Disabled or unwilling?

Mild learning disabilities sometimes aren’t diagnosed till high school, says this Boston Globe story. Bright students may hide their disabilities by memorizing or simply working harder than their classmates. They run into trouble when the work gets more complex.

But educators and psychologists are skeptical that some students diagnosed with disabilities as teens actually have them. They chalk up the majority to panicking parents or families seeking to ”game the system” for advantages such as untimed SATs.

”When someone says ‘mild learning disability’ to me, it’s sort of like ‘mildly pregnant,’ ” said Douglas Fuchs, a special education professor at Vanderbilt University. ”My hunch is that a majority of kids in question fall very much into this theme of kids kind of giving up on high school, parents get upset, and they have the kids tested.”

The diagnostic tools schools use muddies the situation, particularly if the student undergoing the analysis is an adolescent. Schools typically test a student for learning disabilities if there’s a significant gap between a student’s ability (usually determined with an IQ test) and his or her achievement in school. They look for various warning signs, including struggles with homework, giving up on school, behavior problems, and unexpected failure. Those same signs can appear if a teen is dealing with family stress, substance abuse, depression, or conflict with parents who have a different view on the importance of education. 

Is the disorganized student disabled or just disorganized?

Via Education News.

On a bipartisan vote, Congress has revised the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA). The Glittering Eye approves of the reforms.

Changes in the new legislation include paperwork reduction, stronger enforcement, and more flexibility for schools. In what may prove to be one of the more controversial provisions the bill allows states and school districts to recover legal fees if a parent’s complaint is deemed frivolous. In my opinion this is a needed reform to level the playing field. Since the enacting of the previous law it’s been possible for determined (and well-to-do or legally connected) parents to get pretty nearly anything they want using legal strong-arm techniques particularly threat of suit. The new law may reduce this and let districts spend their limited funds on actually teaching kids rather than paying legal fees.

A friend of mine worked as a school psychologist in a district where many parents had a strong sense of entitlement; they all had lawyers, and some were lawyers themselves. The district had to fight to set limits on special treatment for not-so-special students.

Update: The Washington Post praises the IDEA bill and the bipartisan cooperation that went into it.

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Comments

  1. “They look for various warning signs, including struggles with homework, giving up on school, behavior problems, and unexpected failure. Those same signs can appear if a teen is dealing with family stress, substance abuse, depression, or conflict with parents who have a different view on the importance of education.”

    Or teachers that cannot or will not teach!

  2. Contrary to Dr. Fuchs, learning disabilities are clearly on a continuum, so there must be such a thing as a “mild learning disability”. However, I suspect he’s correct that there are no diagnostic tests that distinguish a less severe learning disability from the effects of laziness, drug use, and psychological problems.

  3. Let’s talk about dyslexia, the most common learning disability. I know of at least 5 adults (including Charles Schwab) whose dyslexia wasn’t diagnosed until adulthood–until their kids’ dyslexia is diagnosed.

    Are some parents gaming the system? Yes. Are the schools the best diagnosticians? No–there’s an incentive to deny services and to deny or delay adequate services.

    Is the IQ/performance discrepancy a good way of diagnosing? No, it’s terrible–the requisite 2 year gap means that kids DON’T get early, intensive intervention, before years of exhaustion and failure have made their mark.