexia and other difficulties writing. My parents could see the problem, and he was seen by a professional who diagnosed the LD, but the school was extremely uncooperative. My parents and my brother's teacher had major conflicts over this, to the point of her verbally insulting my brother and my parents. This was extremely difficult on everyone involved; my brothers' schoolwork suffered and he was isolated in class; this all contributed to behavior issues as well. I can tell you those years had a lasting negative impression on my brother (and I didn't help). It sounds like the special ed teacher you describe is similar to some of the teachers by brother encountered.

I think things would have been better had be been able to move to another school that understood these sorts of issues. As it turned out, my brother was in for years of behavior problems and therapy. He never did that well in school, in spite of being extremely smart.

I can tell you that he is in his thirties now, happily married with children, has a Masters' degree, works at a good, well-paying job, and is extremely successful. He has learned how to build on his strengths. His writing still suffers, but this is not much of an issue these days. This was not, however, an easy path for him.

If the school won't cooperate, it is important to get him extra help. Find out what the child likes to do and is good at, and focus on those strengths both in and out of school. In my opinion, it is important not to push the school teacher too hard, since they can make the child's life difficult. A toxic situation at school can have very bad repercussions for the child.
posted by cortex (staff) at 1:12 PM on October 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Maybe I missed it, but I am not seeing what the child's actual grade level is. If 10th grade (reading level) is substantially above grade level and he is getting in Cs in writing, yeah, he has significant output difficulties.

I basically pulled my kids out of school and began homeschooling in the face of high reading level, below-grade level writing and an uncooperative school. I was in the middle of nowhere at the time and I had no other viable options. If the school will not cooperate, I would start looking at my options. Can the child be transferred to another school? Can I homeschool? Etc.

Kids who are gifted-learning disabled and not getting accommodation for it have very frustrating, crazy-making lives and it really hurts them, often more socially and emotionally than academically (at least in some sense, because, hey, if he reads at above grade level, then there is reason to think that with accommodation, he would perform at above grade level and be grade skipped, etc).
posted by Michele in California at 1:13 PM on October 11, 2014

Schools can be uncooperative (it costs them money) but are often legally required to deal with it. You might talk to a lawyer about this (I don't know where you're located.)
posted by Obscure Reference at 1:18 PM on October 11, 2014 [4 favorites]

See if there is an advocacy group in your state that can help them get an IEP in place.
posted by k8t at 1:35 PM on October 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

The child has started 4th grade and reads/comprehends at 10th and 6+ for other stuff. Up till now, he got high marks in every subject except writing, where he was at kindergarten level when assessed six months ago. I'm not sure of his marks in other subjects, other than the teacher said, "He is doing great". There is more writing and he got a B on a science assignment because he didn't write enough. And I have noticed a lot of teachers think C+ is great, so that doesn't mean much. If a kid who was top of class starts getting C+s this year because an LD isn't being given credence, that's a problem. Even a B in a kid who is capable of As and understands to an A level is an issue, if it's the lack of accommodation, right?

To clarify, the school says they are going to accommodate, but it is October (school was late starting in this province due to a strike, but it's still been a few weeks.) and they apparently still hadn't told the teacher the kid has LDs, in spite of meetings with the principal and emails and so on.

The parents have a lawyer involved for their other child's IEP and would prefer not to be seen as the crazy wingnut family that gets everything done by lawyers, at least not until they understand whether they are, in fact, crazy wingnuts for thinking the LD is still there. I mean, if this sort of thing goes away, they'd rather not push too hard. Changing schools is not a possibility for this year.
posted by acoutu at 1:48 PM on October 11, 2014

No, this sort of thing does not "go away." The child might be able to better deal with LDs with the proper accommodations -- which is, of course, the whole point of having accommodations in the first place. But that hardly means that the LDs are "cured" and that the school can ignore the situation.

I think these parents should fight as hard for this child as they apparently are fighting for their other child, and take advantage of the fact that they already have a lawyer. The school should not be able to just refuse to have an IEP.
posted by merejane at 2:25 PM on October 11, 2014 [5 favorites]

You can be really high-functioning and still occasionally need accommodations for things to actually reach your potential. It's possible to both have a learning disability and do extremely well academically in a given subject--just maybe not as well as you would have otherwise. It's not quite the same, but I never had anybody take the ADD potential seriously when I was a kid because I wasn't suffering academically, and never mind that everything else about my life was a wreck. (Little Sequence's bedroom was often a literal fire hazard; Grown-Up Sequence has had both meds and coaching and is much improved!) I wouldn't focus on the grades--focus on how the kid feels about the material and whether the kid feels he's still having the same problems. Start from there.

