Thanks for joining today's forum on special education with Christopher Carew of the Learning Disabilities Association of Ontario. Due to the high volume of questions, Carew and the learning disabilities association will be the experts for next Tuesday's forum and will respond then to any questions that went unanswered today.
At that time, we'll also post answers to the many autism-related questions we received, thanks to expert Marg Spoelstra, executive director of Autism Society Ontario.
If you have any ideas for future topics or experts, please contact education editor Kristin Rushowy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q: My older son (age 11) is currently enrolled in a special education program in Hastings & Prince Edward District School Board, and has been now for three years. He has been repeatedly "suspended" from school for inappropriate behaviour and/or language, but always (conveniently) for less than three full days - therefore not appeal-able. He is mentally disabled, and has been diagnosed with autistic spectrum disorder. Many of his "behaviours" are due directly or indirectly to his disability. The Safe Schools Act, as I am sure you are familiar, seems to be targeting children like my son. If special needs students are "different" enough to be eligible for a special education (IEP), then why are they subject to the exact same rules as all the other children in the school system?
A: Your concerns regarding your son's unique needs and the suspensions he has received because of his behaviour are very valid. Similar objections about the use of the Safe Schools Act to respond to behavioural difficulties of exceptional students have been voiced by many individuals and groups, including LDAO and its members. The government has identified safety in Ontario schools and the implementation of the Safe Schools Act as a major priority. It has undertaken a review of the act and recently announced the release of a discussion paper. The paper is available on the Ministry of Education website.
In the launch of public consultations on Nov. 23 of this year, Education Minister Gerard Kennedy provided a summary of the statistics regarding suspensions for the school year 2003-4. He stated that a total of 152,626 students (or 7.2 per cent of the total student population) were suspended. Of those, 27,250, or 18 per cent, of suspended students were students with exceptionalities - accounting for 8.8 per cent of all exceptional students.
Liz Sandals, parliamentary assistant to Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services Monte Kwinter, is the leader of the action team of safety experts who are implementing the Safe Schools Action plan. She stated that "data shows that some groups, including boys and students with exceptionalities may be impacted by the act in greater numbers than the rest of the student population." Additionally, the executive director of LDA York Region, an expert on school safety, with particular knowledge of special education, has been added to the team and will most ably reflect the needs of exceptional students in this review.
This acknowledgement of the needs of special education students with regard to the Safe Schools Act is a positive development.
Q: My daughter will be starting high school next year. My question is should she get an IEP? She has been at a private school for her elementary years and has needed extra help with certain subjects (math, language) but has never had an IEP. Some have told me not to as it will prevent her from going into the academic strain and not allow her to be in the computer laptop program which I think would help her to stay organized. We had her assessed in Grade 3 and in Grade 6. She has been identified as having a visual perceptual nonverbal LD. Thank you.
A: If your daughter is going back into the public school system, an IEP could provide information on the accommodations she needs in order for her to be successful at the academic level. Many students with learning disabilities take academic level courses and go on to postsecondary studies, but they require accommodations such as the use of assistive technologies throughout their high school, college and/or university careers. There should be no reason why she would be excluded from a computer laptop program. You may wish to refer to a document on LDAO's website entitled "Transition Planning Resource Guide for Students with Learning Disabilities".
Q: My son has been in spec ed since public school. He finished the Grade 10 applied program with a 46 per cent average and was recommended for the 'target program' in Grade 11 in high school in Aurora. His final average in Grade 11 was 75 per cent. His first semester marks this year (Grade 12) are 73 in small business mgmt., 87 per cent in hospitality, 56 per cent in English and 47 per cent in math. He would like to transfer out of the target program and go back into the applied program and is willing to return next year to bring up his marks and obtain Grade 12 credits in applied, but has been told that he can not transfer to applied out of target program. He's been advised that the only way he can transfer into applied program is to leave that school and go to another school?! Is this true? This does not make any sense to me. Why 'punish' a child and make it difficult for them when they've had a change in attitude and have decided to go 'further' in their education?
A: If the applied program is available in your son’s school, I know of no reason, other than possible school administrative reasons, for him to have to change schools. I would suggest contacting our Learning Disabilities Association chapter located in York Region to find out what they understand about the local situation or environment: (905) 884-7933 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
Q: My son is eight years old and in Grade 3. Up until now he has had good marks - B's and A's. This year his teacher said he will be getting C's in reading and writing. He has ADD and takes Concerta. He reverses letters and numbers. His work is messy and spelling terrible. I am in the process of setting up testing for dyslexia. But I am told he is not "bad enough" to get extra help other than extra time and charts to copy. Some resource teacher time may be available for him if he does have dyslexia or another LD, but I am told she doesn't have much room left, and I am in a scramble to have testing done asap to get him on the list.
