Special education was today's topic with experts Christopher Carew of the Learning Disabilities Association of Ontario (LDAO) and Margaret Spoelstra of Autism Society Ontario (ASO). We're no longer taking questions but will take your comments for the next 24 hours.
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Q: A few questions for you ... (1) For a student in Grade 7, do they get taught from a modified Grade 7 curriculum or do they get taught at a lower grade? (If yes to lower grade, what grade? If no, what percentage should the curruculum be modified?)
(2) Will they be able to attend high school or do they have to go to vocational school? (If yes to high school, is there a program in high school to help them and the name of the program?)
Thank you very much and I am looking forward to your answers.
The LDAO responds ... Modifications refer to the changes made to the grade level expectations for a subject or course in order to meet the needs of the student. For the core subjects, such as math and language, the expectations may be taken from a different grade level. For content subjects, such as social studies or history, the modifications may include significant changes to the number and/or complexity of learning expectations in the regular grade level curriculum. An individual student in Grade 7 may be working toward different grade level expectations for different subjects. The IEP will indicate which subjects are modified, and what the expectations are for each subject.
Most students with learning disabilities can work on grade level expectations, as long as they have appropriate accommodations (e.g. extra time or use of technology).
If a student in the intermediate grades is working at a modified curriculum level on most of their subject areas, their options for high school may be somewhat limited. There are “locally developed courses” that count as credits, and workplace preparation courses, in addition to applied and academic courses. Sometimes all types of courses are offered in one high school, or there may be schools with only applied and workplace preparation courses. It is often useful to have an updated assessment before high school to help decide what levels of courses are realistic for the student to take. Placement recommendations may be made by the school counsellor, principal or the Identification, Placement and Review Committee (IPRC) at the school board.
Specific to your questions: (1) Any modifications to a Grade 7 student’s program will depend on their special needs. These will be reflected in the student’s Individual Education Plan (IEP) which is created by the teacher and shared with any other teachers (i.e. resource) that are working with the student and the parent. Some IEPs outline how the child will be supported to achieve grade level expectations (i.e. through the use of assistive technology, additional time to complete work etc.) others may reflect different educational goals. This depends on the child’s identification.
(2) Determinations about the types of schools a child may attend will once again be based on their strengths and needs. For example, some students will attend high school and participate in regular classes with an IEP, others may attend vocational school. This depends on the student as well as the options available in their area. A transition plan should be created at the middle school level. You may wish to refer to a document on our website titled “Transition Planning Resource Guide for Students with Learning Disabilities.”
Q: My 8-year-old, in Grade 3, has difficulty learning simple math concepts and then retaining what she has learned. We've had her assessed by a learning program (Scholars) and over the course of five months being tutored twice a week in math, her mark actually went down. We also spend a significant amount of one-on-one time working with her and are at the point where we think there may be a slight developmental or learning disability issue here. How do I go about obtaining a psychological assessment for my child?
The LDAO responds ... There are two options for obtaining a psychological assessment. The first is to do this through your child’s school board. The school must obtain your written consent before doing a psychological assessment. This requires the local school team meeting and discussing your child’s case. They will then make a decision on whether to recommend the child for an assessment by a board psychologist. If they do recommend this, your child would then be placed on a waiting list for assessment. Waiting times vary throughout the province, sometimes up to two years.
The second option is to obtain an assessment yourself through a psychologist or psychological associate in a private practice. If you have a group medical plan through an employer, you can check to see if private assessment by a psychologist is covered and to what maximum fee. You would need a referral from a medical doctor to get coverage under the group plan, but you can call and make the appointment directly. You can then provide the assessment to the school board to inform decisions regarding identification and placement. One of the local chapters of the Learning Disabilities Association (www.ldao.ca, select Chapters) should be able to give you names of local psychologists or psychological associates, as well as providing information on how to access assessments through your school board.
Q: I would like to know what options my child has after high school. She had trouble dealing with money and can't get any employment in the small town that we live in. Are there post-secondary education opportunities that she could possibly pursue and where are they?
