The Roles of District Assessors in Visual Processing Assessments

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Depth PerceptionThere is much confusion in many school districts about the assessment of visual processing disorders and appropriate remedies for needs that arise from visual processing disorders in special education students.

Many school districts do not provide expert assessment in visual processing at all, mostly because they don’t understand when expert assessment becomes necessary in order to render a FAPE. But, there is also an underlying fear that is sometimes very overt and other times left unspoken out of shame and guilt; it is the fear of the costs of any services that expert assessment may reveal is necessary for a given student.

Under certain circumstances, vision therapy – still a controversial subject in special education after over a decade of ongoing debate – may be recommended as educationally necessary for some students. Generally speaking, in my experience, vision therapy is recommended as a related service when the child has a neurological disorder that interferes with the integration of the images from both eyes and/or making sense of the images the eyes have seen. The intent of the therapy is to strengthen the neurological connections that are weak and develop compensation strategies for those areas of weakness that cannot be therapeutically overcome.

Visual processing problems are a serious thing. They interfere with a child’s ability to make sense of what is going on around him at any given moment. One child with a severe visual processing disorder whom I represented had absolutely no perception of three-dimensional space. Everything looked flat to him. Looking at the open garage door on the front of his house, he just saw a giant, flat rectangle. He couldn’t perceive that the garage had depth as well. His depth perception was practically non-existent.

There was no way for a deficit that severe to not compromise his receipt of an education. He couldn’t navigate a flight of steps without taking it one step at a time with each foot – that is, he would step up on one foot then bring up the other foot to the step before embarking upon the next step up, and follow the same process going down the stairs. And he clutched to the handrail the whole time.

He couldn’t copy things from the board very easily because shifting from far point to near point was extremely tedious and difficult for him. By the time he reoriented his eyes to the page on his desk, he’d forget what he was supposed to write down, then would have to reorient to the board to visually retrieve the information, then reorient back to the page … it was very frustrating for him and he would often refuse to do pencil/paper tasks because of the visual challenges they presented.

So, it’s fair to say that visual processing disorders do occur for which specialized instruction and related services are necessary. Whether or not vision therapy is necessary is an IEP team decision that has to be based on the negative educational impact the visual processing disorder is having and whether vision therapy can be reasonably expected to remedy or significantly decrease that need.

Education agencies are only obligated to pay for interventions meant to specifically address educational needs. A child can theoretically have a handicapping condition that doesn’t negatively impact him enough in the school setting to warrant special education. Some children do find themselves in limbo between failing in the general education program but not having a qualifying condition to qualify for additional services and supports. Somebody is always going to fall in the shades of gray. That’s always a hard thing to live with for those families who find themselves in this place.

But, not every parent who finds themselves in this place is there because this is where their children belong. Sometimes school districts relegate children with educationally relevant visual processing needs to the same category as children who have disabilities but cannot demonstrate negative educational impact caused by those disabilities. These education agencies engage in this practice out of fear over the possible costs for services that children with educationally relevant visual processing needs may require.

In other words, they are so terrified that they’re going to have to pay for vision therapy that they deliberately fail to assess in that area of need. The last thing they want is evidence on the record that the child needs something that they’re not willing to pay for. But, now they’ve committed a procedural violation that results in substantive harm. Federal law requires assessment in all areas related to the suspected disabilities that the child may have. So, they can’t fail to assess in those areas or they could get nailed in due process and have to pay for vision therapy as a compensatory remedy.

This is, I believe, why many school districts have now chosen to address visual processing disorders with certain visual-motor and visual perceptual tests administered by school psychologists and occupational therapists (“OTs”). There are certain aspects of visual processing that school psychologists and OTs can assess, and for what that data is worth, there’s nothing wrong with having them conduct those assessments.

But, people have to realize that neither school psychologists or OTs specialize in visual processing and that how certain aspects of visual processing should be assessed is one of those things that you do on an individualized basis just like how any other aspect of special education is supposed to be handled. Assessment is supposed to be tailored according to the areas of suspected disability.

If the types of tests that a school psychologist and/or OT can administer are not going to get at all the aspects of visual processing that are cause for concern, then expert assessment is required. In many instances, this requires someone like a developmental optometrist, though the choice of the assessor is critical.