I really wonder what it is they're questioning here. If the kid still reports the same problems, the professionals aren't putting him down as a miracle cure, where does the hesitation come from? If the school says they're going to accommodate and then doesn't, that doesn't seem to be an argument that he's all better, that seems to be an argument that the school isn't fulfilling their end of this deal. Even if he was getting all A's, now, I would question the idea of not informing the teacher that there had been previous problems, because if you have a history of serious bouts of pneumonia, your doctor should really know that when you walk into the office coughing. It's not so much about whether you can get better as whether that guarantees that you will never again get worse, which it doesn't.
posted by Sequence at 2:33 PM on October 11, 2014 [6 favorites]

They should use the lawyer they have. This is way beyond just this child. A friend's child was determined to be "untestable, " which meant to the IEP coordinator that he didn't qualify for services. They got an advocate. It went to state mediation. Huge settlements and back services were awarded and people lost jobs.

Since then, our district has been on eggshells about following and implementing IEPs as well as doing evals whenever asked for one to be done. This is probably not something happening only to this kid and is a district wide problem.

Their concern is of course for their child but if they have the means and resources to use, they should use them to benefit their child and maybe incidentally benefit others.
posted by zizzle at 2:44 PM on October 11, 2014 [5 favorites]

So what if they're the crazy family who brings a lawyer? They are also the family with the resources to do so-- and if a family with those resources is being treated this way, imagine how many other families aren't having their legal rights honored.

As an advocate of children's educational rights, who has served as pro bono legal counsel for marginalized students, I would also like to add this side thought: If this family does go forward with legal representation, it paves the way for other advocates in dealing with the school (because it can help to establish a pattern of discrimination, among other things.) It may also serve to educate the teachers and administrators as to what their legal obligations actually are when educating children with special needs.

I don't know what state you are in, but (at least a few years ago), in my state, you couldn't be a licensed school psychologist without knowing damn well what federal law requires schools to do for their students, and most of those folks care deeply about having those requirements enforced.
posted by Schielisque at 2:48 PM on October 11, 2014 [7 favorites]

If they are blowing them off now, it is not likely to spontaneously get better. I pulled my sons from public school after our first meeting with the school where they used intimidation tactics (having like a bajillion people show up on their side) and refused to give any accommodation with the initial visit and wanted to 'just wait and see if he adapted' or some crap. I later signed a petition -- it was, like zizzle says, not just my child. It was district-wide and a whole lot of parents were really unhappy with school system.

I no longer have any kind of insider status for this type thing, but I sort of used to. So you can probably google up resources about as well as I can. One search term you want is "twice exceptional." A lot of parents have had to fight for accommodation. Schools often want to see a child as either gifted or learning disabled. They often have trouble seeing a child as both. I was also told stupid things after intervention did help at a different public school, like "gee, so maybe they didn't need special ed after all." I mean, it didn't deny me any services. My sons had already gotten services and this was after the fact. But it cast a lot of light on their warped ideas. This was a talented special ed teacher who did a lot for my kid who said this. I was dumbfounded.
posted by Michele in California at 2:54 PM on October 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

You ask: Even a B in a kid who is capable of As and understands to an A level is an issue, if it's the lack of accommodation, right?

In the U.S., no. The IDEA rules support accommodation to average performance. If a student gets by with keyboard-instead-of-handwriting and an option to dictate timed tests, where "getting by" is a C, then they won't get any more accommodations. The Wright's Law Resource Page has fabulous links for advocates and parents in the U.S., but I'm woefully ill-informed on the Canadian equivalent.
posted by Jesse the K at 4:05 PM on October 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Parents will have to annoy, scream at, petition, lobby and basically stand on their heads and spit quarters at their kid's school's administration to get an IEP and to get support for the kid's learning disability. Some teachers (like me) who have family member with learning disabilities, will be more than happy to work with the kid, make the appropriate accommodations and to work with the kid. A lot of teachers will ignore the IEP so it's incumbent upon parents to review school work, grades and to meet with teachers and administration regularly to fuss at them.