The LDAO responds ... Transition planning for after high school should begin before your child finishes her secondary education. You may wish to refer to a document on our LDAO website titled “Transition Planning Resource Guide for Students with Learning Disabilities” located under ‘About Learning Disabilities, Special Education/Information for Parents’. There are a number of other articles that may be of interest as well on our website.
After high school, you may wish to connect with a local social service agency in your community that focuses on job assessments and placements. If your son or daughter has a disability, you could consider Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) employment supports. If there is a community college in your area, it would have a range of programs that you could look in to.
Q: Dyslexia is a well-known and documented reading disablility. Research has supported neurological evidence that the condition exists. There are known teaching methods which substantially help and teach these children how to read, i.e. phonics taught in a systematic approach and multi-sensory learning. These approaches not only benefit dyslexics but other children struggling with literacy. Tests for assessing dyslexia exists, early indicators can catch children at risk even before being formatlly identified. Why do none of the school boards recognize dyslexia? Why is it blanketed as a "communication disability"? More important, why is there no proper, formal program in place that will actually teach these children how to read? The Early Recovery program sounds great in theory; in practice, it falls short because it is left too open to interpretation by individual school boards and school principals and teachers. A clear, guided, systematic approach would be more helpful. Why are teachers not better trained to recognize the early signs of reading disabilities? Thank you so much for listening. Our voices really need to be heard.
The LDAO responds ... There are a number of approaches and standards in school boards for meeting the needs of students with special needs. Time, money and resources often influence how support is provided. If you are concerned about the resources available, you may wish to speak with you school board directly.
Dyslexia is the most common of learning disabilities. Although school boards identify students under Communication – Learning Disability, and don’t usually use the term dyslexia, the most important issue is that the teaching approach is individualized to the student, based on the results of the psychoeducational assessment. There has been a great deal of research on reading disabilities in the last few years, and research-based methods are starting to infiltrate the school system. In terms of early signs of reading disabilities, the Learning Disabilities Association of Ontario is currently working on a 3-year project (to be completed in July 2007) that will assist all provincial school boards in early screening and intervention tool.
Q: My daughter has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder (by our psychiatrist) and with a learning disorder by the Peel Children's Centre. She is now part of the day treatment program at PCC where they are attempting to treat her for behaviour problems (with limited success based on an ADHD diagnosis by their psychiatrist). The learning disability has not been addressed in this program so as a result she is a non-reader at 10 years old. She is in the COVE reading program at school. My feeling is that she needs specialized help in academic work both at school and elsewhere. Can you help with the reading program given the bipolar disorder? For the next school year I would like her to be in a special ed class with a dedicated teaching aide. How do I go about this? Can Peel community living assist us at all, both in terms of resources and respite care?
The LDAO responds ... The staff at Peel Children’s Centre should be able to provide guidance on appropriate programs and services for your daughter. You may also wish to speak with someone at the special education department in your local school board or the special education resource teacher at your local community school. As you have indicated, it will be important to find a placement that is appropriate for her mental health and learning needs. It is usually possible to work on reading and other academic areas at the same time as other issues, as long as behavioural concerns do not interfere. What goals and strategies are listed in her Individual Education Plan? The approaches to remediation of her academic difficulties should be based on the psychoeducational assessment.
Q: I am wondering how adults who were missed as children can get LD/ADD testing in Ontario? I have heard that testing costs $1,200, and this is very prohibitive for most, if not all, adults affected by these learning problems. I am asked this all the time by adults who are underachievers in their lives and suspect an LD or ADD. My own LD/ADD testing was paid for by an Ontario government program for post-secondary students called the Bursary for Students With Disabilities (BSWD). I am also wondering where LD/ADD people can see medical specialists under OHIP -- no one in Toronto seems to be taking patients! Not everyone can afford $100/hr for a psychologist. Thank you.
