Tag Archives: language

Preventing SpEd Jargon from Impeding Agreements

Click here to listen to the podcast version of this post.

Source: Bob Cotter via Flickr

All too often in special education, those of us who have been working at it professionally for more than a few years have increased our vocabularies to include terms of art, acronyms, and legally significant phrases that mean a whole lot to us, but not a whole lot to professionals new to the field and parents. I find that a lot of my job as a lay advocate is translating SpEd-Speak into plain language.

It was actually during a case I’ve been working with a family that moved to the U.S. from Thailand that brought this point home for me. I found that by simplifying my language for the benefit of the translator, who knew nothing of special education, I made it lot easier for everyone else in the room to follow the logic of what I was saying. The meeting was also attended by the school district’s lawyer, who was actually pretty awesome once she realized what was going on. It was one of the most amicable and constructive IEP meetings in which I’ve participated in a while.

What I found worked best was to use simple language to communicate with most of the IEP team members, then sum up my point to counsel for the district in language she would appreciate in light of the regulations and the applicable science, if needed. In the end, what we figured out was that our 9th grade client qualified for special education as having autistic-like behaviors pursuant to 5 CCR Sec. 3030(g) and that his speech-language impairments for which he had originally been found eligible were features of his autistic-like tendencies as well as bilingualism coming from an Eastern tonal language to English.

I already knew from experience that throwing a bunch of jargon at people during a meeting where you’re trying to make things happen is not particularly constructive if any of them are unfamiliar with the lingo. Having non-English speaking clients only made the point more vivid. But, then I ran across an article in an old issue of Entrepreneur magazine that drove the point home even more, and, combined with my prior knowledge, inspired this blog post and corresponding podcast.

Click to Tweet: Throwing jargon around in IEP meetings is not constructive if the other people are unfamiliar with the lingo. #kps4parents

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Mental Health Services for ASDs

Click here to listen to the podcast version of this post.

Sigmund Freud

Sigmund Freud (Source: Flickr)

Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders (“ASDs”), including Asperger’s Syndrome and Pervasive Developmental Disorder, Not Otherwise Specified (“PDD-NOS”), are often challenged by anxiety, which is an emotional health need. Many school districts contract with county mental health agencies or other providers for forms of individual psychotherapy services that may not be appropriate for some students with ASDs. Further, they may have no other service to offer to address ASD-related anxiety issues.

To add to the confusion, many county mental health agencies have recently re-identified themselves as county behavioral health agencies, yet they do not provide Applied Behavioral Analysis (“ABA”) or any other type of peer-reviewed behavioral intervention. ABA is supported by research to be effective in not only contending with undesired behaviors among persons with ASDs but also in providing explicit instruction to teach the skills these individuals lack.

Explicit instruction in social skills such as greetings, farewells, maintaining a topic of conversation chosen by another person, initiating conversations, and other aspects of human interaction have to taught to many children with ASDs as explicit, scripted procedures. Those procedures can then be generalized into real life by reinforcing them when they occur in natural settings and pointing out to the individual, in vivo, when he/she has engaged in the steps of the procedure so that he/she learns to recognize social contexts in which each script is to be applied.  Eventually, it becomes a learned, rehearsed strategy to deal with specific types of situations.

The degree to which persons with ASDs can master various scripted procedures, or even need this level of support, varies from individual to individual. The same for the degree to which someone with an ASD can generalize knowledge from one context to another, such as from the instructional setting to real life.  It’s called a spectrum disorder for a reason. The range of severity between mild and severe is quite broad and anyone can fall anywhere along it.

Traditional “talk therapy” that promotes developing one’s insight and insight into other people’s perspectives to sort out one’s issues is not necessarily appropriate for some individuals with ASDs. Because there are so many differences among people with ASDs, it’s not fair to say that no one with an ASD can benefit from traditional talk therapy. But, it is safe to say that there are a significant number of students with ASDs who truly cannot benefit from traditional talk therapy but still have emotional health needs that require mental health services as part of their special education programs.

