Posts tagged ‘Special education’

November 14, 2013

Special education laws are generous but schools are stingy

by Grace

From a parent’s perspective, the problem with special education in our public schools could be summed up in these quotes by Penelope Trunk.

The laws protecting kids with special needs are very generous in U.S. public schools, but the schools are very good at not enforcing the laws.

And …

It’s cheaper for the school district to fight one or two parents in court than it is to give in on all the services. 

Penelope Trunk is a controversial entrepreneur and blogger with an unusual perspective on life.  It’s almost always the case that I either passionately agree or vehemently disagree with her views.  She homeschools her children and believes that is the right path for all parents.

The first quote comes from an interview by homeschooler Heather Sanders.

1. What was the deciding factor(s) that led you to homeschool your boys? Did your boys want to come home to school then? Do they now?

My oldest son has Aspergers. The laws protecting kids with special needs are very generous in U.S. public schools, but the schools are very good at not enforcing the laws. He went to four schools in New York and Wisconsin and I had to hire lawyers for each school in order to get the school to comply with the law. I got sick of fighting. I realized schools don’t want to comply with the law because it’s way too expensive for them and you have to either ignore that or take things into your own hands.

My youngest son taught himself to read at age three. I asked the school to test him at the beginning of first grade. He tested in math and reading at the end of third grade. I asked them what they would do to accommodate him and they said that legally they didn’t need to do anything.

They are, in fact, right.

The second quote is from a post that Trunk wrote last year: Special needs kids should be homeschooled.

Giving your child what is legally mandated is too expensive for your child’s school.

And here’s the bottom line: It’s cheaper for the school district to fight one or two parents in court than it is to give in on all the services. Unless there is a huge number of parents who will take the school to court, court is cheaper than giving kids what they are due. (It’s no coincidence that places with great services have very wealthy parents who can hire lawyers: NYC; Newton, MA; Bellevue, WA.)

And I can’t really blame the schools. The people who make the laws about what schools need to provide are not the people who have to balance the school budget.

And, if you’re reading this blog you are probably thinking that no kids receive an appropriate—this is the legal term—education in public school, so why should special needs kids get all the money? It’s a decent question.

One that I couldn’t answer.

I’ve had my own minor battles with special education bureaucrats.  I’ve known parents whose children have attended fabulously expensive private schools after they hired lawyers to fight for services.  I’ve also known parents who decided to give up the fight and whose children ended up receiving mediocre special education services.  Penelope Trunk is spot on with this commentary.

Related:  ‘co-teaching seldom raises student achievement’ (Cost of College)

May 29, 2013

Quick Links – The ‘science’ of psychiatry

by Grace

Up to 20% of American children suffer from mental disorders, but the accuracy of reporting is questionable.

Scientists at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 13% to 20% of American children age 3 to 17 experience mental disorders each year, and that rates have been increasing.

A ‘hodgepodge’ of counting methods

The study also showed there are no standard ways of counting afflictions, but a hodgepodge including parental reports or reports directly from children. Some disorders, such as bipolar disease and anxiety disorders, weren’t included in the overall rates for lack of data. The disorders that were included span a wide range, including hyperactivity and severe autism.

Statistical experts are skeptical of the reported numbers.  Data collection is inconsistent, with random phone surveys of parents yielding higher results than other methods.  Families with health insurance report higher rates, and regional differences raise suspicion about different approaches in diagnosis.  Double counting children with multiple disorders leads to inflated rates.


French children have much lower rates of diagnosed ADHD.

In the United States, at least 9% of school-aged children have been diagnosed with ADHD, and are taking pharmaceutical medications. In France, the percentage of kids diagnosed and medicated for ADHD is less than .5%. How come the epidemic of ADHD—which has become firmly established in the United States—has almost completely passed over children in France?

Different approaches to diagnosis and treatment

 In the United States, child psychiatrists consider ADHD to be a biological disorder with biological causes. The preferred treatment is also biological–psycho stimulant medications such as Ritalin and Adderall….

French child psychiatrists, on the other hand, view ADHD as a medical condition that has psycho-social and situational causes. Instead of treating children’s focusing and behavioral problems withdrugs, French doctors prefer . . . to treat the underlying social context problem with psychotherapy or family counseling…

Different parenting styles

And then, of course, there are the vastly different philosophies of child-rearing in the United States and France. These divergent philosophies could account for why French children are generally better-behaved than their American counterparts….

From the time their children are born, French parents provide them with a firm cadre—the word means “frame” or “structure.” Children are not allowed, for example, to snack whenever they want. …

… French parents have a different philosophy of discipline. Consistently enforced limits, in the French view, make children feel safe and secure. Clear limits, they believe, actually make a child feel happier and safer … French parents believe that hearing the word “no” rescues children from the “tyranny of their own desires.” And spanking, when used judiciously, is not considered child abuse in France.


