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Director’s Corner November 2017

November 20th, 2017

I have been thinking about what to write for this month’s column for quite some time. Given our theme this month of law and parents’ rights and the fact that I am a lawyer you would think it would be easy, but it’s not. For one thing there are so many issues it’s hard to settle on just one.
But more importantly the fact is that the law in this area doesn’t always work they way we think so it’s often not enough to just talk about what the law says. Often we need to look at how it really works.

When most of us look at the law we see statutes and regulations and think it is pretty cut and dried, but if you have been involved with getting your student the services she needs for any amount of time you find that it isn’t. We have laws but everything really depends of the specific
facts, your child’s strengths and weakness, what you think she needs, what the school thinks she needs and what the experts think she needs.

I often get the question about how to advocate for a child, “Can I say X?” The answer is of course, unfortunately, while you can say X, and even if it strongly supports the point you are trying to make very seldom does it make a district that is declining to provide a service you need change its mind. They always have reasons why that service is not needed and your argument, although I find it convincing doesn’t move them. You are both looking at the same law, and the same kid but are reaching very different answers. How can that be?

Here’s an example of a question we have been seeing a lot of lately that may help us understand. The child is 4 years old with autism, in pre-school having recently come out of birth to three. The family has asked for toilet training to be included in his IEP. The school declines saying that it should not be included because 4 to 5 is an appropriate age to be reaching that skill so the team cannot include toileting as an activity of daily living that is not age appropriate on page 5 of the IEP form. And if there is no weakness the PPT cannot draft a goal and so cannot include the services needed to work on that skill..

So who’s right here? The answer, as frustrating as it may seem is “It depends.” The law does not give us a clear answer, we have to rely on the facts.

The law does give us one part of the answer. IDEA includes an equal educational opportunity objective. That means the expectation is that your child will finish school with the same education as his peers unless it is not possible for him to do so. What that means in this case is it is perfectly reasonable to have an age appropriate goal in his IEP. If most four and half year olds are potty trained there is no reason that cannot be included as a goal for your child. So it’s not prohibited, but is it required?

In one of our training programs, Parent Consultant Kristen Williams, has a really good way to look at defining skills that need support. You break using the skill needed to independently use a toilet down to its components and then see how those fit in his program. Does he have or should he have a self advocacy goal? One important aspect of using a bathroom effectively is knowing when it’s needed and asking to go. Clearly an important self advocacy skill, and also possibly a speech and language skill, so maybe we have one element of his progress that is part of toilet training and may not be age appropriate. To use the bathroom he needs to take off or at least move part of his clothes. Does he have a PT goal? To get off his clothes he needs to be able to manipulate buttons snaps and zippers. Does he have an OT goal? He needs to wash and dry his hands. Does he have a goal for identifying letters like H and C to know what faucets to use? And does he have a Activities of Living goal to learn about dangerous situations around the house, like scalding himself by using only the hot water?

What we have done by breaking what looks like a simple skill, that may not be identifiable as not age appropriate, into a set of possible weaknesses that need to be considered by the PPT and require a goal and service. When we then look at all those goals combined they lead us to support for learning toilet training; pretty cool. The law has not changed, the school is correct that they do not need to provide support for a skill that cannot be identified as not age appropriate. But we, by changing the way we look at the skill have demonstrated to his PPT that providing toilet training is part of addressing his other skill needs.

If it sounds more complicated than it should be, it is. But our job as parents is to how to use the system the same way our schools do. So in the end we can follow the same regulations but come up with the results our children need.

As always our parent consultants are here to help you work through these complicated questions, so reach out whenever you need help.