The matter comes down to, “What form of mental health services are appropriate for students in special education who have ASDs and require mental health services in order to benefit from their IEPs?” Well, as with anything in special education, you can’t take a cookie-cutter approach and say one specific type of program will fix everything for everybody. For one thing, no such statement will ever be true; learners with disabilities, even within a population impacted by the same condition, are too diverse for one-size-fits-all programming. Federal law requires individualized programming for this very reason.

That said, there are certain approaches that are generally known to be more effective with students who have ASDs than others. These may work with many students with ASDs, but whether or not they will be effective with an individual student really depends on that student.  The following are possible methods by which effective mental health services can be delivered to some persons challenged by anxiety associated with ASDs.

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“Velcro® Aide” vs. Learning Facilitator

Click here to download the podcast version of this article.

There is a realm of conflict surrounding the use of 1:1 aides in special education and many local education agencies (“LEAs”) have developed their own assessment protocols to determine when a child really needs an aide to try and rein in this issue.

Sometimes these assessments just turn into a means of justifying to the parents a decision against aide support that was actually made by the LEA for fiscal reasons, so there are still issues with these types of aide assessments that need to be worked out.

Because these are LEA-made evaluations that are not bound by regulation and they aren’t scientifically validated standardized tests, LEAs can make them up however they want and some are better at researching best practices than others. But, even if it’s the best aide assessment in the world, none of that makes any difference if the aide support a child is given isn’t used well.

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La Administracion de Una Evaluacion no Discriminatoria por Estudiante de Segunda Lengua

Blogger invitado: Jorge Alvarez, LEP, MFT

En ambientes educativos, el tema de la inmigracion se ha convertido en un asunto del discusion importante con amplias perspectivas relacionadas a como los distritos escolares deben de tratar las necesidades de la poblacion inmigrante. Sin embargo, un tema donde no hay desacuerdo es que el la palabra inmigracion esta directamente relacionada con la palabra lenguaje.

Como educador, mi enfoque no esta en la politica emocionalmente relacionada con la inmigracion, sino en como podemos mejorar las situaciones de todos los niños, sin importar las diferencias etnicas, linguisticas, y culturales. Además, es un requisito de procedimiento del proceso de educación especial que la evaluación no se racial o culturalmente sesgada y que los niños se evaluará en su lengua materna, que presenta una serie de desafíos a los distritos escolares que tratan de servir a los niños un segundo idioma que puede haber discapacidades que califican. [Sec de 34 CFR 300.304 (c)]

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Nondiscriminatory Assessment of Second Language Students

Guest Blogger: Jorge Alvarez, LEP, MFT

In educational settings, the issue of immigration has become a topic of important discussion with a wide range of perspectives related to how school districts should address the needs of the immigrant population. However, one thing that is not up for debate is that the term immigration goes hand-in-hand with the word language.

As an educator, my focus is not on the often emotionally charged politics related to immigration but instead on how we can best support the educational needs children of all ethnic, linguistic, and cultural backgrounds. Additionally, it is a procedural requirement of the special education process that assessment not be racially or culturally biased and that children be assessed in their native language, which presents a number of challenges to school districts attempting to serve second language children who may have qualifying disabilities. [34 CFR Sec. 300.304(c)]

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California SLPs Sometimes Confuse Legal Requirements

Today’s posting will hopefully lay to rest a misunderstanding that seems to plague special education in California. I can only presume that, like many other “urban myths” that root themselves in special education lore, at some point in time, somebody somewhere in California conducted a training seminar on speech-language assessment and services within special education and miscommunicated something that has now led to speech-language specialists throughout the state making improper conclusions to the detriment of some children in need of speech-language services.

The problem is this: the distinction between who is found eligible for special education on the basis of a speech-language impairment (“SLI”) and who qualifies for speech-language services as a student already eligible for special education under any other category. Eligibility for special education as SLI is not required in order for a child otherwise eligible for special education to receive speech-language services in order to benefit from his/her IEP.

