Tag Archives: learning disabilities

What is a Serious Behavioral Problem?

Today’s posting is a podcast in which I discuss what constitutes a serious behavioral problem within the context of special education. Contending with aggression, assaultiveness, verbal outbursts, noncompliance, off-task behavior, inattentiveness, elopement, and other problem behaviors is no small matter.

Equally important, but less often addressed, are more passive behaviors that impact learning, such as sitting quietly without asking questions when the student doesn’t understand what is going on rather than asking for the information to be repeated or rephrased and requesting clarification.

Please do post your comments and questions. We want to bring you the information you seek about special education-related issues and need your feedback to help guide our selection of content.

Serious Behavioral Problems podcast- Part 1
Serious Behavioral Problems podcast- Part 2

34 CFR  300.34
34 CFR  300.304

How Special Education Services are Supposed to be Selected

Several of our prior postings have emphasized that services are selected based on what will see a child’s annual IEP goals accomplished. Placement is determined based on how the services necessary to achieve the goals can be delivered in the least restrictive environment possible, so a discussion of services has to include some discussion of placement, though we’ll be talking specifically about placement in our next posting.

 

Today’s posting concentrates specifically on the process that an IEP team goes through (when things are done properly) to identify the services necessary to achieve a child’s annual IEP goals and how they can be described in the child’s IEP.

 

As we discussed in our posting, “Why Placement Isn’t Where You Start: Understanding the IEP Process,before parents can legitimately advocate for more service hours of any particular kind, they have to examine the goals and ask themselves, “Is the amount of services being offered consistent with what needs to be done to achieve the existing body of goals?” If the amount of service hours matches what is necessary to achieve the goals the child already has, the next questions are “Are more goals needed? Have we failed to address a need?”

 

This is often where the real problem lies when parents are insisting on more service hours in any particular area of need. For example, I’ve heard more than once, “My child can’t write! He needs more OT!” but there are not sufficient writing goals in the child’s IEP. So, we have to back up and address the goal deficiencies so we can then increase the OT hours to see the new additional goals met.

 

Parents really need to understand this because there are instances in which less-than-ethical education professionals will play games. Here’s what it looks like:

 

Parent: My child needs more speech-language services!”

Ed Pro: “But the speech-language services we’ve offered to your child are appropriate to meet his goals.? What would more speech-language services accomplish?”

 

This is a loaded question! If you know the rules, you interpret this question to mean, “Do you think your child needs more speech-language goals “If you’re a lay person, however, you’re likely to miss the subtleties, become incensed, and cry out, “My child is non-verbal! He needs more speech-language services!” If game-playing is going on, the conversation will stalemate as a vicious circle of “He needs more!” and “What would that accomplish ” without any explanation forthcoming from the educational professionals about how goals drive services, so more services require more goals. 

 

Once the goals have been hammered out, then it’s time to determine services. This includes not just how much time will be devoted to services necessary to meet the goals, but also the location and method of delivery. A comprehensive speech-language service model may include a small amount of time in individual speech-language services, some group speech-language services, and speech-language programming embedded in the classroom setting, for example. 34 CFR   300.320(a)(7) requires that the frequency, duration, and location of each type of service offered be described in the IEP.

In this example, this means that the frequency, duration, and location of the individual speech-language services would have to be described separately from the frequency, duration, and location of the group service and the frequency, duration, and location of the embedded speech-language services. Even though they all address speech-language needs, each type of intervention is distinctly different from each other and, therefore, must be regarded as an individual service offering.

 

Parents should be leery of an offer in a situation like this where the IEP states something like:  “90 minutes per week speech-language services, individual/group/embedded programming.” This language fails to delineate the frequency, duration, and location of each aspect of the speech-language intervention, meaning that the delivery of the services is left entirely up to the discretion of school site staff.

