Transitions from one school setting to a different school setting may be cause for anxiety for parents. This article is intended to provide information on the transition from special education services in the preschool setting to special education services in kindergarten.
From three to five years of age, special education services are deemed appropriate by the Committee on Preschool Special Education (CPSE). During the transition to kindergarten and through high school, these decisions will be made by the Committee on Special Education (CSE). Funding for services under CPSE are provided by the county in which the child resides and the New York State Education Department. Funding for CSE services are provided by your local school district. Your local district is reimbursed for some but not all of the expense through state and federal funding.
What is the CSE?
The CSE is a multidisciplinary team that consists of a school psychologist, special educator, general educator and a representative of the school district who is qualified to understand the instructional implications of the evaluations and is knowledgeable about the district resources. The school psychologist or one of the educators may serve as the district representative. You as the parent are also a member of the CSE. There may be a parent member who has (?) a child with a disability and resides in the school district. As the parent you may request that the parent member not participate. Any person who has knowledge of the student may be invited to the CSE by either the parent or the district. These people usually include professionals who have worked with the student in an ancillary capacity such as speech and language therapists, occupational therapists, etc. A district physician can be a member of the CSE but her presence usually requires a request be made at least 72 hours prior to the meeting.
What Type of Services Will My Child Receive?
Children on the autism spectrum who are receiving special education services in a preschool setting are receiving interventions of varying types and intensities. These interventions can range from itinerant services given in a regular education preschool to a self-contained special education setting with ancillary services. The services provided in preschool are based on the child’s functioning and development in various domains (language, fine motor, gross motor, cognitive, behavioral/emotional) and how the functioning impacts appropriate activities such as communication skills. There is no interest in formal educational skills during the preschool years. A range of services may also be provided in kindergarten. Services will be based on your child’s current functioning and how this functioning might interfere with educational attainment. Not all children with an autism spectrum disorder will receive the same services.
There are two guiding principles for providing special education services. One is a “free appropriate public education” (FAPE) and the second is “the least restrictive environment” (LRE). That is, students with a disability have a right to be educated with typically developing peers to the greatest extent possible and they should be provided with this at no cost to parents. Students should have access to the general education curriculum and extra-curricular activities. Some students will need a more “restrictive” setting either in a special education classroom or in a special education school. That is, some students need a more protected and controlled environment in order to best learn at various points in time. Since there are differences among students with disabilities, there is no single definition of what a LRE will be for all students.
How Will the Type of Services Be Determined?
To determine what an appropriate setting is for a student, a team will review the student’s needs. Several approaches may be utilized. These may include
- Reviewing preschool records which include reports and evaluations.
- Observing your child at his current program and/or discussion with your child’s current teachers.
- Obtaining information from you as the parent.
- Kindergarten screening (it is required that all children be screened for kindergarten).
The CSE will determine whether any other evaluations are necessary and if deemed necessary will conduct them. Decisions will be made from evaluations, professional reports and parent input. Any new evaluations should take place by April or March prior to September entry into kindergarten. A meeting with the CPSE will take place toward the end of your child’s stay in the preschool program to recommend special education services (if any) for kindergarten. The CSE will then conduct a meeting with the preschool team. Sometimes these meetings occur consecutively. If at all possible, it is better for parents to ask for the CPSE meeting to take place before the CSE meeting and not have them one after the other. It can be daunting for parents to absorb all the information, and it is better if parents have time to think about and digest the recommendations from the preschool before meeting with the CSE. If there must be consecutive meetings, then it is advisable that parents familiarize themselves with the transition recommendations of the preschool team.
What Types of Services Exist?
