You are here:

Special Education/how to help a child with disabilities


My daughter is going into 3rd grade.  She is very bright. She actually is well past grade level math but they make her do it and do nothing for enrichment.  They have no enrichment program and say if sheís getting high grades, she is at grade level.  I definitely think boredom is a huge problem. The other constellation of problems is OCD and ADHD. I think they think she has ODD but itís really OCD.  She needs to move. They said theyíd do movement breaks but they use them as a reward for her doing work. So she doesnít get to move much.  She really has trouble staying seated but she just wants to stand, not be disruptive.  She has a lot of OCDís. We have made progress at home but we feel the school is setting us back because of the WAY they implement CBT. They donít understand that compassion is needed and make demands for exposure brutishly.  We canít afford a therapist. Trust me, NO ONE affordable takes insurance. Itís ALL private. It runs about $150=$200 an hour. And thatís AFTER a consult. We cannot do it. We already paid one person $300 to do an intake and they did absolutely nothing other than the intake! It was horrible.  Someone else told us they could get our insurance to do single case payer but they couldnít, another $200 out the window. No one ever offered any advice. We had to do our own research and practice. Itís gone well at home but we canít make the school into OCD and ADHD fixers.  Our daughter was in a self contained class in 1st grade and it went so poorly that they switched her. Itís bad now but it was dramatically worse there. My daughter wouldnít get on the bus. She learned nothing. She developed new and hardcore OCD behaviors because the environment in the contained class was MORE stressful. She craves stimulation and that was a very low stimulation environment.  Her disabilities are becoming a problem but the thing is the school CANNOT manage it better in a self contained class, they can just get rid of her. There are no appropriate private schools, we have looked into this. We do not know what to do.  Sheís getting close to school refusal again.  We are afraid the school will suggest self contained. Theyíve hinted, saying their self contained class of THREE combined grades is now better than the older one, we cannot see how!  We sadly know one kid in that class and he is really academically behind. They just mix everyone together with different problems.  My daughter hated it and would actually be the ONLY GIRL. We would never do this but do not know how to build a case. Seems district lawyers ALWAYS side with districts. Any advice so appreciated! My daughter is a loving little girl and smart and she can function with accommodations but doesnít get them at school in the WAY she needs them, itís all on paper and in theory.  They donít let me observe for more than 5 minutes two times a year so how can I be of help? Also, our daughter is still behind in language because of a combo SPLD and the fact that she is bilingual.  Itís not easy for her to express what she is feeling with the OCD all the time.

Dear Jenny,

First let me thank you for writing to me and using this service!  Your daughter certainly seems to have a complexity of strengths and needs.  While I appreciate the struggles to obtain private services, the complexity of her disability likely requires school based services in an authentic setting, since she is so young and unlikely to be able to use or generalize any strategies in private therapy unless the school is also involved in her multi modal interventions.

The difficult thing is that in New York, parent consent is not needed for the school to change your child's IEP and place her in the special education program.  So it appears that the school needs to implement evidence based methods to allow her to progress in the general education curriculum and setting.

You have raised many issues in this question and while I am not sure I will be able to answer all of the issues, since I don't have full information such as evaluations, I will try to point you in the right direction.

First off, I would recommend that you take a careful look at all of your daughter's evaluation reports. Is there a current and comprehensive: psychological evaluation, educational evaluation, occupational therapy evaluation (for sensory processing), speech and language evaluation, and functional behavior assessment?  Does she have an appropriate behavior intervention plan, which becomes a part of the IEP?

If you feel sensory strategies such as movement breaks are needed, but they are only being given as a reward, the Occupational Therapist as part of the team and behavior specialist should be able to collect data using the breaks in different ways, to see how she is responding to those interventions.  An accommodation for different seating, T stools, bean bags, cushion on the seat, or standing should not be an issue in the elementary level.  I don't get a sense of the behaviors that are interfering from your question, but I am happy to answer a follow up question. A child should not be removed from the general education setting just because she has difficulty staying seated.  

These evaluations should be updated as needed, to drive forward the interventions and accommodations she needs.  It is likely that you will want to involve specialists from outside the school and be sure that the psychologist associated with your team is proficient in all of these specialty issues.  

The IEP needs to spell out the way she needs the accommodations.  If they are too vague, then work with the team to specify what your child needs and how she needs it.  But, be aware that the team may not just take your word for it, in terms of things that work at home since home and school are such different settings.

Maybe she needs an aide with training, to support her success in the general education setting. Or maybe she needs psychological services on the IEP, or parent counseling and training, so you can get support to help implement the IEP.  

It is a big problem that the school will not allow you to observe.  Why is this? Is it because your daughter does not act typically when you are there?  I would advise you to get in writing the 'policy' or whatever the school is relying on to deny you access.  If the education setting is disrupted when you observe, that is the only reason I know of that the school can deny access to the parent.  Otherwise, you may need to get others to observe but that is a very valuable action item that warrants attention.  Sometimes, the stronger advocating parents are denied access for other reasons, when other parents are allowed to observe, which is a discriminatory practice.  

Of course the district lawyers are going to side with the district, but why are the district lawyers involved if you are not represented?  If you already know what needs to be changed in the IEP, you may want to try a mediation or facilitated IEP meeting to get a third party involved in the meetings, or to dispute the changes the school refuses to make.

Any teacher should provide differentiated instruction whether it is a special or general educator, so if the district is advising that the 'new and improved' self contained class is appropriate, then you should be allowed to observe it.  While I agree that mixed grade special education classrooms can make it difficult or impossible for the teacher to successfully deliver curriculum and include students in general education, you want to have a first hand view of the classroom setting that they may have in mind.  

If the school changes her placement over your objections, then you will need to obtain legal assistance and may help you find an attorney or advocate who will consult you for free.   

I hope this is a start to pointing you in the right direction.  Please feel free to follow up with me and I do wish you all the best as you advocate for your exceptional child's education!  

Special Education

All Answers

Answers by Expert:

Ask Experts


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.

©2016 All rights reserved.