I had a class that was mostly kids with IEPs and ESL. It was actually great because everyone could appreciate the slower pace of the class and because they were engaged, we all had fun. One of the kids moved to a different class (who knows why) and I followed up with the teacher:

Me: So, how's Lisa P doing?
Her: Fine, why?
Me: Well, you know, she was very interested in her make up and I had to get her going to do school work. So she's okay then?
Her: Well, she doesn't do anything in the class.
Me: Well, the accommodation is pretty easy, her IQ is 80, so just require less work, and that it be less sophisticated.
Her: WHAT? No way. She has a low IQ? I didn't notice.

My point, she never bothered to read her role, where kids with IEPs were notated in code. And for some reason could not differentiate between a low IQ kid and any other kid in her classroom. (WHAT was going on there?)

Teachers are overworked, overloaded, classrooms are chaotic and schools are working with thin resources. Even so, each parent should scratch and claw and fight for their kid's rights.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 4:28 PM on October 11, 2014 [7 favorites]

"'Even a B in a kid who is capable of As and understands to an A level is an issue, if it's the lack of accommodation, right?'

"In the U.S., no. The IDEA rules support accommodation to average performance."

I don't think that answer is correct. It's been a while since I was really familiar with all this (when my now 22-year-old kid was in elementary school), but I thought that the Lillie/Felton letter established that "[e]ach child who is evaluated for a suspected learning disability must be measured against his own expected performance, and not against some arbitrary general standard." (Emphasis added by me.) This is discussed by Wrightslaw in this article.
posted by merejane at 9:13 PM on October 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

I had similar problems in school. It took a lot of work for my parents to convince my school that I could have a learning disability and be in gifted classes.

I found I frequently had better luck talking to individual teachers about what I needed, and most of them were willing to make basic concessions even without orders from the school. I think it helped that I had very specific and easy to implement requests ("I have a learning disability. Please don't mark me down for spelling and handwriting, and let me type homework"). Only a few teachers were unwilling to work with me, even though the school didn't have any framework in place to respond to my needs.

I also found it helped to not try and force myself to work the way teachers expected me to, and instead found the methods that worked best for me. Since my problems are also with writing, I would frequently plan out essays in my head before I started writing. Some teachers were confused because it looked like I wasn't doing anything, but working the way I needed to helped a great deal.

Since you asked if disabilities like this can go away, if the student in question has difficulties anything like mine, they can be hard to notice. I was in honors classes, read at a high level, and could speak clearly about whatever we were studying. Writing those same ideas was possible, but was stressful and frustrating, and much more difficult then people expected. Listen to the specialists, and don't let the fact that the student might be able to power through some of the issues cloud the fact that they exist. Keep helping them figure out what works best and what they need to succeed.

Good luck, and thanks for standing up for them.
posted by nalyd at 9:51 PM on October 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Thanks for all the responses. Just to clarify, this is in Canada (BC) and the student is 2e (twice exceptional), so I was wondering whether they can just get away with saying he's fine if he starts getting Cs, when all his other performance is at a high level and he is gifted with LDs.
posted by acoutu at 10:55 PM on October 11, 2014

I'm a Boston-based special education director, and the answer here in the States would be no, if a kid is making "effective progress," then they don't often get IEP services.

Luckily, you're not here. I did a little research and found from Learning Disabilities in Ontario that your friends need to write to the kid's principal and request that the child be referred to start an Identification, Placement, and Review Committee Meeting (IPRC).

The school legally has 15 days to respond to this request, and they HAVE to give the parents a meeting date.

In Canada they have to look at all available testing and they may do their own testing. Because your friends already have testing done, the school is legally required to use this. If they want to contest this testing, then they HAVE to do their own testing. (But that's unlikely to happen.)

I'm really boiling it down here, but it appears that if the kid has a learning disability that "results in a significant discrepancy between academic achievement and assessed intellectual ability," then that's grounds for an IEP to be developed.

I would have your friends WRITE to the principal immediately requesting the referral and include the testing results and quote the law. They school will respond. And I'm sure the kid will get placed on an IEP.

As to your other question of can LDs improve? Yeah, of course! Special ed teachers go to school to learn how to do this and we all work with kids every day developing strength-based practices and lots and lots of little educational tricks to help kids improve areas of deficit.
posted by kinetic at 5:56 AM on October 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm the US, no. You can't get away with that though some districts will try.

I can't believe it'd be different in Canada.
posted by zizzle at 5:57 AM on October 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

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