Special Education/Reading intervention


QUESTION: Hello. I have a 12-year-old son with autism who just started middle school this year. At an ARD meeting last spring, we requested that a reading intervention specialist provide some consultation with our son's teacher to determine if the specified reading program was meeting all of his needs. Now, the district is telling me that it was merely discussed as a possibility and an Instructional Design Facilitator will be providing the consult. My question is whether or not an Instructional Design Facilitator would have the same expertise as a reading specialist.

Also, we just finished our third week of school, and the school does not yet have the specified program (SRA). The teacher has been using a different program (Reading Milestones) until the school acquires SRA. This doesn't seem acceptable. Shouldn't they have obtained the program prior to the beginning of the school year, and is there any recourse we can take?

I also strongly suspect that my son has dyslexia. Because of his language delay, I've been told it would be difficult or impossible to assess, but as long as he's making reading progress, we should know that he's receiving the appropriate instruction. However, I don't believe he's been making adequate progress. The progress is very slow, and for many years I have felt there is something in addition to the autism that is causing him difficulty with reading. (Some examples: he has been reading sight words and matching them to pictures/items since age 3. Decoding has always been a struggle. At age 8, he could easily read words on flash cards but had a hard time reading text in a book. If I gave him index cards with one word per card, he could read them and hen arrange them into a sentence. I don't know how this fits in, but he's a better speller than he is a reader.)

Sorry this is so long. i find myself so frustrated!

Thanks for your help.

- Michelle

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ANSWER: Hi Michelle and thanks so much for not only using this site but for reaching out to me.  This is a very important question and, unfortunately, one that is experienced by many parents.  

You told me the IEP team last spring discussed reading intervention, specifically Corrective Reading SRA, and discussed providing a consultation for the teacher by a reading specialist.  Now that the school year has started, not only is SRA not in place or in the school, but the school system is now telling you that it did not promise to provide a certain specialist to monitor progress, now it is someone different.  You do not feel your son is making adequate progress and you believe he may have dyslexia or a learning disability in addition to Autism and language delays.  

Did I get the problem correct?  If not, please follow up with me with another question.

OK, let's get started on some of my thoughts.  First of all, let me show you here at this link the What Works Clearinghouse.  It is a Dept of Education compilation of the reading interventions and research to support them.  You will note Reading Milestones is not listed, and you will see Corrective Reading is listed.  


On the left hand side, check "literacy" and you will see a chart come up with all the different reading programs that have been proven to be effective.  Reading Milestones was originally designed for kids who are deaf and hard of hearing, so there is some evidence out there for that population.  

But knowing the research about different reading programs is only part of this whole picture.  We should research reading programs and determine which one is appropriate after a complete evaluation.  This evaluation should address all areas of reading that have been determined by research and the National Reading Panel findings to be effective.  

Here is a link to those areas and the explanation:

You can see the summary report from 2000.  While there are a few updates, the major areas of reading:  Phonics (spelling), phonemic awareness, vocabulary, fluency and comprehension should all be addressed in the comprehensive reading evaluation that should be done for your son.  

When the school system asks you 'what do you base your request on?', you should be able to show them evidence about what your son needs.  If the public school system won't or can't do this type of evaluation, you will need to get it done privately and submit it to the team.  

I doubt there is such a comprehensive evaluation in place because I think your question would be different if there were.  You would have said that your son's evaluation shows he needs the corrective reading program and the school refuses to implement it.  Instead, as is usually the case, you know your son and his needs and you made a request that the team seemed to agree with.  To your surprise now, the team is saying that it was just a discussion about ideas and there were no promises made.  Further, you are telling me that the school is challenging whether your son even needs what was discussed.  In my experience, the school can and may even tell you that your son doesn't need any program at all because if he is read to as an accommodation, he can access his curriculum and make progress.  

So here is my next important question.  Did the discussion of the team get documented in writing and did the decisions such as the consult with the reading specialist get written into the IEP?

I would guess that the answer is 'no' to both questions.  When a parent makes a request at the IEP meeting, and the school district declines that request, the school must give you written notice why your request was rejected, what reports were relied upon to reject your request.  

Here is a sample form for Prior Written Notice that shows the requirements of the notice you should have received:

If the school did not give you the proper notice, you can use this if you have to dispute with the school about the reading program.  But it is not as important as the first two points I have made, to reiterate:
1.  Your son needs a comprehensive reading test that digs deeply into the areas of reading that the National Reading Panel have identified as critical for reading instruction.  These and classroom performance scores will form the baseline against what progress is made.  The same instruments should be repeated at an appropriate time so that your son's growth can be actually measured.
2.  Anything discussed and agreed to by the IEP team should always be written.  It is most appropriate for the decisions to be written into the IEP but addenda, minutes or other documents 'count' as documentation of the team's decision.