The school system is justifiably freaked out about vision therapy. There are plenty of optometrists hawking themselves as visual processing specialists who give away free eye exams, including visual processing assessment, and then magically discover that every kid who walks through their door needs at least $5000 worth of vision therapy, if not more. A few bad apples in the barrel has given the anti-vision therapy movement (which is really the anti-paying for anything if there’s any way to get out of it movement) ammunition to sway the opinions of their colleagues, who don’t really follow this sort of thing and don’t really give it much thought, into arguing against paying for vision therapy.

By claiming that all developmental optometrists are quacks, they assert the position that vision therapy itself is nothing but quackery. They refuse parent requests for visual processing assessments, pointing to the tests done by their school psychologists and OTs as sufficient, and utterly fail to identify and serve educationally relevant needs. A fraction of them get taken to due process by parents, but most of them get away with it because the parents decide they’d rather pay for therapy than for a lawyer. Many school districts count on most parents throwing in the towel, which is why they make the process so difficult.

I know what really goes on. I see it all the time. But, it would be unfair to say that this is what goes on all the time, in every instance, in every school district. There are plenty of school districts that realize what is really quackery and what isn’t, that understand the significance of a visual processing disorder, and pull in the experts when they need to.

The most valuable aspect of having a properly qualified expert as part of the assessment team is getting specific recommendations to address the educational needs caused by the handicapping conditions. A good assessor of visual processing for the special education process is going to be looking at the demands being placed on the vision system in the school setting – scanning the lunchroom for an empty seat, copying from the board, shifting from near point to far point and vice versa, producing properly formatted written work, etc. – and attempt to relate the child’s present levels of performance in the area of visual processing to those demands.

A child with significant depth perception issues is probably going to need a lot of accommodations. Specific therapy may be helpful to improve the deficit areas, but teaching the child how to access and use his accommodations is going to be huge. Depending on the nature of the visual processing disorder, a child may require the accommodations of larger print, fewer items per page (to reduce the visual clutter of the page), eye exercises before reading, frequent breaks for eye fatigue while reading lengthy passages, a colored overlay for reading, note-taking assistance, and/or other accommodations.

Very often, for educational purposes, vision therapy simply isn’t warranted. An honest expert assessor is going to say so. But, parents have to be concerned that an expert assessor may say what he/she is being paid to say by the school district that contracted him/her to perform a visual processing assessment. If anything the district’s expert assessor says doesn’t ring true with you, and you think your child may suffer educational harm as a result, you may need to exercise your parental right to an independent educational evaluation (“IEE”) at public expense.

But, don’t jump the gun and assume that right away. Try to figure out what needs your child has that the assessments done haven’t identified or any needs that have been identified but for which no remedies have been recommended. If your child’s needs have all been identified and there’s something reasonably appropriate in place to address each one of your child’s identified needs, then you and your child have as much as you’re entitled to.

If, however, after careful analysis, you realize that there are gaping holes in the assessment data and/or there aren’t enough recommendations to address all your child’s needs that have been identified, then you probably need to ask for an IEE at public expense – or you can pay for it yourself and pursue reimbursement from the school district, but that’s usually perceived as adversarial and it’s good form to ask the district to pay for it first before resorting to paying for it yourself and seeking reimbursement. You need to give them the chance to do the right thing before resorting to doing it for them and holding them financially accountable.

You may find it necessary to have an outside expert take a look at the assessments conducted by the school district, listen to your descriptions of the problems you child appears to be having in school, then give you expert advice about the adequacy of the district’s assessments. That will most likely cost you some money, but not as much as a full-blown assessment.

If the expert says that the district’s data is sufficient to speak to the needs that you’ve identified in your discussions and all you really need are sound recommendations, he/she can probably give them to you right there, which you can then take back to the IEP team. Get them in writing from the expert and copy them to the district along with a request for an IEP meeting to discuss the recommendations of your expert and, if appropriate, incorporate them into the IEP.

If, however, the expert comes back and says that the district’s assessment data is insufficient, get something in writing that describes the additional types of assessments the expert believes needs to be done and why. Any recommendations for additional assessment should relate back to the areas of educational need that are not being served by the district’s assessment data. You can then use this information to substantiate your request for an IEE.

