If your child has been diagnosed with a specific learning disability by a qualified professional, that professional should provide in their report a list of beneficial accommodations recommended for your child. If they haven’t done so, question them about this. Once you provide this document to your child’s school, it depends on federal and state laws and what type of school you have your child in, as well as the attitude of the support services within the school, what happens next. Public school systems are subject to the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, which governs the administrative process and protections your child is entitled to receive. This is true also for any private school that accepts federal funding. There are two major plans: an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) which generally is used where there are multiple disabilities and/or behavioral issues and a 504 plan which is a more simplified document for kids who need less intervention.
Most independent schools (as opposed to parochial schools) will follow the ADA without admitting that they are doing so. So if a child is entitled to a 504 plan in a public school, most private schools will provide a “formal written plan” or some other nomenclature that serves to provide the same accommodations that a 504 plan would provide, especially if a parent is aware of what the child should be receiving. This is because, while they technically are not subject to the ADA, it simply looks bad for schools that charge thousands of dollars to educate a child to fail to provide 504 type accommodations. Most 504 accommodations are fairly simple (for example: extended time, modified tests, being allowed to record lectures, being given the opportunity to turn in drafts, having information provided in an alternate format (auditory or visual), etc.) Many independent schools will not provide IEP type accommodations simply because they don’t have the resources. Many parochial schools do not offer IEP or 504 type accommodations for the same reason.
It is really important to understand your rights regarding an IEP or 504 plan, as you cannot trust the school to have your child’s best interest at the forefront of their decision making process. There are many dedicated and wonderful educators who go above and beyond to provide accommodations to kids who need them. But there are also people within the education community who don’t understand the importance of accommodations, or who are not provided the resources necessary to do their jobs properly, or who, for whatever reason, fail to act as an advocate for learning disabled children. As a parent, you have to be your child’s first and most stringent advocate. Contact your state or local Bar Association and ask for information on parent education and advocacy groups in your state. The ADA funds these organizations to empower parents with information on their administrative rights in dealing with schools. Contact the National Center for Learning Disabilities for information. Talk to other parents about their experiences. The hardest part about helping my kids was the constant feeling that I was reinventing the wheel because I didn’t know where to go for help. I didn’t think my sons qualified for 504 plans, and then, when I found out that they did, I didn’t understand that a 504 plan is not restricted to what the testing agent (diagnostic entity) recommends. A 504 plan can be anything that helps the child. Advocacy groups can help you glean ideas that are listed various school districts to find what works best for your child.
It is also important to understand that, in order to receive testing accommodations for standardized tests, the Independent School Entrance Exams, or college admissions testing such as the PSATs, SATs, and Act, your child’s school plan must provide the same accommodations being requested for the test and you must apply to the testing agent to receive the accommodations. It is important to have College Board testing accommodations approved by the end of ninth grade to insure that your child is able to receive those accommodations on college admissions tests. Your school or school district should be able to help you with this. If they are not willing, get advice from an advocacy group.
I learned the hard way, at the expense of my children, what I needed to do to protect my kids in the education process. I have encountered many teachers who went above and beyond for my kids, but without the support of the school’s psychological services personnel, they can only provide so much (for instance, they cannot give your child extra time on tests without approval to do so). The greatest teachers in the world cannot help a child when they are not authorized to provide the accommodations your child needs to succeed. The point of academic accommodations is to level the playing field for children with specific learning disabilities. Just as we would expect a child who needs glasses to see to be allowed to use those glasses, children with LDs should be allowed and encouraged to embrace their accommodations.
It can be a long, frustrating, frightening road to help your child receive the help they need to compensate for their learning disability. But there is help out there if you know where to find it, and it is imperative if you are to help your child achieve to their fullest potential in spite of their specific learning disability.