I don't know if Corrective Reading or Reading Milestones are good programs for your son.  I have a unique service called an IEP audit, though, which will reveal deficiencies in the IEP, in the current evaluations, and it can show you what specific steps need to be taken to reach your goals. If you are interested, email me at abc4success@msn.com.

Also, I am now enclosing some information on Response to Intervention, a team problem solving process involving parents where these ideas are in process:  
Providing interventions with fidelity
Providing written documentation of baseline data and written plans for review of progress
Progress monitoring with data, including data how the child is using the skills in the curriculum
Parent participation and documentation of decisions
Clarity and transparency


As you can see, you should not be kept in the dark about these decisions or your son's progress.  

At the same time, when a parent pushes for an intervention and the school district refuses to provide that intervention, for whatever reason, there can be difficult dynamics between the school and parent.  Information tends not to flow to the parent easily and the trust between parent and school can deteriorate.  Many times, parents need experts like me to help them navigate the situation, get the appropriate evidence to show what the child needs, and navigate their rights and the child's rights, and the school's obligations.  

On a related note, there is often a difference of opinion or outright disagreement about how much progress a child should be making to receive a free appropriate public education.  That is why evaluations sometimes have to be done in other areas, even if reading is the main issue.  Cognitive, language, and processing skills may have to be measured and assessed, especially if you suspect a different or additional disability such as dyslexia/specific  learning disability.  When this is suspected, by definition, the team has to employ Response to Intervention to determine whether interventions are working in the process of determining dyslexia.  


I'm giving you two links because the NICHCY is closing at the end of the month and I am not clear if all their web based information will be removed then.  

OK, I think I have given you a lot to read and consider so I am going to wrap it up.  I hope that I have provided you with some guidance and information that will help you as you continue to advocate for your son.  I certainly wish you all the best as you advocate and encourage you to follow up with me if you need any clarification.  

I'd like it if you'd consider following me on Twitter @abc4success or connect with me on LinkedIn.  

My site www.abc4lifesuccess.com

My blog

My email abc4success@msn.com

And, I feel you can benefit from picking up my Special Needs Advocacy Resource Book:  What you can do now to advocate for your exceptional child's education.  It has lots more detail on the issues I've raised here.  


Good advocacy to you!  Thanks again for writing!

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Thank you. That is a lot of information to digest. I will reread to make sure I understand everything.

When I request a comprehensive reading test, should I specify which assessments? How do I know if what they have done is comprehensive? Assuming they cover all of the components identified as critical by the National Reading Panel, i would think it's been a thorough evaluation. Because of my son's language delay, I've had a difficult time finding someone outside of the district who will perform an assessment.

You said that if a parent makes a request in an ARD meeting and the district denies this request, they must provide written notice as to why they will not provide the service. Is the same true of a written request made by a parent if it is not made during an ARD meeting?

The minutes from the ARD did note that we discussed having consult by a reading specialist. Unfortunately, it is stated that consult by a reading specialist is "a possibility." I know that they did agree to it at the time, because I've been requesting this for years and I was thrilled that this time they finally agreed. There is one district team member, our in-home trainer/BCaBA, who has raised the same concerns to the team as I have and has also mentioned to this year's teacher that there  is supposed to be consult provided by a reading specialist. It makes me feel betrayed that we could have that discussion in an ARD meeting and they can now deny it because of the wording of the minutes.

Thank you for all of your suggestions.

- Michelle

Hello, Michelle and thanks for the follow up question.  The type of evaluation and the tools that are used will partly depend on the purpose of the evaluation.  For example, if you only want to see where your child is performing in the area of reading (all areas I listed), then an achievement testing in the area of reading is appropriate.  However, if you want the evaluation to determine also whether your child has a specific learning disability in addition to the Autism, then the evaluations may need to be done by a multidisciplinary team such as a psychologist and educator and speech language pathologist.  

A learning disability/dyslexia is characterized by processing problems that affect reading and literacy skills.  Almost by definition, kids with Autism have processing deficits.  So it may or may not be needed to go through an entire psychological evaluation.  But, the cognitive skills and language skills of a child can be important when determining if the goals that have been set out are attainable.  After all, the IEP should reflect reading goals in every area of need in reading, and therefore there would logically be services related to that.  The trickier part comes in when identifying and insisting on one intervention method over another.  While the IEP does not have to name methodology and it's widely understood that brand names are usually not listed in the IEP, the goals and the services can drive forward particular evidence based methods, or methodology.  In addition, No Child Left Behind and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act call for the use of evidence based methods.  This is because there is a history for people with disabilities not being provided scientifically proven methods.  At any rate, you felt that the IEP team was agreeing to something that it is now saying it did not agree to.  This is why it is so very important to review how the meeting minutes are taken and correct them immediately after the meeting in writing, if there are errors.  