Having an expert recommendation for additional assessment by a qualified expert is by no means required in order to get an IEE. But, it’s one of those things that can make the process go a lot faster. If the record is clear that you have a sound, well-informed basis for your IEE request, the district has no valid reason to turn your request down. The only way a school district can decline to perform an IEE is to take the parent to due process and assert the appropriateness of its own assessments. If the district sees at the time that the request is made that the parent already has an expert who has made recommendations to which he/she would have to testify in hearing, and those recommendations are sound, it would be moronic for the district to argue over the IEE request.

The role of the OT in a visual processing assessment is to look at issues that might actually be fine-motor in nature. For example, when children have difficulties with producing written work, there are a number of things that could be causing them problems. Either they are having some type of problem with the neurology and/or physical construction of their arms, wrists, and hands that makes the fine motor movements required for writing difficult or impossible; they are having a hard time relating the visual images they are conceptualizing to their motor cortex so that their hands can produce the images they intend; or they do not fully comprehend what the image they are trying to produce actually looks like and can’t accurately interpret what they are writing looks like because of a visual processing disorder.

Because the function of the OT is to work on those fine motor skills, the purpose of assessing visual processing as part of an OT evaluation is to rule out the possibility that a problem is visual rather than motor. It is not to identify and serve a visual processing-related need. So, when school districts argue that they’ve assessed in visual processing because the OT did a VMI (visual-motor integration) test, understand that this data could easily be insufficient to identify all the needs arising from a visual processing disorder.

A school psychologist can administer a wide range of standardized tests that include subtests in components of processing of visual information. The problem is that even if the school psychologist administers all the right tests within his/her purview to administer, all that will tell anyone is whether there is a problem, not necessarily what to do about it. I firmly believe that all school psychologists should keep themselves very well abreast of the research being done in visual processing and what science knows about it to date. But, most do not.

Another critical consideration is that many of the tests administered by experts to measure visual processing include the use of expensive equipment that school districts simply do not possess and for which they have no qualified staff. In order to measure visual processing, many aspects of visual acuity have to also be known, which means all that funny hardware that you find in any eye doctors’ office plus whatever else is necessary to measure the processing components.

Relating the impact of certain problems in visual processing to the educational setting is not something that school psychologists have necessarily been trained to do. They are unlikely to know what best practices are when it comes to serving and accommodating all possible types of visual processing needs. This is why expert input is necessary, even if only on a consultation basis.

All of that said, just because you present a logical argument to your school district for an expert visual processing assessment, that doesn’t mean your school district is going to voluntarily give you one. Some school district administrators are still stuck in the political climate of special education in the late 1980’s through the 1990’s in their own minds, thinking of things within that context and panicking over things that stopped being an issue for everyone else a long time ago. They are responding emotionally to something that they don’t understand that frightens them.

Due process may become necessary just to get around all of the hysteria and have the outcome decided by an impartial judge who weighs the facts against what the regulations require and nothing more. Every situation is different. But, understanding the role that each member of the district’s assessment team plays in the assessment process is an important part of meaningful parent participation in the IEP process. The more you understand as a parent of how the system is supposed to work, the better informed you are as to whether the rules are being followed or not and what to do if they aren’t.

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10 thoughts on “The Roles of District Assessors in Visual Processing Assessments

  1. Jennifer Cazorla

    This article was SO helpful and so informative. I feel like I need to read it a few more times to take in all the important information. I have a situation that I’m wondering if you could offer advice: my son is homeschooled through a charter school. He tested very high in visual perception (i.e. he can find objects in a busy background easily). He’s good at looking at something and figuring out how it fits together or how it works. However, he can stare at a word like “drift” and begin sounding it out with the “sh” sound. He stares and stares and keeps trying that same sound that doesn’t even appear in the word. His special education tutor (highly qualified man who was a Spec. Ed. administrator over a large district before retiring) and I both agree there is a visual processing deficit. My opinion comes from the hours and hours I’ve spent reading on visual processing and the fact that he’s homeschooled rather than in a classroom. The IEP administrator disagrees because the instruments that the school psychologist used were “comprehensive.” They’ve offered to do two more visual processing assessments, but I’m sure they will still not find a visual processing deficit that warrants VT because she’s already made the statement that VT is a waste of resources/time and it “doesn’t work”. I don’t want to put my son (10) through 4 to 6 more hours of testing that will not be effective in demonstrating his visual processing deficit. We’ve made an appointment with the behavioral optometrist to do a VT evaluation. So to get to my point, can we take the report from the behavioral optometrist to the IEP meeting as grounds to add VT to the IEP?

