Thursday, April 2, 2009

Smiling on the Outside and Screaming on the Inside

As I mentioned yesterday, I had a meeting this morning with the school district's special education program regarding services for our DS, "Rusty". What an incredibly frustrating experience it was!

I knew going in that the district is financially strapped and was not going to want to pay for services if they could at all avoid it. The hospital speech therapist he's been seeing had warned me that he might not qualify at this point. So I was not surprised to hear that he did not meet the criteria for speech and language impairment as set forth in the CA Ed Code. It's a stringent standard- the child has to score below the 7th percentile for his/her chronological age on two or more standardized tests of speech & language development. While I believe that this is overly strict, nothing would be gained by arguing the point with the district special ed personnel. Their job is to follow state law, not to write it.

What frustrated me was not that the district determined that Rusty did not meet their eligibility criteria for special education, but that the evaluation revealed a significant discrepancy between where he is in terms of his language capabilities and where he really ought to be.

On the non-verbal portions of the IQ test, he scored well above average- and this was very likely an underestimate because he got bored partway through the block design subtest and decided in typical 3 year old fashion that he'd much rather stack the blocks than copy the design that the evaluator had made. At home, I've seen him copy complex tangram patterns that are designed for kids several years older than him.

On the verbal portions of the IQ test, however, he scored about 3/4 of a standard deviation below the mean. This is considered within the normal range, but to me it raised a big red flag. Typically, verbal IQ and non-verbal IQ differ by less than 2/3 of a standard deviation, and for Rusty's scores the difference was nearly two standard deviations (or more if he indeed underperformed on the block design subtest). DH, Miss Scarlet, and I all tested within the gifted range and normally there's a high correlation between parental/child IQ scores and also between siblings' IQ scores.

On the speech and language assessment, there were also wide discrepancies between the various subtests. Rusty scored above average for a subtest that was primarily a memory exercise (repeating complex sentences spoken by the evaluator). On most of the others, he was somewhat below average. And on a few, he was quite a bit below average.

It is so clear to me that Rusty does, in fact, have some sort of speech and language impairment. If he had low scores across the board and came from a family who also tended to score low, then there would not be much cause for concern. But he's got certain scores that are well above average and he comes from a very high-scoring family. I'm positive his high baseline is masking the disability, because it causes him to score within the normal range even with the impairment.

Fortunately, we do have insurance that provides coverage for speech therapy so we can continue getting Rusty the help he needs. But what if we didn't? Our therapist charges a whopping $1400/month for one session per week. There's no way we could afford that kind of expense if we were responsible for the full cost.


Barbara Frank said...

Having been through the special ed maze with my son, I sympathize with you. We paid for speech therapy for years (insurance wouldn't cover it) until we ran out of money. Sigh.

Anyway, the fact that your son appears to be highly intelligent reminded me of a book, Late Talking Children by Thomas Sowell, the same TS you mention in a previous post. We've used Dr. Sowell's economics book, and he is one of my favorite authors. I hope his books are helpful to you.

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

Hmmm. In the old days, we used the discrepancy model to diagnose LD, but rarely for any other problem.
In a legal case, Board v. Rowley, the SCOTUS determined that school districts are not required to educate children with disabilities to their potential of achievement, but only that the child recieve services that he or she could "benefit" from getting. Thus, benefit became defined narrowly, and so school districts often use this decision to deny support services (such as Speech/Language) to children who qualify as disabled.
It is, as you pointed out, a money game. And IDEA is an unfunded mandate.

My sympathies. We have been through the exact same run-around with the Boychick. It was so frustrating that we took him out of public school.