Now, if you and the teacher have a discussion in the hallway, some would say that the contents of that discussion would require a prior written notice to you.  It's more common that the district decisions are made in an IEP/ARD meeting, so I think you could argue you have a right to prior written notice whenever any school district representative refuses or agrees to implement something or do something.  But to cover yourself, I would say that you should document everything and be explicit that you expect prior written notice on a certain issue.  For example, at the parent teacher conference, the teacher says that your son needs Corrective Reading.  You go home and write a letter to the teacher reflecting the discussion, agreeing with her assessment, and making a more official request that the IEP reflect the goals needed for this method.  The school district would likely respond yes or no to that kind of letter and then you would likely get prior written notice.  It's not always black and white but anytime you feel you should have notice, you should ask for it.  

The in home BCBA/trainer could provide data for you.  Given that SRA corrective reading is a choral response with a fast tempo, requiring a child to respond after a tap of a pencil on the desk or snap, for example, the BCBA could document how well your child does with this type of instruction, if that is the case.  I am only trying to give you an example how the more documentation from multiple sources you have, the better.  I mean, if one person recommends something, ok.  But if two or three professionals recommend the same thing, then it's usually needed for FAPE, or at least you have stronger evidence that's the case.  

In the future, if the district finally agrees to something you've been requesting, you may either want to tape the meeting or write a follow up saying your understanding.  If corrective reading were going to be implemented, given that it's a daily program, there should have been a whole discussion about it, the training by staff, and where to fit in your son's schedule, etc.  If the district does not document that, then you can.  

I think you should steer clear of anyone in private practice who cannot evaluate your son simply due to a language deficit.  I test children with Autism all the time in reading skills and there are ways to determine any child's present levels of achievement, including children with Autism and language delays.  

Now for your first question.  Should you specify the tests that should be used for the evaluation?  Well, I guess that depends on your expertise in this area.  There are so many tools, even my graduate level students may have a hard time with that.  I suppose a rare parent would have the expertise, but in general, here would be the process:
-The team meets, you request an evaluation, and the team agrees
-The diagnostic questions are generated such as, 'what is the child's current functioning in all areas of phonemic awareness?  (see http://www.reading-skills-pyramid.org/reading-phonemic.htm#, comprehension ,etc?
-You are provided with information that allows you to consent to the evaluation or not.  This includes the who, what, when, where and why of testing.  This is called your informed consent.
-You consent, and the professionals in the district who do the testing select the tools they are going to use.  

If parents have the ability, I would recommend you engage an expert for these meetings ,so that your expert can oversee and participate in the team's discussion.  This way, the evaluation is more likely to meet your son's needs and your expectations.  

If the district does not do the evaluations properly, you can request an independent evaluation at public expense.  But be aware, the school can ask for a hearing to request that a judge uphold the district evaluation, so it's very important if parents do this , they are ready to prove that the district evaluation is not appropriate.  This usually means an expert needs to be involved in this process also.  

I am thinking you should hire someone like me or a reading/literacy specialist if you can.  This way, you are not left alone vs. the entire expertise of the whole IEP/ARD team.  If that is not feasible, it would be important for you to be sure that the team is providing you with:  how progress is measured, how often, what data to expect, how they selected the Reading Milestones program and what evidence #scientific studies) exist that shows it should be effective for your son, and what goals are set out for your son to achieve, and by when.  

I'm sorry you feel betrayed by the team.  But remember that effective advocacy and parent school partnerships may not always mean complete agreement.  It's just important that when there is disagreement, you know your rights and your son's rights and you are empowered to do what's necessary for his education.  

I truly hope this follow up answer helps you and guides you on your journey of advocacy.  Don't hesitate to reach out to me in any way/option I provided in my first answer.  

I wish you all the best and thank you for a great follow up question!  

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Michelle R. Davis, M. Ed.


I can answer questions about disability definitions and criteria for services, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act 2004, No Child Left Behind, 504 plans, how to craft an IEP that drives the appropriate services, school placement, dispute options, and least restrictive environment. I worked in the public school system as a special educator and am now in private consulting practice where we assist parents as they navigate the special education process. I have expertise in all educational disabilities except blind/visual impairments and deaf/hard of hearing. This includes ADHD and other health impairments, medical conditions, dyslexia and learning disabilities, Autism, emotional disabilities, language processing problems, and interfering behaviors.


10 years as special educator and administrator in public school system; Director of ABCs for Life Success since 1998; Expert services such as analysis and testimony; Author: Special Needs Advocacy Resource Book: What you can do now to advocate for your exceptional child's education; Special Needs Advocacy Training Institute; internet radio show Teach Your Children Well: Hot Topics in Education; author School Success for Kids with Emotional and Behavioral Disorders released March 2010 (Prufrock Press).

Masters in Special Education with Emphasis on Inclusive Education (Johns Hopkins University); B.S.in Special Education (James Madison University); Conduct training for Universities, public and private schools, parent groups. Adjunct professor current George Washington University and prior George Mason University.

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