    1. Anne M. Zachry Post author

      You ended up communicating with us about this via email, so we’re posting the feedback we gave you previously here for other readers’ benefit, as well.

      The short answer to your question is “Yes.” You can share the VT eval with the rest of the IEP team and discuss as a team whether VT is an appropriate service to add to the IEP, preferably with the actual VT assessor participating and presenting his/her data, since no one else at the IEP meeting will be qualified to present it.

      The more explanatory answer is this: Presuming there are no other facts that you aren’t aware of or didn’t realize were important to share, our non-attorney take on the situation is that the District has an obligation to assess in all areas of suspected disability. A school psychologist is not qualified to refute the diagnosis of a licensed optometrist or ophthalmologist who has used sophisticated equipment to measure a child’s visual experience from perception to processing. None of the standardized measures the school psych intends to give come close to the quality of data produced by a proper VT evaluation.

      If you go have a VT evaluation done at private expense and then give it to the District, you can then pursue reimbursement for that evaluation. Your argument for recovery of cost is that you repeatedly asked the District to assess in all areas of suspected disability but it refused to.

      You probably have procedural errors around that refusal, as well. If you submitted your request for VT evaluation in writing, depending on what state you’re in, they either had to provide the evaluation right away or send you Prior Written Notice (PWN) explaining why they weren’t going to do it.

      If they did send you PWN, it may not have made any sense; the ones I’ve seen just say “no” without any real explanation as to why but an explanation of what they proposed to do instead. More likely, they never sent PWN, which is a procedural violation that undermined your meaningful parent participation in the IEP process and undermined your right to informed consent, if you’re in a state where a parent referral for assessment doesn’t automatically trigger the assessment process.

      If you’re in a state that triggers assessment upon receipt of a referral, including from parents, and they didn’t do the VT assessment upon receiving your request, then that’s an automatic procedural violation that undermined your meaningful parent participation in the IEP process. Either way, your son was denied a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) and you can pursue that in due process.

      If the District failed to assess in all areas of suspected disability when given the chance, then it left out important data necessary for the IEP team to design an IEP that is reasonably calculated to render meaningful educational benefits in all areas of student need, and you have grounds to disagree with its assessment results and demand an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE) at public expense. The only way the District can refuse to fund the IEE is if it takes you to hearing, bears the burden of proof, and convinces a judge that its assessments were adequate. They can’t make that argument if they refused to provide the assessment in the first place and the school psychologist is not qualified to assess all aspects of visual processing, so a couple of standardized tests from the school psych is not going to stand as equal or better against a comprehensive visual processing eval by a licensed expert in hearing.

      If you fund the VT eval first, then the rules about IEEs make it such that you could pursue reimbursement for the cost of it after the fact, and maintain control over the assessment process so the District can’t undermine the VT eval data. The only way the District could get out of funding it would be to prove in hearing that it did the right job in the first place, which it still wouldn’t be able to do.

      Under those circumstances, if all you are focused on is getting the VT evaluation conducted and funded, it’s a pretty obvious case and the District would be unlikely to take the case to hearing. It would probably settle outside of court over the VT evaluation.

      The next step once the evaluation done is getting whatever the evaluator recommends into your son’s IEP. I can’t really advise you much there because so much of it depends on the outcome of the assessment, which hasn’t been done yet.

      Basically, your arguments are going to remain that no one at the district has the qualifications to decide whether or not VT services are educationally necessary in order for your son to receive educational benefits, and they certainly aren’t qualified to refute the recommendations of a licensed expert. The only way to know whether your son needs VT is for a qualified expert to conduct properly comprehensive assessments according to the applicable professional standards as supported by peer-reviewed research, which is exactly what the law promises your child.

      The other concern here is that you have your son in a home-schooling charter, which are infamous for special ed violations. They try to frame everything as “parent choice” as though that somehow absolves them of their legal obligations under special ed and related civil rights law, which it does not. Charter schools are just as much on the hook for the costs and responsibilities of FAPE as school districts, but most charter folks either don’t know that and break the law by accident, or they know it but are philosophically opposed to it and break the law on purpose.