The LDAO responds ... Unfortunately the opportunities for LD/ADHD assessment of adults are very limited. ADHD can be diagnosed by a medical professional, such as a psychiatrist, and this would be at least partially covered under OHIP, but there are relatively few who are familiar with ADHD in adults. Our local Learning Disabilities Association chapters should be aware of those services in their communities (www.ldao.ca, select Chapters). Learning disabilities and/or ADHD can be diagnosed by a qualified member of the College of Psychologists (a psychologist or psychological associate), and the fees may be partially covered under group medical plans. Assessments are also available through programs such as Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) Employment Supports, for those who qualify. A local Learning Disability Association chapter could discuss options for assessment and treatment.
Q: I have a 7-year-old daughter in Grade 2, she attends school in the Durham Catholic school system. She is struggling with her written vocabulary. She is an A student in all other areas, but has trouble with the written word. She started speaking later than average, at age 2 1/2-3. She was diagnosed with a dysfluency, but that is now gone. She has received help with her phonological awareness and reading. Although her reading is always improving, her teacher and I agree that she seems to still struggle. One observation made is that she will sound out the last letter of a word, not the first. She struggles with vowels and especially vowels in the middle of a word. Although she does well with her spelling tests, etc. when left to write in her journal, she has trouble. Some of the words make no phonological sense at all. She still frequently reverses her b's, d's and p's, her 3's, 9's and 7's. Sometimes she catches this error herself, but not always.
We have noticed at home that she will often use the opposite of a word. For example, when it is cold outside she likes to wear tights under her pants. She will ask me "Mommy, can I wear tights over my pants today?" When I ask her how she wants to wear her tights, she will correct herself. She does this with under/over, up/down, yesterday/today/tomorrow. Her teachers are very pleased with her progress and they have told us that she works very hard at school, but I am concerned that these issues are all related and she may need some type of specialized assistance with her written vocabulary. Thank you for your time.
The LDAO responds ... Thank you for sharing your story. You have demonstrated a keen awareness of your child’s strengths and needs. It is excellent that you have an open dialogue with such a committed teacher. Having this type of dialogue will help as your child gets older. It will help inform decisions about providing extra support or assessments if necessary. Children who have early difficulties in language development may continue to have subtle language processing deficits that can affect written language. It may be worthwhile to have a reassessment by a speech-language pathologist to look at her current functioning. This may be possible through the school, or you could consider a private assessment, especially if you have a group medical plan that would cover part of the cost. If you contact email@example.com we can send you a couple of articles on language processing.
Q: I read in the Star that you are taking questions about concerns in special education. I am not sure if this would include mine, however I am sending it just in case.
My daughter has a chromosome abnormality that has resulted in a Global Development Delay and Feeding Issues. She has a g-tube so the education system has deemed that her care be placed under the supervision of a nurse. My limited understanding of the political structure is that the education system sources the nursing care through community care access and a nurse employed by a healthcare agency performs the nursing functions in the school.
Over the last few years, I have repeatedly asked to be kept informed of my daughter's health at school. I believe I should be informed any time that her physical state is abnormal for her, if they are not following the doctors orders or have concerns with the order, if her food is not kept at the correct temperature, and if they are any other concerns about her health status. I have been told that they have no obligation to tell me anything and that the College of Nurses does not mandate this communication.
I have spoken to a few school principals and was told that the nurses are a separate group and I need to deal with them directly. I have also been told that though a call usually goes home when a typical child is sick at a regular school, the school is not required to communicate that either.
When I spoke to community care, they told me that I need to talk to the nurses directly. The nursing agency has not adequately addressed my requirement for communication. My daughter does not speak and cannot tell me what is, or has been wrong. The Ministry of Education has already recognized the requirement for my daughter to be cared for by someone trained to assess health status, however I think that communicating that health status is a critical component of her care. My daughter is negatively impacted by this lack of communication. In fact, I had to keep her out of school for the majority of the last year - not because her health prevented her from going, but because her health issues require communication.
I look forward for any guidance you could provide to resolve this issue. If my daughter is registered in public school, isn't the ministry ultimately responsible for her care? It is not important to me whether I get this communication from the school or the nurses.
The ASO responds ... Depending on where you live, you could make contact with Bloorview MacMillan Centre in Toronto or Surrey Place in Toronto, or the association for community living in your local community. You could also check with your local SEAC rep for advice and/or your school trustee if you're not getting satisfaction.
