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Getting Appropriate Education for Children with LD in Connecticut

Disclaimer: I am not a legal or educational professional and don't give legal or educational advice. I am a parent who secured an appropriate education for a child with learning disabilities (LD) and is concerned with the volumes of inaccurate advice published on the Internet. I am concerned that if parents are mislead and act on the incomplete and erroneous advice published on websites, then children are not receiving free and appropriate educations. If you suspect that your child has a learning disability, then read this article and please engage the appropriate legal and medical experts for your situation to secure a free and appropriate education for your child.


Your child comes home in tears, again. Homework is an all-night struggle with tears, threats and confusion. You don't understand why your discussions with the elementary school teachers seem surreal. Your child is still struggling to read the same bedtime books that he or she was struggling with two years ago. His writing is illegible. She obviously has a brilliant memory yet you are still trying to memorize the 3 times multiplication table in fifth grade. The same multiplication table that you memorized with your child last year has not become a complete mystery to your child. If you can relate to this situation, then read on.

Here is my story: I experienced first hand the struggle that many others have experienced. My son is brilliant, and struggles to read. From kindergarten my wife and I realized that some things were not adding up. Reports of my son spending school days sitting in the "dunce" chair because of "social skills problems" and getting off the bus in tears many days caught our attention, but we were unable to piece the puzzle together.

Discussions with school teachers and the elementary school principal were fruitless. We were pacified by statements of "he is adjusting don't worry" and "he will be fine as soon as the remedial reading classes take effect". At the end of third grade the principal advised us to engage a private tutor during the summer, at my expense. After trying to coordinate teaching efforts between our tutor and the platoon of teachers in fourth grade, our increasing frustration led us to engage the services of a child advocate.

Our child advocate wisely brought us back to square one of the process and we began by formally requesting student records from the school (including the undisclosed teacher notes that are normally kept from parents). By diligently recording every interaction with the school district and following the process, crossing the "t"s and dotting the "i"'s, my son began to receive the Federally mandated free and appropriate education that he is entitled to, from sixth grade.

Speaking with parents since 2006, I have learned that many parents suffer gut-wrenching emotions at seeing their children struggle instead of enjoy their school years. One mother shared with me that it felt like "my son's life is slipping through my fingers and I am powerless to do anything to stop it". His teachers deny that there is a problem and his life is pure misery because he cannot cope in class. The process to obtain a free and appropriate education is frustrating, painfully slow, can be expensive and emotionally draining on your whole family.

 In short, I have "been there, done that" regarding obtaining appropriate education for a child with learning disabilities (LD) in Connecticut. The purpose of this article is to help parents who know that the public school system is not working for their child and are starting, or along the path of obtaining free and appropriate education.

First and foremost, I encourage you to remember that it is hard to understand the symptoms of LD. You can't see a learning disability like you can see a bruised arm. In fact, the hardest part about learning disabilities is trying to explain it to people who are not educated about LD. You will be challenged by friends and family who are unfamiliar with LD and feel compelled to criticize you, your parenting skills and your child. For example, as a parent you may be as confused as little Johnny is when math is a pleasure but reading is a mighty challenge. Or why Sally doesn't seem to listen when you speak - it may be that Sally has an undiagnosed Central Auditory Processing Disorder and doesn't hear everything that you say.

My experience is that the only way to start getting a clue about Johnny's LD and Sally's challenges is to start the process of testing. (Beware, it may be a long process - some parents have told me that the process seems never ending). Don't assume that your child is lazy because grades are down. You may say or do things that you will regret later. Instead, use your energy to seek out a child advocate and get test results from professionals who specialize in testing for LD.

I see so much bad advice on the Internet regarding kids with LD that I need to dispel the myths and tell parents the truth. Your child will not get the free and appropriate education that he or she is entitled to, if you sit and wait for your public school district to offer it to you. Your child will suffer emotionally, and possibly be made to feel like a worm by school teachers who say things like "You are not taking advantage of the opportunities available to you" when you son or daughter cannot read the large load of math word problems. Your child's self-esteem goes down the drain every time a teacher seats him or her in the hallway because they cannot read a sentence on the board. As a parent, you are not able to undo the damage inflicted in this environment, every day.