This doesn't make sense to me. Why wouldn't they put in the effort and training for him now and not have him fall behind later? I am considering private tutoring. Have you got any websites/books I should be reading? We are in the Upper Grand District School Board.
A: LDAO strongly believes in early intervention for kids with learning difficulties. A psychoeducational assessment should determine your son’s learning strengths and weaknesses, and the best ways for him to be taught. In the meantime though, there are now specialist teachers for literacy and numeracy instruction in all school boards. You could ask for information on what programs funded by the Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat are available in your school. These programs are not restricted to students identified with special learning needs. LDAO’s Access website is an excellent resource for parents. Although password protected, the parents and professionals can access information for free.
Q: I would like Mr. Carew to discuss ADHD fraud. There appears to be an "epidemic" of ADHD diagnosis in Ontario. Some psychometrists are conducting psychological testing in the guise of aptitude testing without the oversight of a psychiatrist or psychologist.
A: Communicating a diagnosis is a controlled act under provincial legislation, and in the case of learning disabilities or ADHD must be done by a qualified member of the College of Physicians and Surgeons or the College of Psychologists.
The college(s) provide a systematic process for ensuring all complaints and challenges are handled through their reporting system and reviewed by the discipline committee, however, the actual number of complaints relating to the nature of your question is not known by LDAO. I would suggest a multi-disciplinary team-based approach to ensure completeness and appropriateness when considering issues related to diagnosis.
Q: I have two sons who are diagnosed with dual exceptionalities (gifted/learning disabled). My oldest received absolutely fantastic programming through elementary, middle school, and so far in his first year of high school. There were some teachers who tended to shame him, but most were compassionate and creative in their dealing with him. My youngest son has a team of professionals who will not accept his disability. Any difficulties that he encounters (reading, writing, attention, organization, impulsivity, etc.) is continually attributed to character deficits and behaviour and manipulation. If I try to intervene, I am treated like an overprotective, unrealistic mom.
We have been referred to various professionals over the years for assessment of his anxiety and all came back confirming that it is school-related. Yet, staff tries to make him look pathological. These teachers are very reluctant to implement rountine strategies to help him cope. He receives all kinds of negative feedback in verbal and written format and getting more stressed as the curriculum advances. He is extremely successful outside of school and very popular with peers. He has had a few suspensions over the years, usually a result of accumulating anxiety that he can no longer handle. Once, two weeks prior to an episode, I phoned the school psychologist to inform her that he was "ready to explode" and never received a return call! He suffers from headaches, stomach aches, sleep deprivation, and cries easily. So, my questions are:
1)Can you recommend a reference that would help teachers understand the gifted/LD profile? How about one for the emotional ramifications of LD?
2) Why are teachers so uninformed? Is graduate coursework required in this area within Ontario?
3)What can I do to help my son cope? We are spending hours on homework and end up yelling or crying because he cannot meet the time criteria for completion. If he does not, he receives more negative feedback. HELP!!!
A: It is good to hear about the compassionate, caring teachers, as we so often hear about situations like that of your younger son. Kids who are gifted and have LD can become very frustrated, especially if they have problems with written output, and thus can be challenging for teachers. Teachers may only see the behaviours and not the underlying reasons for the behaviours. The school should be listening to you as the parent, but I wonder if they would listen better to a professional who knows your son. Have you tried calling a case conference (problem-solving) meeting and inviting an outside professional to attend?
1) LDAO does have articles on gifted LD and on emotional ramifications of LDs which you could obtain by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org and requesting this information. You may also wish look for articles and resources on the following American websites:
LDAO’s Access website is also available.
2) There is relatively little taught about special education in many pre-service teacher education programs. There are no required courses on special education. Teachers may take additional qualification courses on special education through Faculties of Education throughout the province. These courses are usually required for special education positions but not for teachers in other classes or programs.
3) It sounds as if your son needs to have appropriate accommodations in his IEP, such as use of a word processor to do all his written work or other assistive technologies, and perhaps fewer questions to complete in assignments if he can demonstrate that he understands the concepts. You could discuss these issues at a case conference as suggested above.
Q: My daughter has low muscle tone, which has delayed her speech, and is developmentally delayed. She is currently in a regular Grade 2 class with .5 educational assistant support. She is a wonderful girl with many friends, she is very caring and gentle and loves to help. She receives no speech therapy through the school system and I feel that she would benefit so much if she did receive therapy through the school along with what we do at home.