      We have never encountered anything but nightmare problems with charters, but then nobody calls us to tell us how well their kid’s program is going, so our data is skewed in that regard. You may have to file for due process to get the VT eval funded, and then file again once the eval is done to get the recommended services. Chances are, if your charter’s special ed is run the way I suspect it is, there are violations all over the place and they will not want to have to explain themselves to a judge, so they are more likely to settle out of court with you once you’ve filed for a hearing. I strongly suggest finding a special ed lawyer to take them on, if that’s the case.

  2. Susan

    Thank you so much for Kim’s post and your reply. If a school has been provided an OT report in kindergarten, family history of older brothers and mother with dyslexia, and that a child presents well below their peers on the B-B visual motor test in visual areas when they child enters kindergarten and the school responds to the parents that the child is “functional”. If years later, the parents bring the child to a developmental vision therapist and the tests come back that the student has multiple diagnosis of visual processing difficulties plus a neuropsch report that diagnoses dyseidetic dyslexia in partial remission due to extensive intervention…does the school have any responsibility to pay for vision therapy when all along their own OT gave only parts of OT assessments which showed our daughter as average, but when all subtest were given the whole picture showed a child who struggles in so many areas of visual processing. Our child is now 10 and reading at the rate of a 2nd grader. School did not agree with our neuropsych report instead choosing to term her difficulties “substantial limitation of oral reading fluency of undetermined origin” and we would have to agree to disagree. We now have proof through the visiograph how much re reading is happening while she is reading whether it is due to decoding or comprehension difficulty when reading. Since school decided to take a away fluency expectation her teacher considers her to be reading on grade level. We have not brought to report to school yet. Any suggestions for how to request that school bear some if not all of the burden for VT as our insurance plan will not help at all. We are told to expect 10 months of therapy as well as 3 days a week of homework to correct all of her difficulties. Thank you again. My bigger concern is that the OT who works for district is bound by state licensing board and should be held to a higher professional level when identifying children and knowing what tests mean what…..

    1. Anne M. Zachry Post author


      Without knowing all of the facts of your case, the best answer I can give you is “maybe.” You’d really want to talk with a special ed attorney on this. VT issues have not been consistently won by students in due process. Your arguments may be sound, but that usually doesn’t mean squat in a special ed proceeding these days, from what I’ve seen. In general, it is true that if the school district fails to assess in all areas of suspected disability and the only way the family can get real answers is to get outside assessments, should those outside assessments provide educationally relevant information that was not forthcoming from the district’s assessment, then reimbursement is probably due to the parents.

      That does not automatically mean, however, that any services recommended by the outside assessments that the parents subsequently went out and paid for must also be reimbursed. That’s a whole separate argument.

      The argument for reimbursing the assessment costs is presumably because the outside assessments uncovered areas of educational need that were not adequately identified or explored by the district’s assessment. Effectively, the parents had to do the district’s job because the district didn’t when it came to the assessments. The issue to raise in due process would likely be “Failure to appropriately assess in all areas of suspected disabilities,” or something along those lines; the remedy requested in response to that failure would be reimbursement for the costs of the outside assessments.

      The next issue to explore would probably be something along the lines of, “Failure to develop IEPs that were reasonably calculated to render meaningful educational benefit in all areas of unique student need.” Here, you could argue that because the assessments were inadequate, the IEP team did not have all the information necessary to inform a proper offer of a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) and, as a result, the IEPs were deficient of supports and services necessary to address her visual processing deficits.

      If the district offered nothing at all, the only guidance you had was from the expert assessments you had to get on the outside, and your child benefited from the VT in a way that can be represented by credible data, then I’d say the district owes you reimbursement. If you, again, went out and did the district’s job at your expense, then reimbursement should be due to you. This is presuming it is first found by the hearing officer that the district’s assessments were inadequate. If your argument is that they built a poor IEP because they didn’t have the necessary assessment data to build a proper IEP, then you have to prevail on the assessment issue in order to prevail on the poor IEP issue.

      Plus, you’re going to have to make the connection between the VT and your child’s educational needs. Even if a child shows improvement in a VT program with respect to improved visual processing on optometry measures, it only matters in the special education context if it promotes a measurable improvement in learning and/or school participation.

