Michael Boll, father to a son with autism and CSNLG team member, talks with attorney Richard Isaacs about the choice to file a lawsuit.
I am currently in the process of preparing for a due process hearing and still shaking my head at how we got here.
First, though, I need to tell you about Sara. Sara is a beautiful 11-year-old girl who is deaf. She also suffers from multiple medical issues which require her to have a feeding tube and a broviac central line connected to her heart. She currently attends a special day class where she enjoys learning and being part of the school community.
Her sole mode of communication, in essence her voice, is American Sign Language (ASL).
The two main issues the school district is fighting us on go to the core of Sara’s communication:
- Does the sign language interpreter for student have to be qualified?
- Allowing the parents to communicate with the interpreter. Yes, you read that right.
How are these even issues? Of course the sign language interpreter has to be qualified. Her sole purpose is to translate the spoken word to sign language so this beautiful little girl, who happens to be deaf, can access her education. And of course her parents want to chat with the interpreter from time to time to ask those basic questions like “How was Sara’s day?”
Although the IEP clearly states, a full-time American Sign Language interpreter, the district is providing two unqualified aides, calling them signing assistants.
Can you imagine if this was a Spanish or English Interpreter? In any world outside of education would an interpreter be provided who was not fluent in the languages they were interpreting? Of course not. Also, sign language is the only mode of communication this little girl will ever have. Unlike our English language learners who slowly develop the appropriate language skills, Sara will never hear. She will always use sign language. For her schooling, she will always require an interpreter.
Of further concern is the district’s unwillingness to allow parents to talk with the “signing assistants” so they can learn the new signs Sara is working on. There are many different ways to sign the same word or action and it is important for the school staff and parents at home to use the same signs.
Apparently, her parents’ requests are a little too much for the school district, so we have ended up here… three weeks from going to trial.
Every couple of years I get a random case that ends up at trial for no reason. The last time I was in a trial it involved an eligibility issue. All we wanted was for the school to provide an IEP to address the student’s attention and sensory deficits. This included a reasonable request for sensory breaks. It would have cost the district no additional money but would have allowed us to monitor the student’s progress and make sure he was accessing his education. The district decided to go to hearing instead, where it tried, unsuccessfully, to show the student did not require an IEP.
So here I am again, facing another school district who has chosen to fight a family instead of providing what the law requires: an education to a young girl.
I understand there are many cases where there is a legitimate dispute over what a student needs to access their education. I rarely end up in trial on these cases. Instead, we work things out.
After several failed attempts to reach a settlement, I am now preparing my witness list and getting our evidence together for hearing.
I will spend around 100 hours preparing for and attending the hearing. The district will pay its legal counsel to do the same. And, as you can imagine, lawyers are a lot more expensive than hiring a qualified sign language interpreter.
And all for what? So they can explain to a judge that this little girl does not require an interpreter who knows sign language? What do you think the judge will think? I think I know.
These types of cases frustrate me and leave me shaking my head. This is not the battle we should be fighting. This is not the disagreement we should be having. Regardless, I will do everything I can to protect Sara’s civil and educational rights.
There is no way we are going to stop until Sara has a qualified interpreter and her parents are able to freely communicate with them.
This article is based on a podcast I recorded with Dr. Perry Passaro, a licensed psychologist in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT benefits many, especially children with special needs, autism or high-functioning autism. It also helps people suffering from depression, OCD, and anxiety.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: A research-based practice that helps people observe and recognize their negative thought process and replace it with more positive thoughts.
- Highly effective on kids with special needs, along with other people.
- Changes the thinking process, resulting in a change in the mood and behavior too.
- With kids, working with proper tools, CBT can actually make a difference in both their mood and behavior as well.
Components of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: Basically there are two main components of CBT. First is, bringing change in behavior and second is bringing change in the thinking process.
- Behavioral Change: This treatment is mostly used in case of a person or kid having fear or anxiety. In such case, CBT uses gradual exposure as the solution, to eventually reprogram their mind about fear or anxiety.
- Thinking Change: This is more helpful in case of negative bias, where one is judgmental and thinks that he/she is not good enough. It also helps children with low self-esteem and a generalized negative assumption or core-beliefs about themselves. This Automatic Negative Thought makes people sad and depressed.
In such cases, the Socratic questioning method is used along with evidence to change the self-image.
Who CBT is Appropriate For:
- Kids with ADHD, having problems with self-strategizing (monitoring, management, regulation).
- Students with emotional disturbance, depressive disorders, anxiety disorders, high-functioning autism.
- For Cognitive Therapy: Begins with 9 to 10 years old.
- For Behavioral Therapy: Much earlier.
Sessions in CBT: There are total 10 to 15 sessions, divided into three categories.
- First Session: Meeting with parents. Interviewing, reviewing records, test results etc. Identifying the triggers, specific behavior and consequences of that behavior. ExplainingProgressive Exposure.