Are there any quicker routes that I could take to get what she needs to make schooling easier for her? She works with a voice communicator at school but it is very slow and she is beyond it. Please help me understand what it takes to get full EA support, I work so hard to give her every opportunity to achieve her goals and need every input that I can get.
A: I’m afraid that we do not have expertise on appropriate supports for students with developmental disabilities. You would probably be best to contact your local Association for Community Living.
Q: My daughter is three years old and she was not a full-term baby (born at only seven months). She is doing perfectly okay other than having difficulty to speak like a normal three-year-old baby. She is speaking very few words when it is necessary for her to speak - like when she is mad and angry or happy. I am very worried about her being in school next year because it is very difficult for her to accomplish her education or to communicate with others. As I am a mother, I understand what she is trying to say and I have the patience to wait for her to respond and I do understand that in school they won't be waiting for her to answer questions. I fear for her future and I need your advice and help to guide my daughter in an appropriate ways. Can you please kindly suggest me any alternative path to get me to help her in school? Thank you for your time.
A: There are preschool speech and language services which provide assessment and treatment for preschoolers who need help with language development. Children may receive services through this program from birth until October of the year they reach the age at which children start senior kindergarten. You can find your local contact online or call the INFOline at 1-800-268-1154. LDAO’s Access website is also an excellent resource for parents.
Q: As a retired special education resource teacher (15 years), my question is when is the government going to realize that the EQAO, etc. scores will NOT improve until we allocate extra assistance to the needy children in the regular classrooms? These children have potential, but because of class sizes they are the lowest on the totem pole. A few years ago we had to do reams of paperwork for ISA funding, that was to provide funding for LD, etc. I believe that the government has never paid all that out to the boards, even after our board for example, was audited 100 per cent. If it has been paid out it is not getting to the children who need it most. Unfortunately, powers that be, whether in administration, in government, do not realize the immensity of the needs in the classroom - and I'm sorry differentiated instruction does not cut it when you have children operating at 5 different grade levels in a classroom. How can we turn this around?
A: This is a complex question with no simple answer. The Ministry of Education has laid out a strategy for supporting students and improving EQAO scores. The formation of the Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat and the hiring of literacy and numeracy teachers in each school is an example of this. The Ministry of Education is also reviewing the ISA funding procedures to find ways to better allocate and use monies provided to support students with special needs.
As a non-governmental agency, LDAO can only make recommendations to the government about proposed changes. You may wish to contact your local Member of Provincial Parliament or the Ministry of Education directly to voice your concerns.
Q: Why does the Ministry of Education not appear to have any standards or curriculum requirements for developmentally disabled students at the secondary school level? This has resulted in students in York Region being fed a mind-numbing schedule of "community field trips" to McDonalds restaurants, shopping malls, grocery stores and other restaurants, with no teaching at their level about history, science or social studies. The York Region board also requires 14-year-old developmentally disabled students to be sent out on work placements, which is not something that most parents would approve of for their non-disabled children.
A: For any child identified with an exceptionality, the goal is to create a personalized approach to their learning through the development and maintenance of an Individual Education Plan (IEP). Instead of creating another, “one-size-fits-all” curriculum, the goal is to customize a plan that reflects the child’s strengths, needs and goals.
In regards to your particular situation, I’m afraid that we do not have expertise on appropriate supports for students with developmental disabilities. You would probably be best to contact your local Association for Community Living in York Region.
Q: My son, almost five years old, presently in SK ... missed out on JK last year ... has "behavioural issues" ... He has not been formally diagnosed with anything as of yet, the school board is pressing to have a diagnosis ... I believe he will have an actual diagnosis in the coming months ... Is it not enough for the school board's behaviour team to note the problematic behaviours for the board to receive funding? For example, a child exhibiting certain traits/mannerisms/behaviours may be diagnosed as either autistic, ADHD, pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified, Aspergers., etc ...
If there are several people that agree on basic observations of the child (ie the parents, the teacher/E.A., Resource Teacher, the daycare staff, pediatrician), why is that not enough for the school board? I do not want a premature diagnosis, I want one that most suits my son's situation ... I am not in denial that he has "issues" ... Any information on this matter would be greatly appreciated.
A: I can understand your concern about a premature diagnosis, and four years of age is early to make long-term predictions. The Minister of Education has indicated that the upcoming changes in the funding model for special education will not rely on diagnosis in the same way as the previous Intensive Support Amount (ISA) process did. In the meantime, your son can be identified for special education services without a diagnosis, and an Individual Education Plan set up to meet his special education needs. The school board is required to meet those special education needs with the funding that it receives for special education purposes. You can speak with the special education staff at your child’s school/school board to make this request.