Psychiatry:  diagnosis is not scientific, but political and bureaucratic

In an interview with The Atlantic, Gary Greenberg, a practicing psychotherapist and author of The Book of Woe: The Making of the DSM-5 and the Unmaking of Psychiatrysays no one can define “mental illness”.

What is the difference between a disorder and distress that is a normal occurrence in our lives?

That distinction is made by a clinician, whether it’s a family doctor or a psychiatrist or whoever. But nobody knows exactly how to make that determination. There are no established thresholds. Even if you could imagine how that would work, it would have to be a subjective analysis of the extent to which the person’s functioning is impaired. How are you going to measure that? Doctors are supposed to measure “clinical significance.” What’s that? For many people, the fact that someone shows up in their office is clinical significance. I’m not going to say that’s wrong, but it’s not scientific. And there’s a conflict of interest — if I don’t determine clinical significance, I don’t get paid.

Is a child autistic or just awkward?  Special education services and insurance coverage are controlled by committee decisions on what is to be included in the DSM.

… You can’t just ask for special services for a student who is awkward. You have to get special services for a student with autism. In court, mental illnesses come from the DSM. If you want insurance to pay for your therapy, you have to be diagnosed with a mental illness….

Homosexuality was declassified as a DSM disorder in 1973.  And I’m sure I’m not the only one who has considered that Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), characterized by “negativistic, defiant, disobedient, and hostile behavior toward authority figures that persist for at least six months“, is a particularly arbitrary disorder.

February 13, 2012

Don’t miss out on tax breaks for special education

by Grace

Parents should make sure they are taking advantage of all tax breaks for their special needs children.  Many conditions covered by IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), including autism and learning disabilities, qualify for special treatment.

There are numerous tax breaks for education, but the most important one for many special-needs students isn’t an education break per se. Instead, it falls under the medical-expense category….

In fact, tax rules allow medical deductions for “diagnosis, cure, mitigation, or treatment…primarily to alleviate or prevent a physical or mental defect or illness” (IRS publication 502).

Examples of what is covered:

That can include the cost of a school or program if prescribed by a licensed health-care professional. It might even cover costs for a special two-year college certificate program for students with severe learning disabilities, such as the Reach program run by the University of Iowa, which costs as much as $40,000 a year.

The deduction also can be used for additional therapies. Regina Levy, a Los Angeles CPA with two special-needs children, offers a partial list: occupational therapy, music therapy, dance therapy, physical therapy, social-skills groups and “hippotherapy” (horseback riding), among others.

Travel to therapy, food and lodging at a specialized school, and even the cost of parents attending some conferences may be deductible.

Costs for college students are included.

Joseph Nagy, a CPA in Port Jefferson, N.Y., says he helped one family with a college-age son with severe attention deficit disorder maximize their deductions for 2008. The student couldn’t live in a dorm, so the family bought a small house near the school.

The Internal Revenue Service allowed a $5,000 medical deduction to alter the house to his needs, and another $9,000 deduction equal to what room and board would have been, on the grounds that living off-campus was a medical necessity, Mr. Nagy says. (His tuition wasn’t deductible as a medical expense because it wasn’t a specialized program, though the family did take an education tax credit.)

IRS Publication 502 (Medical and Dental Expenses) gives details, and a tax advisor should be consulted for complicated cases.  Keep in mind that medical expenses are deductible only if they exceed 7.5% of AGI or 10% if taxpayers qualify for the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT). [UPDATED]

Special Tax Deductions for Special Education, @SJ 11/12/11

August 30, 2011

‘co-teaching seldom raises student achievement’

by Grace

Few ideas have captured the imagination of special educators more than co-teaching, the practice of teaming a special education teacher with a general education teacher in a regular classroom for students with and without an IEP. The hope is that the general education teacher provides content expertise and the special educator provides modifications and accommodations to students with special needs (and perhaps all the children in the class).

Proponents of co-teaching extol it as ― the best of both worlds, because it ―brings children together rather than separates them and finally knocks down the walls between general education and special education.

Unfortunately, co-teaching is like dieting. Lots of people want to lose weight and look good in a bathing suit, but actually doing so is hard. National research indicates that co-teaching seldom raises student achievement.

I’ve not been impressed with the results when I’ve seen co-teaching up close.  It seems that the resources being used could be channeled into more efficient methods.  Teachers typically have very little say in any decisions to use co-teaching.

Something Has Got to Change:  Rethinking Special Education

Recent cutbacks at the nearby Mount Vernon school district

The layoffs mean that the district will have fewer classrooms staffed by two teachers.

Under the new approach, special-education teachers will only come into the classrooms that have a mix of nondisabled and special-education students for part of the day.

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