 

The problem with this lack of specificity is that it is the nature of a government bureaucracy, which the public education system is, to default to whatever requires the least amount of effort on the part of the government workers. What is provided to a child becomes driven by how existing resources within the education agency have been allocated rather than the unique needs of the student. This is why federal law mandates that frequency, duration, and location be specified in the IEP in the first place; Congress had to have been aware of this aspect of bureaucracy when it crafted the Individuals with Disabilties Education Act (“IDEA”).

 

Yet another consideration is where the services will be rendered. Another point made in our posting, “Why Placement Isn’t Where You Start: Understanding the IEP Process, was that placement comes at the end of the line for a very logical reason. You have to know what you’re trying to accomplish before you can determine where you can accomplish it. That means you need to know what services need to be delivered.  Once you know what the services are, you can figure out what placement is the least restrictive environment in which the services can be rendered relative to the unique needs of the individual child.

 

In our example above, we described some individual speech-language, some group speech-language, and some embedded speech-language programming in the classroom setting. But, what classroom setting is appropriate and how much of the services are to be pushed into the classroom rather than provided in individual and group services? What is the relative value of being surrounded by typical peers and their age-appropriate language skills versus a special day class with speech-language programming built into the curriculum by default? Can embedded speech-language services be successfully pushed into a regular education setting with 1:1 aide supports or can the services be more successfully delivered in a special education class?Do the embedded speech-language services need to happen all day long or just part of the day?

 

You can see that making determinations regarding services require a lot of thought. An awful lot of variables have to be taken into consideration, not the least of which are the goals that the services are meant to accomplish. The tolerance levels of the child for various stress levels and sensory input have to be considered along with the LRE requirements. Special education students cannot be pulled out of the regular education setting unless there is absolutely no way to feasibly push the services they need into the regular education setting. 

 

Even in special education settings there is a continuum of placement that has to be made available with the least restrictive setting chosen relative to each child. This means that a blend of various settings may be necessary to offer the services in the LRE. For example, a child could receive some services pushed into the regular education setting for part of the day, other services in one special education setting for another part of the day, and yet another special education setting for the rest of the day.

 

Until the services are identified, placement decisions cannot be made, though it is perfectly fine to discuss services and placement at the same time so long as the team maintains proper perspective. Because they are so intertwined, it’s actually pretty hard to discuss services without also discussing placement.

 

The caution that has to be taken when discussing services and placement together is making sure the IEP team doesn’t limit services based on how resources have already been allocated within the education agency. When the team starts talking about the need for counseling services three times a week for a student and the school psychologist says, “But I’m only on this campus once per week,” you’ve got a problem to overcome. 

 

What goes into the IEP and what must be provided must be based on the needs of the child. If the way staff and resources have been allocated do not support what the student needs in order to meet his goals, the staffing and resource allocations have to change; the services offered to the child should never be short-changed on the basis of resource allocation issues.

 

This is not to discount the enormity of the responsibility of education agencies to deliver on these requirements. Education agencies that actually pull it off are accomplishing miracles on a daily basis and their teams of professionals are mostly unsung heroes that deserve at least as many accolades as the entertainment industry heaps upon itself through its various awards ceremonies.

 

Coordinating the services required by all of an education agencys special education students to be delivered in what represents the LRE for each individual child can seem to be the logistical equivalent to Santa delivering presents to every child on the planet in one night. This is why States’ education agencies are still on the hook for the provision of a Free and Appropriate Public Education (“FAPE”) to their constituent students and local education agencies should be hitting up their State education agencies for as much help as possible.

 

Our next posting will focus more specifically on placement. Please comment on today’s posting and let us know your thoughts.

Writing Measurable Annual Goals – Part 1

In our last posting, we talked about present levels of performance. If you haven’t read that yet, read it first before reading today’s posting because you have to understand present levels before you can understand goals. More to the point, you have to understand what a child’s present levels of performance are before you can start even thinking about writing goals.

