Last week, I wrote about the new DSM-5. Although it is wise to make sure your student has an updated diagnosis, changes to the classification of the DSM-5 will not affect your student’s eligibility for special education services in Massachusetts. In July 2013, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) issued Technical Assistance Advisory SPED 2014-1 in response to the new changes in the DSM-5. The DESE reminded schools that eligibility for special education services is an educational decision, not a medical decision and that eligibility for special education does not require a school to make a medical diagnosis. In light of the fact that schools often receive reports from professionals who use the DSM to diagnose students, the DESE recognized that a change in diagnosis or a failure to qualify under the DSM-5 for a condition previously diagnosed under the DSM-IV could be confusing for school personnel. Accordingly, the DESE advised schools that “changes in the DSM-5 diagnostic categories do not alter a student’s current eligibility status or IEP nor does it change any of the federal or state laws or regulations related to the determination of special education eligibility or services.”
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, known as the DSM, is the publication that mental health professionals use to diagnose patients. The DSM was revised last year after a great deal of discussion, and the current version, the 5th edition, is known as the DSM-5. One of the most controversial changes made in the DSM-5 was the elimination of diagnoses of Asperger’s Syndrome and Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS). Many people formerly diagnosed with Asperger’s or PDD-NOS will now fit under the new definition of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Those that don’t may fall under a new diagnosis called Social Communication Disorder. The DSM-5 also combined learning disorders of reading, writing, and math into one general category, and changed the way that ADD is diagnosed and classified. If your student has a diagnosis under the DSM-IV, the best practice would be to ask your clinician to revise the diagnosis so that it is consistent with the DSM-5.
Summer is a great time to let kids de-stress! But it is also a good time to arrange for private evaluations. Many good private evaluators have a lighter load during the summer and wait times for appointments are correspondingly shorter. If you have been considering consulting a private evaluator, there is no time like the present. Getting the testing done now means that you can have an updated report ready to give to your school (if you choose to do so) in the fall.
What happens to your child’s IEP when you move to another school district? It depends to some extent on whether you are moving within state or out of state. But, in all instances, the receiving school district is required to provide your child with services “comparable” to the services she was receiving pursuant to her IEP in your old school district. These services must be provided immediately and continuously until the new IEP team convenes and a new IEP is in place. Rules concerning what happens when a child has been placed in a special education school and the family moves are more complex, particularly concerning the financial responsibilities of the sending and receiving school districts. These rules can vary state to state and may add another layer of complexity to an out-of-state move.
No doubt about it, grades are a tricky subject. Administrators want their schools and students to perform well, parents want their children to look good, and teachers fear low grades will reflect poorly on them. The result is a perfect storm that can result in grades that do not reflect a student’s actual level of performance. This effect can be magnified for special education students. It is not unusual for a student to have As and Bs on her report card, yet fail the MCAS exam (Massachusetts’ state-wide annual assessment). What should parents do who suspect that their student is really not making progress? If an IEP has been properly written with specific, concrete, and measurable goals, the student’s progress report should allow a parent to see if a student’s skills are improving. Additionally, a private evaluation is often indicated to establish levels of performance in basic academic skills. A good private evaluation from a properly credentialed expert is invaluable in determining whether those As and Bs are fact or fiction.