The choice is yours do you want to deny your child an education, or stand up and make the effort to get the results that your child is entitled to. Your child needs you. Your child has no-one else to turn to. You are the only person who can spearhead the process and obtain the free and appropriate education that your child is entitled to. The question is "How do you go about it?" If you want pragmatic advice, then continue reading.

Many websites and some published books are dispensing erroneous advice. I see websites and articles indicating that if you discuss your case with your child's teacher, the teacher will take the lead and miraculously provide your child with the appropriate education. My experience is that this will not happen. You need to take the lead, without delay, to document interactions with your child's school and taking the necessary steps, without procrastinating to obtain the free and appropriate education that your child is entitled to receive.

Here is the benefit of my experience and I hope that it helps you as you navigate the world of IEP's, PPT's, Assistive Technology Evaluations, Central Auditory processing Evaluation, Neuro-pshyc evaluations and other evaluations.

Each point below is a piece of non-legal advice from my experience that I offer to help you help your child.

1.    Firstly, the most important comment to realize is "You are not your child's best advocate". I see many comments stating "That you are your child's best advocate".
This is as stupid as saying "You are your child's best medical doctor" when your child needs open-heart surgery or "You are your own best lawyer" after being falsely accused of murder. You would engage professionals to assist you with surgery and criminal defense, so why on earth would you believe that you are the best person to secure the appropriate education for your child? You need professional assistance when navigating the maze of special education laws, otherwise your child suffers from your ego and lack of expert knowledge.

I agree that you need to educate yourself as much as possible so that you can understand when your professionals advise you. But you should definitely retain a professional child advocate or lawyer for the following reasons:

a.    You don't know the special education laws. You need someone on your team who knows these laws so that you can claim the education that your child is entitled to. Obtaining appropriate education can turn into a legal proceeding and you need legal expertise if you want to get this right.
b.    You need emotional distance. You cannot advocate and think logically when you are sitting in a PPT meeting discussing the future of your child and hearing the comments that are often made in these meetings. A professional child advocate is trained and experienced to remain professional and on task while you use all of your energy to keep calm.
c.    You need a sounding board. You don't know where to compromise, how to make appropriate suggestions and how to work best with the school district administrators.
d.    You probably don't understand the rules of the game. The stakes are high every mistake you make could put your child in a verbally and emotionally abusive situation in the classroom while withholding an appropriate education. You cannot afford to play the game alone you need an expert at your side. Hire a child advocate and find the money to pay for the professional assistance that you need in this process.

e. You cannot distinguish between homegrown, intelligent sounding teaching systems and scientifically proven teaching systems that are recognized by credible education authorities. Your child advocate will help you to evaluate educational approaches and select the appropriate approach for your child.


2.  Your child is not the only exception who does not fit into your public school system. You may feel that the system is not able to accommodate your child and feel pressured to make your child fit into "the normal system". This is not the case. Your school district has probably supplied services to children in similar circumstances in the past, and will assist you if you know how to request the appropriate services. Your task is to find out how to appeal to the right people in your public school district, using the correct terminology with the correct justification. Don't feel that your child is the only person in history who could not adjust to your district's education system. This is simply not true.

3.  Realize that special education laws use unique terminology. What seems logical and clear to a parent may be interpreted to mean something else in the eyes of the law and special education department.

4.  Don't expect the school district to come forth and offer to take the lead on helping you and your child get a free and appropriate education. It is up to you to take the lead.

5.   Don't delay in taking action. If you are reading this article, then believe me, your situation will get better when you take action. Your situation will not get better through wishful thinking. It won't. You got into this situation because something is wrong with your child's education and the longer you delay the more time your child loses.

6.    Insist on regular, objective evaluations and compare the actual results to the predicted results. Don't be content to just get a subject report once a quarter which states "Johnny shows improvement in Math". Request standardized test scores and discuss the results at PPT meetings.

7.    Record PPT meetings. Purchase a recording device such as a digital recorder and record them. Notify the PPT participants ahead of time that you will be recording the meeting.