The critical piece of legislation, which gets erroneously cited in speech-language assessment reports all the time, is 5 CCR  3030(c). Title 5 of the California Code of Regulations Section 3030 describes all of the criteria for each of the eligibility categories under which a student may qualify for special education and related services. These categories include Specific Learning Disability (“SLD”), Other Health Impaired (“OHI”), Emotionally Disturbed (“ED”), and many others, including SLI. The critical thing to understand here is that the 3030s describe who can receive special education and on what basis, not what services they will get.

What ends up happening, though, is a child will be assessed for special education purposes and a speech-language assessment will be conducted. In the course of the overall assessment, even though the child is found eligible under some category other than SLI, because he did not score below the 7th percentile on two or more speech-language assessments, the speech-language specialist will determine that he doesn’t qualify for speech-language services according to 5 CCR   3030(c). It is a complete and utter misapplication of this Code, which deals strictly with eligibility under SLI and not what services an otherwise eligible child should receive.

A typical example of this would be a child who is eligible for special education pursuant to 5 CCR   3030(g) for autistic-like behaviors (in special education in California, a medical or psychological diagnosis cannot be made by the school psychologist, so this section of the code provides alternative language and defines the criteria by which a special education eligibility category can be identified for a child exhibiting the symptoms of autism), but who is relatively verbal. While his scores may hover just above the 7th percentile on the speech-language tests he was administered, they are still very low and his low language functioning compounds his other problems arising from the other needs arising from his handicapping condition.

In this example, anyone in their right mind can see that the child needs pragmatic (social) language intervention and help with idiomatic and figurative (non-literal) language. He doesn’t have any friends, he doesn’t get jokes, and he doesn’t understand clichs and colorful sayings, such as “Clear as mud.” This makes it difficult for him to participate in group projects with peers and understand the writings of Mark Twain. He needs goals that address these areas of need and speech-language services in order to benefit from his IEP.

No subsection of 5 CCR  3030 drives the selection of services that any child gets, only whether or not a particular child is eligible and, if so, under what category. The IDEA mandates that children who are eligible for special education, regardless of what category they qualify under, receive whatever supports and services are necessary in order to afford them a FAPE.

Specifically, the federal regulations found at 34 CFR  300.320(a)(2) state that IEPs must include for each child measurable annual goals, including academic and functional goals designed to meet the child’s needs that result from the child’s disability to enable the child to be involved in and make progress in the general education curriculum and meet each of the child’s other educational needs that results from the child’s disability.

An eligible child is a child who requires, as a result of one or more handicapping conditions, special education and related services in order to receive educational benefit. 34 CFR  300.39 “Related services” is described at 34 CFR  300.34. In none of this is there anything that suggests that the only way that an otherwise eligible child can receive speech-language services is if he is also found eligible as SLI.

In fact, 34 CFR  300.304(c)(6) states that, when evaluations are conducted for special education purposes, they must be “sufficiently comprehensive to identify all of the child’s special education and related services needs, whether or not commonly linked to the disability category in which the child has been classified.” Congress understood when it crafted the IDEA that you don’t individualize a child’s program by resorting to “cookie-cutter” strategies that are based on a kid’s eligibility category.

The IDEA is the skeleton of special education law. It establishes the basic framework and minimal standards. It is left to the states, if they want any federal special education dollars, to add the flesh to the bones by creating their own state-level legislation that explains how each state will implement the requirements of the IDEA. While states are free to add more obligations to their schools than what the IDEA requires, they are prohibited from reducing the protections offered to students and parents under the IDEA lest they sacrifice their funding.

What this means for speech-language services to special education students in California is that the IDEA basically says each eligible child must get whatever he/she needs in order to receive educational benefit, regardless of what type of services are required and regardless of the applicable eligibility categories. That’s the whole concept of individualizing a child’s education plan based on his/her unique educational needs.

There is nothing at the state-level that reduces this federal mandate, nor could there be unless California were to choose to go it alone to cover its special education costs and we all already know that California can’t pay its bills even with the federal funding it receives. It absolutely cannot afford to give up its federal special education funding.

