Special Education

It is a tough choice sometimes for parents to have their child officially labelled with a disability, but the hard truth is in order to receive services through the school, your child must be categorized. Some parents, even if they seek testing within the school district, choose not to reject the recommendation to have their child on an IEP and choose to seek services privately. There are still states (like Texas) where if your child is significantly behind, they can still be retained if they are receiving special education services.


MDT's, IEP's and Special Education Services - Why Vision is Important to Consider

This section was designed to give you more information about the IEP process and how vision therapy may play a part.

Vision is an important and necessary process for learning to think, speak, read, write, spell and perform mathematics. Vision is also a large part of perception and can be associated with dyslexia and developmental aphasia (impairment in the ability to communicate).

According to research, as many as 75% of children that are considered learning disabled have clinically significant visual problems. Yet, these children are often labelled as having a specific learning disability, dyslexic or as having ADD before vision is ruled out as a possible contributory factor. Once labelled and eligible for special education services, most of the time good visual skills are NOT a goal listed on an Individual Education Plan set forth by Multi-Disciplinary Teams (see below for definitions).

This is an area definitely lacking attention in the education sector, which we are hoping this website will aid in remedying.

How to get Special Education Services

When a child has difficulties in school and is consistently not meeting their potential as shown in part by standardized tests and IQ tests, they may qualify for special education services.

Funding for special education services is appropriated under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) set by Congress. In order to qualify for special services, a child must be referred to a multi-disciplinary team (MDT) for evaluation and be determined by the MDT to require these services.

If the child is determined to meet qualifications for special services, the MDT will develop an Individual Education Plan/Program (IEP) for that child that must be followed in order to meet specific educational goals for that child. Periodically, the child's case will be reviewed to ensure that the IEP is being met, determine if other goals need to be set and to determine if the child still needs special services.

dIndividuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) - revised December, 2004.

Congress finished work on the revisions to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in late November, 2004, and President Bush signed the legislation, known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act, on December 3, 2004.

A piece of civil rights legislation, the IDEA guarantees students with disabilities a free appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment and authorizes appropriations of billions of dollars in funding to states and school districts to assist them in providing special education and related services.

The revisions of IDEA contained in the new law, Public Law 108-446, build on and more closely align IDEA with the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act.

Under the new law, alternate assessment scores are required to be counted when determining performance of a school district and state. In addition, the law requires individualized education programs to emphasize academic performance. Parents will be able to choose supplemental educational services, such as tutoring, for their children with disabilities when the student’s schools are in need of improvement under NCLB.

Administrators must use new approaches to prevent over-identification or misidentification of students with disabilities. The new law permits all school districts to use up to 15 percent of their IDEA funds for so-called “pre-referral services” for children who may have problems in specific skills, such as reading, BEFORE they are identified as disabled and needing special education. It would require school districts with significant over identification of minority students as disabled to operate pre-referral programs.

As it relates to determining whether a student has a specific dlearning disability, the new law says that “…a local educational agency shall not be required to take into consideration whether a child has a severe discrepancy between achievement and intellectual ability in oral expression, listening comprehension, written expression, basic reading skill, reading comprehension, mathematical calculation, or mathematical reasoning.” It goes on to say that “in determining whether a child has a specific learning disability, a local educational agency may use a process that determines if the child responds to scientific, research-based interventions” as a part of the required evaluation procedures.

Read the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 in its entirety from the Library of Congress by clicking here.

Multidisciplinary Teams (MDT's): MDT's determine eligibility for special education services and are made up of a diverse group of professionals. This team attempts to devise an Individual Education Plan (IEP) for that student, which is a contract that sets specific goals especially for that student and lists ways to meet those goals.

Professionals most commonly found on MDT's:

  • Principal
  • Title One Learning Specialist
  • Speech/Language Pathologist
  • Educational Facilitator
  • Teacher
  • Child Psychologist
  • School Counselor
  • Physician

Why is this important for children with vision related learning problems?

MDT's evaluate individuals that fall into many different categories under the special education heading. However, we will focus on the category specific learning disabilities since it is most relevant to vision and learning. Most children that can benefit from optometric consult fall into this category.

