Must A Child with "High Functioning Autism" Receive an IEP?
September 30, 2013
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As a special education advocate in Connecticut, I can't tell you how many times I have sat in IEP Team Meetings and heard this from the school district: "just because your doctor says he has autism doesn't mean he needs special education," "and besides, he's getting great grades in all of his academics."

To which I say: "yes, we know that. However, can we look beyond  his grades and talk about the fact that he has no friends, sits in the lunch room alone, can't organize his homework, and is being harassed by other kids daily?"

This is what typically occurs when my client has "high functioning" autism. By the way, you need to know that I can not stand the term "high functioning;" I prefer to say "less affected" by autism. Unfortunately, that phrase hasn't caught on yet, so I'll say "high functioning," so you know what I mean.
This is where I turn to the Team and say, and here's what I want you to remember: "Education is not just about academics!"
Here is a great article from my friend and colleague Jennifer Laviano, a special education attorney practicing here in Connecticut.
So just remember, when you have your son or daughter evaluated to determine whether they have an autism spectrum disorder, make sure he or she is evaluated in all domains, not just academics.  And,  don't forget to keep the "I" (individualized) in IEP!!!!

Bullying of Teachers Pervasive in Many Schools

Source: NEA Today

Workplace bullying is on the rise. About a third of American workers have been impacted by bullying in the workplace, either as a target or as witness to abusive behavior against a co-worker. Unfortunately, it’s even more prevalent in the field of education. In a recent survey of medium-sized school districts, 25 percent of employees reported that they had been bullied.

A teacher from Augusta, Maine, was so traumatized by her principal and superintendent that she didn’t want her name or school mentioned, but wanted to share her story because she believes the pervasive problem of workplace bullying has gone on unchecked for too long.

“I am sufficiently frightened enough by my former employers to fear that maybe they could still hurt me,” she says. “I need to get a new job but won’t be able to do so if I am unable to receive even one recommendation from an administrator. I know it and so do they.”

After the Augusta educator resisted being transferred to a new school and new grade level, she began to be scrutinized by her administrators. First, they began examining her test scores, her communications with parents, and her relationships with colleagues. Then, with no explanation and no warning, the principal began interrupting her class to pull out students one-by-one to talk to them. When the educator asked the students why they were being pulled out, they told her they were instructed not to tell.

She was accused of not using technology in her class, even though each student had a laptop. She was criticized for relying on a literacy mentor, even though some of her students were struggling with reading. She was put on a behavior modification plan and was told to submit her lesson plans a week in advance for review by administrators. Her peers warned her that she was being targeted, and she began to believe it. Finally, she left her job after her health began to deteriorate.

It’s not just administrators bullying teachers, says Carv Wilson, a geography teacher at Legacy Junior High in Layton, Utah. He’s been an educator for 18 years, and has seen teachers bullying each other to get their way, as well as aggressive parents who fly off the handle and threaten and intimidate their child’s educators. But he says the worst case of ongoing workplace bullying he witnessed was by a principal.

“I was heavily involved in school leadership both as a Davis Education Association Rep and on the school representative counsel, and I heard about or witnessed first-hand the abuse of other teachers, staff, and students by this principal,” he says. “She specifically targeted individual teachers and the only thing that seemed to offer any protection was membership in our local association.”

Wilson says more than 60 percent of the educators were NEA members, and the other 30 percent “suffered dramatically at her hands.” The number of transfers out of the school was higher than 50 percent each year of the eight years that she was principal of the school.

“She seemed to revel in people being driven out of education or to another school,” he says. “The memories of that time still haunt me from time to time, but it solidified my belief that having representation both in school and in the local community through the association is critical. It’s the only defense against unfair and even punitive measures that are sometimes solely prompted by personality conflicts.”

Denise Mirandola is a union representative for the Pennsylvania State Education Association who holds trainings for members called “Bullying in the Workplace.”