8.     Take notes at PPT meetings and keep copies of the notes, including any comments that should be included in the IEP. Then review the IEP when you receive your copy and make sure that the meeting, including comments was captured accurately.

9.    Make time to do non-academic activities with your child. Do not let the challenging academic situation dictate your life. Try to get your child involved in scouts and see if your can find an activity that better matches his or her unique talents than academia.

10. Assume that your child wants to fit into the school system, and does not want to be singled out to attend special education classes. You may hear from teachers that your parenting skills are to blame for the child being "spoiled" because he or she has a unique neurological composition. My experience is that most children would rather be in the regular classroom than spend hours in special education, and that the fact that your child is struggling is caused by problems that he or she cannot control.

11. Read books to educate yourself. I recommend that you study the work of Mel Levine, MD, (A mind at a time), John M. Ratey, MD, Beyond F.A.T. City DVD by Richard Lavoie, From Emotions to Advocacy by Pam Wright and Pete Wright, Straight talk about reading by Susan L. Hall and Louisa C. Moats.

12. I found that the public school system is not geared to provide a trouble-free education for children who don't slip right into the system. If your child has a learning style that does not match prevailing teaching style in your child's school, then you need to pay attention to the reality of this situation. The prevailing system will not adjust to your child. You need to bring your child's needs to the school district's administrators.

13. Do not punish your child for not falling into the learning style of the public school system. We don't know enough yet on how best to teach every child in the world and it is a mistake to think that every child learns in the same way. Give your child as much space as you can to learn in the way that works best for him or her. If five minutes of reading homework results in 45 minutes of anguish, tears and a total meltdown, then inform the teachers that the homework is inappropriate and work with your child advocate to get an appropriate education. Your child is probably already embarrassed and confused about his inability to complete the homework and any punishment will not improve the situation. Your child needs support in this process, not punishment, for being unique.

14. Educate yourself on the list of successful people who had learning disabilities and were very successful outside of school. Alert Einstein is frequently at the top of this list. Public school is very large part of a child's life where your child has very little influence over the environment. However, your child will have many years of adult life where the environment can be structured around his or her abilities and needs. Don't allow yourself or your child to give up on life simply because the public school environment is not flexible enough or appropriate for his or her uniqueness.

15. Warning signals are often comments on report cards such as "Needs to apply himself", "Should try harder", "Easily distracted must focus more", are clues for further investigation, especially if you see these comments from multiple teachers over multiple years.

16. Get neuro-psych and other evaluations, even if you must pay for it yourself. You cannot afford to wait for these evaluations. You need the results in order to identify and secure appropriate education.

17. Do not assume that your pediatrician is able to diagnose LD.

18. Document everything. Every phone call to the school, your school district, all correspondence to and from teachers, every test score that you receive. Keep it in a binder in chronological order from oldest to most current, so that you can keep track of correspondence for quick reference.

19.Don't use email in formal correspondence with your school, your child's teachers or your school district. Your child advocate will guide you on this point.

20. PPT stands for "Planning and Placement Team. Don't take the term "team" literally.

Your child is entitled to a free and appropriate education. If you believe that the education offered is not working for your child, then you need to speak up for your child. There is no reason that your child should be denied an appropriate education because your public school district does not offer it. There are other schools available for your child that you may not be aware of, so do not settle for less than appropriate education.

Finally, remember to be polite and courteous. Remember that you will be working with school administrators along the journey who are doing their job.  Your smile, some humor and courtesy lubricate the wheels on the journey.

If you want to hire a fabulous child advocate working for children in Connecticut, then contact me.

Good luck, I hope that you and your child benefit from me sharing these experiences with you.



Disclaimer: I am not a legal or educational professional and don't give legal or educational advice. I am a parent who secured an appropriate education for a child with learning disabilities (LD) and is concerned with the volumes of inaccurate advice published on the Internet. I am concerned that if parents are mislead and act on the incomplete and erroneous advice published on websites, then children are not receiving free and appropriate educations. If you suspect that your child has a learning disability, then read this article and please engage the appropriate legal and medical experts for your situation to secure a free and appropriate education for your child.


Copyright 2018 Wayne Botha Email Wayne Cell: 860.214.4897