      If, for example, a child has significant issues with poor depth perception, this can impact his/her ability to navigate the campus environments and access materials in the classroom setting for learning purposes. Clearly, if a child with this type of need gets VT and then shows marked improvement in getting around and accessing things, then you can say there was an educational connection between the disability and school performance that made the VT educationally necessary.

      If, however, you have a kid who undergoes VT because of challenges with reading and you don’t see a marked improvement in reading following the VT, you can’t say the VT served a valuable educational function. Even if that kid shows marked improvement on standardized measures of visual processing, if the educational need that the service was meant to address was reading, and reading isn’t improved, then you can’t say that the VT was of educational benefit.

      “Meaningful educational benefit” is the standard you’re talking about here. School districts don’t exist to supplement health care interventions; they only provide educational interventions. Just because a kid would benefit from VT does not automatically mean that VT is educationally necessary. The only way it becomes educationally necessary is if is an appropriate way to address a legitimate educational need and no less intensive level of intervention will otherwise work.

      Understand, too, that there was a huge political debate – if not outright fight – between optometrists and ophthalmologists when VT was first launched as a product. While the science is far more definitive now, there are still those out there who have clung to that dispute, arguing against the evidence even when it supports the use of VT for educational purposes.

      An example of a legitimate educational need for VT could be the need to read from far-point, a skill necessary to following what a teacher writes on the board. Or, a need to read from near-point, a skill necessary to reading from a book. Some kids have a hard time shifting back and forth between near- and far-point when they are copying things from the board; they have to shift from looking at the board to looking at their notes to make sure they’re getting it all down. Everybody who does this has to automatically reorient every time their focus shifts between near- and far-point. Eye exercises can help them transition through those shifts more smoothly without failing to get it all down before the teacher erases what was written or advances to the next PowerPoint slide.

      So, it all depends on the facts of your case. You need someone who can take the developmental optometrist data and relate it to your child’s educational needs. Chances are, your optometrist got training in this aspect of VT because this issue comes up so frequently in their line of work. If not, a good educational consultant with some kind of school or educational psychology background should be able to work with the optometrist to translate the VT-related data into something that speaks competently to your child’s educational needs. If you can establish that VT is a proper remedy for the district’s failure to address his visual processing needs in the past, then you could achieve it as a compensatory remedy. It is much harder to get it added to an IEP as an offer of FAPE unless you can show there is just no other way to address your child’s visual processing issues at school.

      A lot of times, all a kid needs is a set of eye exercises to do right before reading or some additional activities with a speech-language or OT specialist for 10 minutes here and there in consultation with the optometrist to achieve the basic floor of opportunity promised by federal special education law. That’s a far cry from thousands of dollars-worth of in-clinic therapy sessions. Optometrists do not have limits placed on their recommendations like public schools do, so appreciate that what they recommend may exceed the standard to which the courts hold the public school system accountable when it comes to quality of intervention. That’s another reason why it can be so hard to get VT into a kid’s IEP.

      You pretty much have to let your kid go without and then hit them up for compensatory remedy once she’s suffered a loss to get VT as part of a settlement agreement or due process order, in my experience. I just don’t see how that’s in any kid’s best interests, but sometimes families can’t find an amicable path to resolution with stubborn school district administrators who don’t want to set a precedent for paying for an intervention they’ve historically gotten away with not having to fund, and that’s where things end up.

      This, however, may vary from area to area throughout the United States. I’m aware that some school districts and their local communities have finally gotten over the petty politics of eye doctors and have come to rely on what is supported by evidence to inform their decisions, so there is less controversy about the use of VT when it is legitimately warranted as a special education intervention in those places. I’m not aware of this becoming the norm, though.

      I hope this gives you some clarity to your situation. I seriously recommend you speak with a special ed attorney who represents students in your area. I agree that the professionals involved answer to higher ethical standards as terms of their licensing, credentialing, and/or certifications than the legal standards enforced in our public schools and that parents should report unethical conduct on the part of professionals working with children.

