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Special Education/Special education options


We adopted our five-year-old daughter at 15 months old.  We see a psychiatrist twice a year and she has been diagnosed with reactive attachment disorder.  She cannot relate to people to people in a socially appropriate way.  As a small child everyone thought her extreme friendliness (hugging, telling everyone she loved them) was cute.  As she gets older, it makes some people uncomfortable and she gets a variety of responses from children ranging from fear to disgust.  As the psychiatrist has noted she always wants to be in control, so we knew that school was going to be a difficulty.  We put her in preschool two days a week for three hours each day for three months to see what would happen before deciding on a kindergarten plan.  She did better than expected, so we enrolled her in a private half-day kindergarten.

She has only been to class six days, but we already see problems with both her behavior and the teacher's ability to interpret and deal with her not participating like the other children do.  (We did discuss this at length with the school and teacher prior to enrolling her, but reactive attachment disorder is not well understood and most people meet our daughter and assume we are just too lax in our parenting and don't understand what she needs.#

We wanted to use this shorter school day to get a real feeling for whether or not she can learn in a "traditional" setting and whether or not she is benefiting from socialization with other children.  She is very bright and already knows most of what the school expects her to know at the end of the year.  However, she does not participate well in class because she doesn't sit still for long and if she isn't interested in it, she won't do it.  We are not getting good feedback from the school because they have low enrollment in her class and are interested in keeping all of the students and, like so many others, they are reluctant to tell me the whole story of what is happening.#My daughter has an amazing memory and frequently acts out word-for-word different scenarios from school.#

My question is what options should we pursue at this point?  Should we leave her there and try again to discuss some suggestions with the teacher?  Should we opt for a private tutor and investigate other non-school avenues of socialization?  Should we wait until 1st grade and try another school?  Public school isn't really an option because our school district is very small and not well-versed in unusual situations like this.

My concerns are giving up too soon versus subjecting her to other children's ridicule over her behavior.  Also, she does not want to go each day, but doesn't really articulate why and I'm afraid of her escalating the bad behavior in an attempt to not have to go.  The psychiatrist hasn't had any good suggestions and is actually asking us to report on her progress for his own information.  #Most of his similar patients are on medication or involved in group-home type situations.#

Thank you.

Dear Karri,
Thanks so much for taking the time to use this site and to reach out to me regarding the concerns you have for your dqughter. It's helpful for you to provide me with details about your question.  You would like to know your options for your 5 year old daughter who you adopted at age 15 months and who, despite being bright and academically capable, has been diagnosed with reactive attachment disorder and is experiencing  difficulty at her private half day preschool. You would like to know your special education options.

Since your daughter was successful in a classroom setting, this is good news for what's possible.  I would observe in the classroom and see how the environment, teaching, and 'behavior' methods and interventions are being delivered.  Also, I would recommend a functional behavior assessment, which is not a test, but a group problem solving activity that puts into place positive supports and interventions, and ongoingly works with you parents to tweak and revise as needed.  But that would require a teacher with skills to do so.  My first suggestion, therefore, is to get an expert like myself, an occupational therapist with specialty in sensory integration or other trusted professional to go into the classroom and see what's going on, to make suggestions and recommendations.  

If you would like to check out my book, School Success for Kids with Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, it will take you step by step in this process.  It's full of proven strategies for the school, classroom and for individual children . You are so right to say that the teacher  and staff perspective on your daughter's behaviors will have a big impact on how the school intervenes and works with you.  

You can also see if there are school programs that specialize more in working with children with special needs, on your own, at your expense.  There are usually independent and other school options with a variety of configurations for small children whose framework and orientation may be more supportive.

In terms of special education ,the local school district is the body responsible for providing the special education and related services.  The private schools may be responsible for providing accommodation and other services, if the school receives federal funding and there is documentation of disability.  So I will discuss each briefly.

If you make a referral to the local public school district, usually in the Private and Parochial School Office, the school district can either develop a 504 plan, an Individualized Education Plan, or a Services Plan.  The services plan can provide services to a child who is enrolled in a private school.  The IEP or 504 Plan would usually be implemented if you enrolled your daughter in the public school.  This can be quite a complex topic so you can let me know if you want more information.  

My book, Special Needs Advocacy Resource Book, will give you sample referral letters and discuss the evaluations needed to develop a great plan, which is legally binding.

I agree with your concern whether to leave your daughter in a negative situation or whether to keep trying various things.  That's too hard for me to answer without additional information.  But you can engage me in doing a review of records, interviews with you and teaching staff, and other professionals, to help you make that decision.  I am available to consult long distance and have the ability to travel as needed for observation, or do observations in schools via video, as allowed.  Overall, there is a reality that the school may not have the basics for supporting her.  Or, it may have the basic skills and attitude but just not know what to do.  I think you will probably need help figuring out which is the case, but it will take having more of a first hand perspective on the culture of the classroom and how your daughter is reacting to it.  

I want to be sure to answer your questions, so let me check in and see how I'm doing there.  Here are your questions and some of my ideas about them.
My question is what options should we pursue at this point?  
All options should be pursued, I think.  I would make a referral to the local school district to get any help while your daughter attends private school.  Again, this would be under a services plan.  If you would like to provide me with the name of the district, I can help guide you how to do this.  You may want to copy the sample referral letter in my Special Needs Advocacy Resource Book to get the timeline going and the ball rolling.  I would also explore other programs in your area, as a back up.  Homeschooling is a very personal decision, and I would only explore it if your family structure can thrive doing that.  

Should we leave her there and try again to discuss some suggestions with the teacher?  
I don't know, without more information.  It's hard for me to tell how bad the situation is for your daughter. I am available to help you explore this question more.  Or, if you can, engage a professional to help you interface with the school so that you can concentrate on being mom and your professional can engage you and the school for interventions.  Sometimes, it's a matter of a simple set of interventions, depending on the nature of your daughter's difficulties.  Either way, progress monitoring and focus on positive, not punitive or negative interventions is very key.

Should we opt for a private tutor and investigate other non-school avenues of socialization?
I would say exploring any options now will help you feel empowered and will help plan for a possible situation in the future when you are clear you need an option.  Some of the families we've worked with get to a point where the child must be removed from the private school for a variety of reasons.  Removing a child with RAD from a school setting can be either beneficial or detrimental.

Should we wait until 1st grade and try another school?  See above, as I would want to have more information to give you a responsible opinion.

OK, now I am going to give you my best advice.  Be sure that there are evaluations which demonstrate your daughter's strengths, needs, and make specific recommendations for all of your questions.  Typically, you can expect psychological, academic, sensory motor and language evaluations to be valuable.  Be sure that the examiners either observe at school or interview/get ratings from school.  Of course, positive behavior supports and interventions should be being done now while that evaluation process is occurring.  And don't forget about a functional behavior assessment.  It's just that many private schools are not going to know how to do that process, so I'm thinking you will need to get someone like me to assist.  

I truly hope that my responses have given you the answers you are seeking.  I know how challenging these decisions are and wish you all the best as you advocate for your little girl!  Thanks again for writing!  

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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); 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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