“I presented it at an Education Support Professionals meeting and was surprised to see so many heads nodding,” she says. “I believe that the phenomenon has been overlooked far too long and should be brought to the surface quickly.”

Like Wilson from Utah, she says association representation is vital if you’re being targeted by a workplace bully. The first thing you should do, in fact, is contact your union representative. Then, document, document, document – save emails, letters, memos, notes from conversations, or anything that shows the mistreatment. She also recommends confronting the bully with a supportive ally, like a union rep – and to describe the offensive behavior you’re experiencing, and the change in behavior you’d like to see.

According to Dr. Matt Spencer of the Workplace Bullying in Schools Project, “the bully steals the dignity, self-esteem, confidence, joy, happiness, and quality of life of the targeted victim”. And when the target is an educator, it is a great “injustice” because the bully deprives students of a caring adult who is crucial to their education.

9 In 10 Kids With Autism Bullied At School

By Shaun Heasley

Nine in 10 Massachusetts parents of kids with autism say their child has been a victim of bullying at school, a new survey finds. In over half of the cases, the bullying included being hit, kicked or chased.

The results come from an online survey conducted by Massachusetts Advocates for Children of nearly 400 parents of children with autism across the state. Findings indicate that 88 percent of children with autism have been bullied at school ranging from verbal abuse to physical contact.

Though widespread, parents indicated that schools were doing too little to address the bullying. Just one in five parents said they learned about the bullying their child experienced from the school. And, in two out of three cases, the bullying lasted for several months with most parents saying their child’s school didn’t do enough to respond.

“Children with autism spectrum disorder are especially vulnerable targets because of the nature of their disability,” says Julia Landau, senior autism center director at Massachusetts Advocates for Children. “Children on the spectrum are often viewed as atypical or different by their peers, and are generally unable to understand bullying incidents and protect themselves like other students due to the nature of ASD, which impacts communication, social and behavioral skills.”

A bill being considered in the Massachusetts legislature would address this problem by requiring individualized education plan (IEP) teams to address bullying faced by students with autism.

Copyright © 2009 Disability Scoop, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Bullying & Kids with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Other Developmental Disabilities
October 24, 2012
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This is a text synopsis of a powerpoint presentation that Attorney Jennifer Laviano and Special Education Advocate Julie Swanson present on Bullying & Kids with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Other Developmental Disabilities

Jennifer and Julie are available to present this presentation for your group.

Bullying is a pattern of repeated aggressive behavior, with negative intent, directed from one child to another where there is a power imbalance.

- according to leading Norwegian researcher Dr. Dan Olweus

Bullying can take many forms…….

  • Physical (hitting, kicking, shoving)
  • Verbal (teasing, name calling)
  • Emotional (Intimidation through gestures, social exclusion or shunning)

And the newest form of bullying - Cyberbullying:

  • Sending mean, vulgar, or threatening messages or images;
  • Posting sensitive, private information about another person;
  • Pretending to be someone else in order to make that person look bad;
  • Intentionally excluding someone from an online group
  • Cyber-bullying… E-mails, Instant messaging, Text or digital imaging messages sent on cell phones, Web pages, Web logs (blogs), Chat rooms or discussion groups, and Other information communication technologies.

The challenge is that research supports that kids with disabilities are at greatest risk to be bullied by their peers, but we don’t know the precise correlation between someone’s disability status and their risk for victimization.

  • We only have research that tells us how kids with disabilities are at risk to be victimized by adults
  • We don’t have good empirical research to make the connection between the adult statistics and whether this same behavior is true for children abusing other children by bullying

Further challenged by the fact that many states keep disciplinary data on reportable offenses at school. Here in In Connectictut, the data does not include victim demographics or identify the type of bullying

  • Reportable offenses include:
  • Racial slurs
  • Fighting
  • Weapons
  • School threat
  • Drugs
  • Bullying (without identifying the type)
  • Etc…

In other words, most states don’t keep data on bullying and kids with disabilities

Therefore, we don’t have a finger on the size and shape of the problem.