If you need legal advice, for free you can check out ARCH's website - Advocacy Resource Centre for the Handicapped - it is an excellent resource. I would also check with Dr. Norm Forman's group - he recently wrote a good book called "Exceptional Children, Ordinary Schools."
Q: My 5-year-old son is autistic and has been receiving Intensive Behaviour Intervention (IBI) through the Government of Ontario's Pre-school Early Intervention Program for Children with Autism. Clearly, he will need IBI to continue once he starts school. Why is the educational establishment in Ontario so vehemently opposed to IBI for autistic children in the school system? Surely, they should support a learning approach that will help kids with autism learn.
The ASO responds ... IBI (or IEIP – Intensive Early Intervention Program) is a specific program funded by the Ministry of Children and Youth Services that began by serving 3-6 year olds with autism. Not all children with ASD were eligible for the treatment program and many eligible children on waiting lists age out of that program before they even got started. One of the challenges currently faced by many families whose children did very well in the IBI program was the discovery that their child’s school program did not have education staff sufficiently trained to transfer successful teaching practices in the IBI program to a school setting. This has been a source of frustration for parents who are now awaiting the outcome of an appeal currently before the courts by the Government of Ontario to the Deskin/Wynberg case which supports the continuation of IBI for children over the age of 6. Details of that ruling can be found in a full document at http://www.essac.com/ Also see today's story in The Star.
Q: How can parents get ABA/IBI INSIDE the classrooms, so children with autism CAN learn according to THEIR needs? Thank you.
The ASO responds ... Every student with ASD needs an Individualized Education Plan which identifies learning outcomes and the educational strategies that are the best for achieving those goals within school settings. Many principles of applied behaviour analysis are already used generally and specifically as good teaching practices in Ontario schools. Additional training in evidence-based practices, such as ABA as applied in classroom settings, is necessary to provide those teaching students with ASD with many of skills necessary to achieve the goals identified in a student’s IEP.
Q: My older son (aged 11) is currently enrolled in a special education program in the Hastings & Prince Edward 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 appealable. 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?
The ASO responds ... Right now in Ontario, the Safe Schools Act is being reviewed by a team led by MPP Liz Sandals. Public consultations are taking place in various locations across Ontario. The issue of suspension and expulsion of students with special needs is a significant concern. The Ministry of Education recently released alarming statistics about the high rates of suspension among this group of students; in addition, the application of the suspensions varies across the province. As well, many families tell us that their child’s informal suspension is likely not included in those formal statistics, suggesting even higher rates than the ministry’s report. Our view is that suspension of students with ASD for the purpose of changing the behaviour for which the student was suspended is not supported in the research literature. Instead, efforts should be focused on prevention of unfortunate situations, providing educators with better training about the nature of ASDs, keeping students and staff safe, while continuing to find better ways to achieve the educational goals identified in the student’s IEP.
Q: I have an autistic son and I have a question for you. Do the people working with special children have any kind of training to help them understand these special children better? From my experience over the last five years, I know the teaching assistants are great but often the teachers of special classes (ASD,DC and DD) lack the compassion they should have to help our children in a more appropriate and acceptable manner. Their attitude is appalling and disgusting.
The ASO responds ... Various professionals are responsible for the education of students with special needs in Ontario’s school system. Assistants in the classroom have different employment standards than teachers, and they may have very limited expertise or many years of experience in working with a range of students with exceptional learning needs. The pre-service curriculum for certified teachers will vary depending on their area of expertise.
In an education survey of approximately 400 parents of children with ASD in Ontario conducted by ASO a few years ago, the number one item parents identified as a need was further ASD training for education professionals. There is currently no mandatory ASD–related coursework for teachers working specifically with students with autism. Staff development opportunities are offered in most school boards, but there is a long way to go in equipping educators to work effectively with students with ASD. The capacity of schools to effectively teach students with ASD varies from board to board. The current School Support Program for ASD is an initial step to provide better training in evidence-based practices. A review of this program will be most welcome to determine its effectiveness.