We’re curious to know if there are any other state-level debacles involving misinterpretations of the law happening elsewhere. Readers are encouraged to post comments to this posting about such misinterpretations that may be occurring where they live.

Why Placement Isn’t Where You Start: Understanding the IEP Process

I can’t count the number of parents who have approached me to accomplish a specific placement for their child. Usually it’s because the child of someone else the parent knows has been placed in a particular setting and is doing really well, so the parent presumes his/her child would also do well in that setting. As another example, a child may only be receiving 20 minutes of individual speech-language services a week, which the parents contend is reprehensibly paltry for their language-impaired child.



These parents come to KPS4Parents looking to change their children’s placements or increase the number of related service hours in a specific setting because they think the placements they already have are inadequate. But, most of the time they’re totally missing the point.


It’s not that something isn’t wrong. If nothing was wrong, their children would be making a reasonable degree of progress and they wouldn’t be coming to us for help. But, because they are lay people and they don’t understand the process, they target what is the most observable thing to be targeted – the placement – without understanding all of the more abstract underpinnings of what makes any placement appropriate or not.


This can lead to a lot of pointless arguments and disputes.  Some of these parents will go out and hire lawyers to press the issue only to be dismayed if they don’t prevail.  The problem is not always with the placement or services, per se. It’s very often with the present levels of performance data and the goals. Parents rarely understand just how critically important these foundational pieces are to their children’s success in any placement.


You will note that our last few postings have followed a progression. We started out talking about – child find  and then moved on to the initial assessment process, understanding assessment data, and eligibility.



Special education follows a very linear process. Actually, it’s pretty formulaic. Parents aren’t expected to automatically know this. But, I’ve attended countless IEP meetings where school site staff didn’t seem to know it, either.


The process begins with assessment. Assessment determines whether a disability is present and, if so, fleshes out enough details about what is going on so that the IEP team can determine the child’s present levels of performance. Present levels of performance statements indicate what a child can and cannot do. 


Once the present levels are known, measurable annual goals are written to target deficits in skills and knowledge. The intent is to describe what the desired outcomes of one year’s worth of special education will be.


Once the desired outcomes have been described, services are selected that are necessary to see the goals achieved.Placement is driven by what will see the goals achieved, taking into consideration the services that are necessary to meet them, in the least restrictive environment (“LRE”). LRE means that, to the maximum extent possible, based on the unique needs of the child, the child is to be educated with his/her non-disabled peers and preferably at the same school he/she would attend if he/she did not have a disability. 


The LRE requirement is a huge consideration and is relative to the unique needs of each child.  What is least restrictive for one child may not be least restrictive for another. The most important consideration is “What is the LRE in which a specific child’s goals can be met?

Because special education calls for an Individualized Education Plan (“IEP”), you can’t compare one child’s performance in a particular setting against the performance of another child.  The child’s performance has to be measured against the child’s capabilities and the unique challenges he/she faces. Just because two kids have autism, that doesn’t mean they will both benefit from the same program.


And, it isn’t just parents who can be guilty of putting the cart before the horse. I’ve gone into more IEP meetings than I can count where the education agency has already pre-determined the placement and then proceeds to propose pre-written goals that fit the placement rather than the child.


In fact, I had a meeting just like this earlier this school year (2008-09) and I want to share an out-take from the audio recording of the IEP meeting just to illustrate this point. To give you some context to the recording, the IEP team had just gone over the District’s assessment of the student and the conversation you hear in the recording is what immediately followed the presentation of the present levels of performance.


NOTE: There is no identifying information disclosed that could be used to compromise the child or family’s confidentiality and the family in question has given their consent for us to use this brief segment.? (Please forgive the hum of the air conditioner in the background.)


Those of you who know better, now having listened to this little snippet, are probably dying on the inside right now.  This child has a whole host of claims against his school district and we’re working with the District’s administration right now to achieve remedy to this child’s situation.