So where does that leave us?

Read the Entire Article »

Yes! Bullying Can Be Addressed through the IEP
October 24, 2012
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By Special Education Advocate Julie Swanson and Attorney Jennifer Laviano

Today’s headlines are filled with news about bullying at school. The latest phenomenon “bullicide” is when kids who are being bullied commit suicide. Let’s face it, bullying can be pretty scary and should concern most any parent who has a child attending school. However, it is especially worrisome for parents who have children with disabilities, because research shows that kids with disabilities are more likely to be targeted. This is especially so for kids with developmental disabilities like autism, because they are less likely to be able to navigate their way around social situations by the very nature of their disability.

As professionals who represent children with special needs, we help parents obtain appropriate special education services for their children with disabilities. Both of us have a particular interest in the rights of children with autism spectrum disorders. Julie is not only a special education advocate, but the parent of a 14 year child with autism whose practice is largely devoted this disability. Jennifer has dedicated her law practice entirely to the representation of children and adolescents with disabilities whose families are in disagreement with their public school districts, and the majority are families whose children have autism spectrum disorders.

Almost every family we work with that includes a child with ASD reports that their child has been affected by bullying. Unfortunately, we both work with parents who tell us that their school team tells them that bullying can’t be addressed through the special education IEP (Individualized Education Plan).
We are here to say it most certainly can! Here are a few practical tips as you tackle the problem:

1. Ask for your school district's bullying policy and procedures.
2. Screen your child at home. Talk to him or her and explore what’s happening at school and with peers. Set up a data collection system at home that tracks any changes in behavior.

3. Screen your child at school. Have a team meeting with your child’s special education team (examples: the special ed teacher, regular ed teacher, case manager, social worker, guidance counselor, school psychologist, speech pathologist, principal) and make them aware of the situation. Ask the school team to monitor your child over a period of time and set up a data collection system among the team to track any changes. Make sure that monitoring takes place across all structured and non-structured school settings (the classroom, hallways, lunch room, bathroom, school bus and at recess).

4. Document the issue and request that the documentation be placed in your child’s educational file.

5. Determine if what is happening is a reportable offense in accordance with school policies.

6. Put a (written) plan in place with the school team.

7. Recognize the difference between a school-wide approach to bullying and a child-centered approach. School-wide approaches include getting other kids involved in resolving the bullying issue like pairing the student with an ASD with a peer buddy. A child-centered approach involves the child with an ASD gaining a skill or learning to change their own behavior like recognizing a bully or having a bank of responses to say to a bully.

8. Consider what is making your child vulnerable to being bullied. If you don’t identify the specific problem your child is having then it is more difficult to address it and help remediate it through the IEP. For example, is it your child’s Inability to read / recognize social cues (shunning, teasing, gesturing, etc.), inability to respond effectively (lack of a strategy bank), or inability to self-advocate. Once you’ve identified these type of issues, you can argue that these social skill deficits should be addressed as social skill goals and objectives in the IEP.

9. Develop a plan targeting your child’s level of ability. Set up a buddy system in unstructured set tings (schoo l-wide). Develop incentives for other kids to participate as buddies (school-wide). Develop classroom lessons to raise awareness of bullying, that will be taken seriously and there will be consequences when students bully (school-wide).

10. Develop IEP goals to address each individual social skill deficit (student-centered). Develop IEP goals to address each individual pragmatic language deficit (student-centered.)

11. From a legal perspective, one of the most difficult challenges in addressing bullying in our public schools is that, while many states do have laws on the books regarding bullying, they generally do not include what is called a "private right of action." In Engli sh, and summarizing a very complicated legal premise, this means that while the law exists, there is no right to sue someone who violates it under that specific statute. Therefore, parents whose children are being routinely tormented at school who are faced with an administration who elects not to properly address the situation are left to utilize other state or federal laws if they want to find justice in our courts.