Definition of Specific Learning Disability

A Specific Learning Disability is defined by Congress as a severe discrepancy between intellectual ability and achievement, not correctable without special education in one or more of the following areas:

  • Oral expression
  • Written expression
  • Reading comprehension
  • Mathematics reasoning
  • Listening comprehension
  • Basic reading skills
  • Mathematics calculation

How a Child gets Referred to an MDT for Evaluation

Referrals for evaluation by an MDT for specific learning disabilities usually occurs when a child falls two or more grade levels behind in school and/or are not working up to their potential. Usually it's the learning specialist, teacher, counselor or parent that requests an MDT evaluation..

A referral to an MDT can be submitted from anyone INCLUDING optometrists. Optometrists usually evaluate a child clinically to determine if their is a vision related learning problems usually at the request of the parent and submit a visual assessment to the MDT for a child already being reviewed or to make a referral to the MDT. Optometrists may request further information on a child from the school, including the MDT, with parental permission to better understand the child's needs. Optometrists can also actively participate on a MDT, though this is not commonly seen in many areas.

Let your Optometrist Know if Your Child is Seeking Special Services

It is important to let your optometrist know if a child is getting special services, or under review for special services by an MDT, so that they may not only assist you with the process, but can better manage and treat your child by communicating with all professionals involved regarding your child's visual performance. This can go so far as including certain visual requirements and goals to increase visual skills on their IEP that can be incorporated into their regular school activities.

Politics for such things can be tricky. Schools cannot afford to pay for every child to have vision examinations, let alone pay for vision therapy (It would be nice, however, if more schools incorporated visual guidance programs to prevent the need for vision therapy by helping develop optimally functioning visual systems, but that's a separate issue). It really is not the school's responsibility to provide these services and should not be expected, though it is believed that it is a school's responsibility to detect possible vision problems a child may be experiencing and refer appropriately. However, simple modifications to classroom activities required in school that increase or maximize particular visual skills are easily done, especially on an IEP, because they do not require extra funding or help from an additional special teacher or aide.

Once Eligibility for Special Education Services is Determined

If eligibility is determined after assessment by an MDT, special education services will be provided by the state up to the age of 21 if deemed necessary.

Individual Education Plan/Program (IEP): A person that qualifies for special education services under IDEA will have an IEP. Students who are having significant learning difficulties and need an alternate education plan to suit their styles and abilities are evaluated by an MDT for these services. If a person qualifies for special education, an IEP is designed by the MDT to outline specific goals for the student and steps to follow in order to maximize and/or develop his or her strong points. An individual plan for that student is designed and used as a template to teach from and include all the special needs that student has for learning.

If Eligibility for Special Education Services is NOT Determined

If eligibility has not been determined but your child is still being evaluated OR your child has been determined that they DO NOT qualify for special education services, your child cannot obtain services under IDEA. However, arrangements can be made under Section 504 of the 1974 Rehabilitation Act to make sure that any special needs your child requires is still met.

Section 504 - Part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1974.

This section states that no program or activity receiving federal funds can exclude, deny benefits to or discriminate against any person on the basis of handicap. Those that have special needs, but who have yet to be determined as eligible for special education services or do not meet eligibility for services under IDEA are theoretically provided for under Section 504. This can include visual needs. Funding to pay for this service is completely different than special education services under IDEA, but may still be determined by an MDT, depending on where you live and the policies set forth by the district. Typically, schools do not have a budget for services to be covered under 504 plans, but often put classroom and homework modification guidelines on them.

Vision Exam Recommended

If your child is receiving special education services, make sure their vision is checked to make sure poor visual skills are not causing part, if not all, of their difficulties. A thorough vision exam by an optometrist specializing in learning related vision problems is also important for any individual seeking special services or currently being evaluated for special services, for the same reason. If poor visual skills are part of their problem, they can be remedied so that a child won't have to deal with visual problems anymore. This can be enough to get them back on track without needing special services, though more often than not, it is only one piece of a larger puzzle.

To find an optometrist near you that specializes in this area, click here.



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