Those of you who are advocates for children already know, and parents should take heed, that there are times when it becomes apparent that sanity and logic have gone right out the window and the only thing you can do is sit back with the audio recorder running, ask probing questions, and just collect evidence. This was one of those situations, which is why I sound less than enthusiastic in the recording.


I much prefer to facilitate resolutions that lead to immediate benefit for students than collect evidence of school district personnel ricocheting off of each other like Keystone Cops.? School site staff, including this student’s teacher, didn’t even know what grade this student was in.


At any rate, my point is this: placement comes at the end of the line after everything else has been discussed. Everything else builds up to the placement decision. It’s the very last thing you decide.


Going into an IEP meeting with a specific placement pre-determined is sheer folly.  You’re operating on preconceived notions and you’re not letting the legally prescribed and entirely logical process occur. I’ve seen parents and school personnel alike go in so dead-set on what placement they think a child should have that they don’t listen to a word of the data about what the child’s needs actually are and what is reasonable to expect in terms of desired outcomes.


The other thing that trips up parents and leads to disputes over the wrong issues is a lack of understanding about various different service delivery models.  I’ve seen children with profound language impairments receive very little individual language services, not much more group services, but a whole lot of imbedded language programming in the classroom.


Here’s the thing with teaching skills to children, regardless of their cognitive level: children learn an awful lot by copying whoever they are around. If you put a bunch of kids with speech and language disorders in the same room all day long, they’re all going to start picking up each other’s speech impediments. Language-impaired children need to hear properly spoken language all day long and have their language intervention built into their regular day-to-day activities.  Real life is where the language is needed, not the artificial setting of the speech room.


Some parents seem convinced that if their child receives more individualized language services in the speech room, that’s automatically going to improve their child’s language. But, that’s often not the case.  In my experience, the benefit of individualized speech-language sessions is to pre-teach certain skills and rehearse them before attempting them in real-life, natural settings with other people. Group language instruction can be helpful to rehearse before trying to use skills in the classroom and on the playground, as well.


The issue here isn’t whether the language programming can be successfully imbedded into the day-to-day classroom routine, but rather whether it’s really being done and how the fidelity of that implementation model can be monitored and maintained. This takes us right back to the measureable annual goals.

In order for progress towards the goals to be measured, data has to be collected. We’ll talk more about goals and measurability in an upcoming posting, but I want to make the point here that so long as you have sufficient data collection taking place, you’re going to be able to track whether things are being done properly and whether or not they are working.


You also have to consider that programming embedded in the classroom is less restrictive than pulling the child out of the classroom for services.If the language services are embedded in the classroom, for example, the child can be simultaneously learning the curriculum and improving his/her language skills. If the child is pulled out, he/she loses instruction time in exchange for related service time.


The same scenario can be used for a variety of related services and types of specialized instruction.? Parents need to understand what is actually being offered and focus more on goal attainment, measurability, data collection, and the LRE than anything else.? Once the goals are written in an appropriate manner and in all areas of need, you will find that the amount of service hours needed to pull them off starts to add up.? And, this is where I think the light bulb finally comes on for parents.??


When parents come to me upset about inadequate service hours, I look at the goals. If, for example, the child only has one goal for mastering the /r/ and /l/ sounds, then fifteen minutes a week of speech-language services sounds about right. But if the same child also has huge deficits in grammar and syntax, as well as significant pragmatic (social) language deficits, when the parents are saying “My kid needs more speech-language services,” what they’re really saying is that their child needs help in more areas of speech-language than what his/her goals actually address. 


The next step is to add more speech-language goals in those areas where needs are not being addressed to the child’s IEP. Once those goals have been written, then we can ask the question “Is fifteen minutes of speech-language service per week enough time to see all of the speech-language goals met?|” and the answer is most likely going to be “no.” At that point, the number of speech-language hours can justifiably be increased.

I hope this helps make more sense of things for you. Please do comment to this and our other postings. We appreciate the number of visitors we’re getting to the blog and the emails we’re getting from people, but your comments will really help make this the collaborative tool we want it to become.