  3. Kim Hedzik

    Thank you! This kind of thing is daunting without some support. Regarding this: “You could even submit them in writing with a request for Prior Written Notice (PWN) if they decide to decline your request that the goals be included.” I was planning to submit the goals in writing anyway (email) asking them to include them as written, or have some discussion with IEP team to modify the goals slightly if we agree on how and why… Is there a PWN form I have to fill out along with my goals or do I just mention that I want a PWN if they should decide not to include these goals or some agreed upon version of them in the IEP?

    1. Anne M. Zachry Post author


      Excellent question!!! There is no specific form. PWN is a right guaranteed by 34 CFR Secs. 300.503 & 300.504. It’s supposed to be automatic, however, I strongly suggest that you frame your request as “I am requesting [whatever you’re requesting]. If the District declines to honor this request, please provide me with Prior Written Notice, including a detailed explanation as to why my request is being denied.” That way, they know that you know they’re supposed to give you PWN if they decide to decline your request and they can’t just blow you off. Well, they could, but that wouldn’t make them look very good on the record. It could make the difference between them granting your request or not. If they can’t come up with a good explanation as to why they won’t honor your request, the only ethical choice they have is to honor your request. Otherwise, they’ll do something foolish in the record, like failing to tell you why they declined your request, which you will then have as evidence for due process or a compliance complaint.

  4. Kim Hedzik

    Hi Anne,

    I just read your posting about visual processing assessments. Our school-based OT tested my son for visual processing function using the “Wide Range Assessment of Visual Abilities” test. The private vision therapy doc (optometrist) used the Piaget Right Left Awareness and the Beery-Buktenica Visual Motor Integration test (among others). According to his tests, my sons’ scores ranked him at the 4 year old level. School OT and school psych say doc’s tests were too tough. They say their tests show my son to be low average. My son is 11 and reads at level H (Fountas and Pinnell). What are your thoughts on how I should more forward.

    1. Anne M. Zachry Post author

      A school OT and psych are not qualified to rebut the findings of an actual doctor who used more subtle tests than they did. What proof did they give you that they tests they used weren’t too easy? An OT cannot perform the same measures of visual processing that an optometrist can. At best, an OT can measure the relationship between visual input and motor output, since OT is mostly sensory and fine motor oriented. Same with your average school psychologist, unless he/she is also a licensed clinical psychologist, which most of them aren’t. OTs do not have specialized knowledge of the vision system or the visual processing array of the brain on par with a developmental optometrist, though it is not uncommon for optometrists and OTs to work together on these things, particularly with respect to school-based accommodations and interventions. A school psychologist can only assess visual processing within the context of a special education assessment, but this is limited in scope and does not include any diagnostics. Without the benefit of your child’s entire history as told by his records, I’m left to rely on the info you gave me, but it sounds to me like they just don’t want to risk the possibility that they may have to pay for your son to receive vision therapy so they’re trying to pretend like there isn’t a problem to solve. You may need to hire an attorney.

      1. Kim Hedzik

        That is a very helpful answer. Thank you for clarifying the OT’s role. Certainly useful in making my case. And yes, at first I was thinking to ask the school to pay for private vision therapy, but I could see that was not going to happen. Instead, I was able to level the field a bit by suggesting that “how much of a deficit” he has is not relevant but rather than he has “some” visual processing deficit is enough to write a goal. I was also thinking of referring to the present levels of achievement section of IEP which shows Woodcock Johnson test score for visual/auditory learning being well below average. Got the school to agree to write a single visual processing goal– which the OT found hard to tie into the educational setting anyway. So his classroom teacher took a stab at it. Although her goal was vague, I took the crack in the door to write three SMART goals with one overall annual goal. I am having those goals reviewed by his private OT and the Optometrist directly before I share them with the school. I am betting they will balk at the level of detail in the goals. I can only imagine their reaction should we ask them to pay for private therapy! The school did ask us if we intend to take him to private vision therapy…we may have made a mistake by saying yes.

        1. Anne M. Zachry Post author

          I don’t think you made a mistake of telling them that you are pursuing private therapy. It put them on notice. If he benefits from it, you could have a reimbursement claim. Bully for you on writing proposed goals! Goals drive services, so as long as they are measurable and target an area of educational need, the school is going to have a hard time wiggling out of them. You could even submit them in writing with a request for Prior Written Notice (PWN) if they decide to decline your request that the goals be included and the PWN must explain why they are declining your request, not just that they’re going to and what they intend to do instead.


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