As stated before, your present levels of performance are your stepping-off points. If an IEP were a race, your present levels would be the starting line and the annual goals would tell you where the finish line is. The annual goals of an IEP describe your desired outcomes- what it is the IEP team believes a child is capable of learning over the course of a year.

Goals are written every year but assessment is only required once every three years. This means that unless additional assessment is done in between triennial assessments, you’re only going to have fresh baseline data from standardized assessments once every three years. The other two years, you’re going to have to pull your present levels from informal assessments and the child’s progress towards the prior year’s IEP’s goals. I’m going to start out with the very beginning of the process, when a child gets an IEP for the first time and move forward from there.

Beginning with the initial assessment data, the IEP team has a fresh body of data to work with that, if the assessment was done properly, tells you pretty much everything that’s going on with a particular child. It will identify the child’s relative strengths and weaknesses, including the areas of deficit that need to be tackled by the IEP. The goals should tackle the areas of deficit for sure.

Some challenges a student faces may not warrant specialized instruction so much as they may simply require accommodation. For example, a child with a circadian rhythm disorder may receive as an accommodation an alternative schedule to the regular school day. That by itself has no bearing on the content of the child’s instruction. The curriculum doesn’t change on the basis of the child’s disrupted sleep/wake cycle. But,when instruction is provided is changed on that basis.

If the same child also happens to be severely autistic, then you’re looking at the content of the instructional component and not just when it’s being offered. Goals address what it is that you’re trying to teach the child. Accommodations help you get around obstacles that would otherwise interfere with pursuit of the goals.

For example, let’s say you have a 5th grade student with average to above-average intelligence who has an auditory processing disorder, a visual processing disorder, ADHD, and a physical anomaly of his hands – he’s missing the distal interphalangeal joints (top knuckles) of his index and middle fingers on both hands. Let’s say that this child also has a history of behavioral challenges in the classroom.

Comprehensive assessment reveals that the student has problems with visual tracking and saccadic eye movements This means that as he reads, his eyes do not smoothly jump from word to word. He has to visually re-orient every time he leaves one word and tries to fixate on the next. This also impacts his writing as he tracks what he’s trying to put down on paper.

However, his writing is further compounded by the physical anomaly of his hands. So, as he’s trying to watch his words go down on paper, his whole arm starts to hurt because he can’t do the fine finger manipulations necessary to achieve letter formation. He’s got to move his whole arm and upper body.

However, yet again, these combined processes are even further compounded by the fact that the child has an auditory processing disorder. Reading is an auditory process until the reader has memorized enough words on sight, thereby building a huge sight-word vocabulary. Children still learning to read or with relatively low reading skills will still have to think about how a relatively complex word sounds when they write it.

All of us do that to a point. We all can throw down “the” and “is” without any thought, but “sphygmomanometer” is another issue. Even after all these years following my 11th grade vocabulary class, I have to sound that one out.

So, imagine this child trying to receptively read the questions on a worksheet while his eyes are jumping everywhere but where he needs to look and process what the visual symbols sound like (which is an unnatural act in the first place) when he has a hard time processing sounds. It’s a gamble as to how much of what he read he’ll comprehend accurately.

Then have him write something about what he just read while trying to formulate his output based on the sounds of language in his head, which he has to translate into visual symbols that he writes backwards and upside-down because that’s how he saw them, while also trying to move his fingers, hand, wrist, and arm in a way that will produce legible handwriting.

Add in the distractibility, impulsivity, and inattentiveness inherent in ADHD, and then ask yourself why this child engages in behavioral outbursts every time he’s given a paper-pencil task. He’s attempting to avoid a tortuous experience. He’d rather get in trouble and get sent to the office than be put through that hell.

The goals you write for a child with needs like this are multifaceted. The problem a parent can face with a child with these kinds of needs is that you run up against a bias on the basis that he’s actually a pretty smart kid and?it may be?easier for the adults at school conclude that he’s just a poorly behaved little monster and nothing more. None of his multiple disabilities by themselves are all that severe. But, when you put them all together,?they create a recipe for disaster.