Q: My daughter, now in Grade 6 and 11 years old, was identified in Grade 1 as having a learning disability that affects her memory. I have had no complaints about the special ed services available through the public school system - that is until this year. She, while learning disabled, has no behavioral problems and I am very frustrated that this year it seems that in her special ed class - which she spends half the day at - that the teacher spends all their time dealing with the problem children and my daughter seems to not be getting much from it. I have been told that this is my only resource available at the school, however I wonder what the logic is in lumping all children with learning difficulties together as I cannot see how this method of teaching does anything other than keep the problem children segregated from the regular class?
A: All school boards should have a range of placements available to students identified as needing special education. Many students with learning disabilities are placed in a regular class but go out for part of the day for specific remedial instruction with a special education teacher, usually in a small group. This placement is called regular class with withdrawal assistance. If more than 50 per cent of the day is spent in a special education class, the placement is called special education class with partial integration.
If the placement decision is for a self-contained special education class, it is important to find out what kind of class it is. Classes for students with severe learning disabilities are only supposed to have eight students, and they should all be students whose primary identification is learning disabilities. Unfortunately, some school boards only offer mixed exceptionality classes that can contain up to 16 students. Such classes are seldom appropriate placements for students with learning disabilities.
Whatever your daughter’s placement, the most important consideration is the way she is being taught, i.e. an individualized approach based on her assessed strengths and weaknesses. LDAO’s Access website is also an excellent resource for parents. Although password protected, parents and professionals can access information for free.The categories for resources are: resources, community, learning and youth.
Q: My son is very close to being considered gifted. I truly feel that if there was more than a 1 1/2 hour test to see if a child was gifted that the result would be different as it takes much longer to know someone. Anyways, my son needs a higher level of learning and is not having a good relationship with the children in his grade level. He either cannot speak to them because they do not understand what he is speaking about or he gets frustrated with their behaviour.
He has been tested for ADHD and does not have that condition yet he does seem to get frustrated a lot lately. I have considered home schooling him since I cannot afford private education ... Any advice would be appreciated.
A: No one understands a child like a parent, and it is painful to see talents or gifts that are evident at home go unseen or unrecognized at school. Students of all types can have trouble relating to their age-peers – gifted students, students with LDs, and especially students who fit the “gifted LD” profile.
Did your son have a full psychoeducational assessment, or just a screening test for the gifted program? A psychoeducational assessment would give information on his pattern of strengths and weaknesses, and could also look at social/emotional issues such as self-esteem.
Do you find that your son relates better to older kids? You might try to find an activity program in his area of interest where he could have a chance to communicate with other kids with similar interests. If he is an independent learner, you could check to see if there are any alternative programs in your board. If you do choose to home school, it would be good to belong to a network of home-schooling parents, and ideally have opportunities for social interaction among the kids.
Q: My youngest son has learning disabilities ranging from reading at lower than grade level (in Grade 9, reads about Grade 5-6) and long- and short-term memory problems as well. In elementary school the kids are offered modified classes - significantly so - in many cases - yet when they go to high school they are expected to manage with virtually no modifications at all. It is a nightmare with the kids left unable to cope.
My son's problems are not severe enough to warrant classes such as multiple exceptionalities, yet really he cannot handle the workload in classes such as geography and science that are not offered at essential levels. These kids are not eligible for programs such as OYAP either as their courses are not all at academic or general levels. It just seems they are basically abandoned by the system once they start high school and shut out of the types of programs that could benefit them.
Any advice would be very much appreciated. Are there better programs, services out there for these higher functioning, yet still learning disabled, kids once they hit high school and beyond? High schools will modify courses to a point but the kids can be left with half credits and shut out of opinions to an even greater extent long after high school if that approach is taken. As bad as elementary school can be for the learning disabled, high school is far worse.
A: High school can be a difficult time for students with learning disabilities (LDs) unless they get the appropriate training in strategies and the accommodations they need to access the curriculum. Starting in intermediate grades, students with LDs can be using assistive technologies such as word processors and books in alternative formats, so that they can work on grade level curriculum (as long as they can understand the concepts).
If you are feeling like your son has been abandoned by the school system, something is not right, perhaps a miscommunication. Students identified as LD are entitled to appropriate accommodations throughout their high school career.
If your son has had a recent psychoeducational assessment it would be good to check with the psychologist or psychological associate who did the assessment to see what level of courses he could be expected to handle, and what accommodations would be most beneficial. If, even with accommodations, he is not able to cope with applied level courses, you could talk to the teacher in your son’s school who works with the Student Success program, to find out about options for workplace preparation.