Therefore, when a parent is considering what rights their child has if their child with autism is being bullied, first and foremost they should ask themselves whether changes need to be made in the IEP. Be prepared to hear your IEP Team grumble that bullying is "not a special education issue," but indeed it is. If a student's disability is causing them to exhibit behaviors which are making them particularly vulnerable to harassment by their peers, or to fail to understand appropriate social interaction in the "mainstream" (as is often the case with autism spectrum disorders), then absolutely this needs to be addressed in the student's special education program.

Without appropriate special education support and instruction for students with disabilities within our public school settings, we are setting our kids with autism up for being targeted, humiliated and excluded within the regular education environment, in direct contravention of one of the key purposes of the IDEA, which is to include children with disabilities in their public schools. Wh at is happening as a result of our failure to adequately scaffold special education programs and instruction for students whose autism spectrum disorder places them at even greater risk for bullying is that we are returning to the days of segregation of children with disabilities, as a matter of fact, if not as a matter of law.

Early Dismissal Everyday is Not O.K.
August 16, 2012
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All the middle school kids in your neighborhood get on the school bus together in the morning at 7:15 a.m.  All of the neighborhood kids get off the school bus at 3:15 p.m., like clockwork.   Except one.  One boy gets off the bus at 1:30 p.m. everyday.  Why does only one boy get off the bus at 1:30?

It's not a riddle.  It's something that happens too frequently to students who have disabilities.

I received a phone call from a parent who explained how her son's IEP (Individualized Education Program) stipulates that he be dismissed early everyday.  The IEP doesn't mention the actual time, but as it turns out, he is dismissed almost 2 hours earlier than regular dismissal time as a function of his behavior plan.

Her son has to earn staying in school, which is determined by his good behavior.

Know this please.  Every student has the right to stay in school all day!  Students who have a disability can not be held to a different standard from other students.

Let me help you look at this situation in a different way.  Let's say there are 180 school days in a year   and 7 hours in a school day.  So, let's take 180 and multiply it by 2 (hours).  That's 360 hours (of school)  Let's divide that by 7 (the hours of a school day).  That's about 51 school days.  That's almost one third of the school year.  Adds up, doesn't it!

This means that this student was denied the opportunity to be in school learning for one third of the school year.

While most situations may not be this extreme, no amount of lost school hours is O.K.  In this particular situation, where the student's behavior is the culprit for early dismissal, it would be appropriate to ask the school district to conduct an FBA (Functional Behavior Assessment) to determine the function of the behaviors in question in order to put a BIP ( Behavior Intervention Plan) in place.

All students have the right to be set up for success at school.  In this case, a really well-designed and implemented behavior plan is a good start.

And please know this.  Earning the right to stay in school should never be a part of any behavior plan or IEP.

We Don’t Do That in This District

There are lot's of things I hear at IEP team meetings that cause me to bristle and take a deep breath.  One of them is when I hear "We don't do that in this district."

It was recently said at a meeting in which we were discussing the possibility of a student requiring a residential program as part of an appropriate placement.  The director said, "we've never paid for the residential portion of an educational program,  we don't do that here."

As I usually do,  I took a few deep breaths and contemplated my response to make sure I said something appropriate.

I explained that I was a uncomfortable with his response and I would be more than happy to ignore it.  But, if he really meant it and wanted it on the record, than I would request for the district's position to be on the record.  Loud and clear!

I explained that I was uncomfortable with it because he was predetermining what the IEP team was going to decide about the student's program.  Additionally, it sounded like it was their policy not to do such things, and it wouldn't be appropriate for the district to have a policy about what they do and don't pay for as a part of a student's IEP.

He rethought his definitive statement about not paying for residential portions of educational placements and said he wanted to wait to see what the evaluators had to say about what the student needed.
I confirmed that I thought that was a great idea!

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