A child with these kinds of issues needs therapeutic intervention to address the underlying foundational skills that support academics. His goals need to include visual tracking, cross-Corpus Callosum communication of data presented through the auditory array, and exercises to build strength in his arm to withstand the additional work the arm has to do to support handwriting (taking into account that accommodations will also be provided to eliminate handwriting where it’s not necessary to the mastery of the curriculum). He also needs goals in reading, written expression, math (particularly for lining up problems properly so that calculations are accurate), keyboarding, organizational skills, self-advocacy, and behavior.

Because services are only provided to support IEP goals, it is imperative that all areas where services may be needed are discussed in terms of whether or not a student needs goals in those areas. If you’re thinking the student might need speech-language services, then you have to ask “What deficits does the child have in speech-language? What skills need to be taught in order to eliminate or reduce those deficits?” The answer to the second question gives you your material for your goals. If you can’t think of a skill in a particular domain that needs to be taught, then there isn’t a goal to propose. If there’s no goal to propose, there’s no service in that domain to provide.

Better yet, don’t go in thinking about what services a child needs. Figure out the goals first and then figure out what services are going to be necessary to see the goals met. That’s the proper format, anyway.

My point here is that not all goals are going to be rooted in academia and it’s not esoteric to write goals that tackle things like cross-Corpus Callosum communications. The brain is divided into two hemispheres?- the left and right. The two hemispheres are joined together by a neurological bridge of sorts called the Corpus Callosum. When both sides of the brain are involved in processing, the data between the two sides travels back and forth across the Corpus Callosum. This is also referred to as interhemispheric communications or interhemispheric processing.

If a child struggles with tasks that require cross-Corpus Callosum communications between the two hemispheres of the brain, as is often the case with auditory processing, then exercises that cause the brain to practice that kind of neurological activity are therapeutically warranted. This can include having the child bounce on a personal exercise-style trampoline while alternating between hands throwing balls up in the air and catching them. The child could also use a program such as Earobics, Fast Forword?, or Interactive Metronome.

But, if any programs are used, such as those mentioned above, goals need to be written describing what the desired outcome is for the use of each program. The goals will need to target the deficit areas for which the program is being provided based on the baselines that were measured during assessment.

Once you get a solid IEP written with sound, measurable goals, then it’s just a matter of providing the services that will see the goals met and collecting sufficient data along the way to measure how much progress the child is making. Once the year is up and it’s time to write a new IEP, the child’s present levels should be known in terms of the progress made towards the goals worked on for the last year. If you had a sufficient body of goals in all areas of unique educational need that were well-written and generated empirical data that tells you exactly where the child stands versus where he was a year ago, you’re in pretty good shape for writing the IEP for the year coming up.

If the child has made so much progress that it’s time to tackle a whole new skill set that’s the next level up from the goals he just finished, you may need to collect new baseline data in the area of the next skill set. When you’re scaffolding up from foundational skills such as letter-sound recognition, for example, to putting series of letters together to form sounds that are parts of words, you’re really jumping from one type of mental processing to another.

It is one thing to figure out the respective sounds made by “T” and “P” but it’s another thing to stick a vowel in there, string them all together, and come up with top, tip, and tap. Heaven help you when someone throws in an “S” or an “R” and you’ve got to do consonant blends like stop and trap. Because these next-level steps call upon the brain to do something more complex than what it did before, you’ve got to figure out exactly how well the brain can handle that kind of processing before embarking upon a goal so you know how much complexity is reasonable to expect at the end of a year’s worth of work.

Our next posting will actually focus on measurability, specifically. We already talked about this quite a bit when we covered Present Levels of Performance. In our next posting, though, we’ll focus on the formatting of properly written goals and share some resources with you for goal writing.


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