- Mid-Session: Both child and parents are present. Involves generalization of skills, teaching, and application of these skills in real life. Also, collecting data, monitoring and measuring the progress, which is visible with 5 to 6 sessions.
- End Session: Usually results in a confident child, who has overcome and understands the anxiety and learns about the tools to tackle his/her life.
Success Rate of CBT:
- Very effective for kids with special needs who have parents’ support.
- Much more difficult and takes 15-20 sessions for moderate depressive disorders. Longer for more serious depressive disorders.
- Takes even longer in case of High-functioning Autism.
Post-completion: Fading Technique is used. Gradually reducing the visits to the center. Follow-ups and booster sessions are also done.
CBT is for Everybody: Helps people understand themselves better, improves their personal relationships, by replacing negative thought process with a positive one and lifting their mood overall, thus changing their behavior too.
CBT has a very good prognosis that it does help people, even in the most resistant or hopeless cases.
Wow! I learned a ton of new information from our discussion. I had “heard” about CBT for a little while now and liked its mantra and focus on taking action now to replace negative thoughts. It reminds me of the tenants of Mindfulness. My son’s autism is very profound, so he would not be able to try CBT right now.
Maybe someday! 😉
Read more about Dr. Passarro and listen to the full interview here.
I don’t know about you, but the thought of hiring a lawyer for any dispute makes me go into a near panic. Right away I start to think about just how much it is going to cost? This is especially true for parents like us who have a child with Special Needs. Is it worth the cost to hire an attorney to advocate for better or additional services for your child? Would it simply be better to take those costs and use them for services or therapies out of pocket?
You notice your child is not performing in school as well as his/her peers and you begin to think something is going on. It is at this point that you, or an educator, might suggest an assessment be given.
Marcus, a hard-working father of four children, describes the determination of his nine-year-old son building a full-size Batmobile by dumping out all of the Legos he had accumulated over the years and designing it on his own. Despite the fact that his son was told his family could not afford the expensive kit, he persisted by deciding he could make what he wanted using photos he found online. Imagine the pride and satisfaction of accomplishing what others would not even fathom undertaking.
Now, fast forward to six years later and see that same, determined, bright, teenage boy spending countless hours every day of the week to grasp the most basic and fundamental skills in reading, spelling, and writing. Who was there to help? Did anyone, such as staff, recognize a problem or diagnosis to help him excel as he brilliantly did with those Legos? If so, was there anyone trained in effectuating this assistance? Unfortunately, this was not the case for Adam. Fortunately, he did not give up and even without proper assistance managed to complete as many tasks he could.
This story pertains to the student in California’s Office of Administrative Hearings’ (landmark decision, (July 2017)). The names are fictional. This case demonstrates the dangers of districts not providing appropriate training with regard to Specific Learning Disabilities (SLDs) by pertinent staff including teachers all the way up the principal. A lack of training withholds our children’s federal right to a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE).
The 2017 Guidelines (CDG) state, “Although the problems experienced by students with dyslexia may originate with neurobiological differences, the most effective treatment for these students and for those who struggle with related reading and language problems is skilled teaching. For that reason, it is critical that educators receive accurate and current information about evidence-based instructional strategies.”
In the case mentioned above, the court voted in favor of Adam, that 15-year-old teenage boy, hereby granting and ordering a long list of remedies. The Court recognizes the failures of the District but does not blame it per se. It further states that “school districts may be ordered to provide compensatory education or additional services to a student who has been denied a FAPE but … the award must be fact-specific.” Compensation may not always get to the student directly in monetary form but instead in services.
The court further states, that the IDEA can satisfy the compensatory remedy by staff training. The decision goes on to discuss the importance of appropriate goals and services to meet Student’s unique needs in the areas of reading, spelling, and writing. For Student’s needs in this case it would be one hour per day of instruction in Orton-Gillingham, or the Slingerland method each school day or the equivalent thereof. These are the methods most effective for dyslexia.
The CDG suggests standards for reading teachers that have been developed by the International Dyslexia Association (IDA) and the types of educators who can serve students with dyslexia and includes a list of salient personnel to obtain and use this knowledge. It emphasizes, “There is a great need for all educators and related service providers to be prepared to meet the needs of students with dyslexia, including speech-language pathologists, school psychologists, school counselors, school administrators, and paraprofessionals.”
Yes there is a way to help our children. Fortunately, in California, the decision along with CDG guidelines will help rectify wrongdoings mostly unbeknownst to district personnel. With this knowledge, now is the time to be informed and help our students overcome these tremendous barriers to an appropriate education. It is more expensive for districts not to abide by these words of wisdom. As a single mother of a 6-year-old boy struggling with similar obstacles, I feel blessed knowing that he can and will have appropriate services.
If he does not, I have the knowledge to pursue and advocate for him. With diligence, adherence to authority and guidelines, and patience we can do right by our children with SDLs and there will be no one left to blame.