There are a range of services that districts may provide. These may include related services such as psychological, speech and language, physical and occupational therapy, social work services, etc. These services will be given a certain number of times per week. Sometimes they are given as “pull-out” services where the child goes to another location and sometimes they are given as “push-in” services where the appropriate service is provided in the classroom. Sometimes there is a combination of the two. Supplementary services include services that support the student in the regular education setting such as: one to one paraprofessionals, assistive technology and consultant teachers. Testing accommodations may include testing in another venue, increased test time, use of a calculator and modification of test items. Special Education means that your child is entitled to “specially designed instruction” that meets the particular needs of your child. This may happen in a regular education classroom with pull-out resource room, an inclusion or co-teaching classroom where there is a special educator and a regular educator or any combination of the above services. It will depend on what your child’s needs are and how the district proposes to meet those needs. Some children will not receive any services after preschool because it is deemed that they are no longer necessary.
Will My Child Be Classified?
Yes. This is one of the major differences between CPSE services and CSE services. Under CPSE your child had a generic classification, “preschool child with a disability.” Under CSE your child must have an educational classification in order to receive services. Educational classifications are different than medical diagnoses. For example, your child might have a medical diagnosis of ADHD; however, there is no educational classification that directly corresponds to ADHD. This does not mean that your child will not get services. There are 13 classifications which are used. These include: Autism, Deafness, Deaf-Blindness, Emotional Disturbance, Hearing Impairment, Learning Disability, Mental Retardation, Multiple Disabilities, Orthopedic Impairment, Other Health Impairment, Speech or Language Impairment, Traumatic Brain Injury and Visual Impairment. Children who have an autism classification are entitled by NY state law to particular services which may include parent training for behavior problems as well as daily speech and language therapy.
In addition, NY State has developed guidelines for educational programs for children with autism. They can be found at http://www.vesid.nysed.gov/specialed/autism/apqi.htm. The guidelines were developed by a group of professionals who were experts in autism spectrum disorders and describe criteria necessary for appropriate educational programming for students with autism.
The Individual Education Program (IEP)
An IEP may also be called an Individual Education Plan. A school-age IEP will be developed at the CSE meeting. It should include
- A description of your child’s “present levels of educational performance.” This includes how your child’s disability affects her involvement and progress in the general curriculum.
- Measurable annual goals for your child to reach and who is responsible for helping the child reach these goals.
- A statement of the special education and related services needed for the child to meet the goals and to progress in both the general education curriculum and extra-curricular and nonacademic activities.
- Supports for the student’s teacher to help reach the goals (i.e., consultant teacher, training).
- The student’s placement and when it will begin.
- If your child will not be participating with typically developing peers then the IEP needs to provide an explanation of why this is appropriate and the extent of non-participation.
Annual goals and placements are reviewed at least yearly. They can be reviewed more frequently if a particular program needs revision. Both parents and the school district have the right to convene a new CSE meeting to modify a student’s program. Every three years there is a more in-depth review when your child will be re-evaluated (triennial evaluation).
As a parent, you have the right to disagree with the school district’s IEP. You may disagree with the findings of their evaluations and the services they think should be provided based on the results of their evaluation. You are entitled to request an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE). An IEE is defined as “an evaluation conducted by a qualified examiner who is not employed by the public agency responsible for the education of the child in question.” (Steedman. W.) An evaluation is not limited to educational or cognitive skills. It may include the evaluation of any skill related to the child’s educational needs. The results of the IEE must be considered by the school district. This does not mean that the district must implement the recommendations of the IEE but they must consider it. Many times, parents pay privately for an IEE. The district is responsible for payment when
- The school district does not have the personnel to conduct a particular type of evaluation (i.e., a psychiatric evaluation) that the CSE has recognized may be necessary.
- When the school district determines that an IEE is necessary.
Sometimes a district is forced to reimburse parents for an IEE after it has refused to pay for one. This may happen when
- The district may be required to pay when the IEE that the parent obtained provides information that affects the child’s education, services, or placement.
- If the parents disagree with a school district evaluation and request an IEE at public expense and the school district refuses to pay for it, unless the district requests a due process hearing and the hearing officer rules that an IEE is not necessary.
Parents are permitted to choose any qualified evaluator for an IEE. Sometimes a school district has a list of people they use to perform IEEs. Parents are not required to choose only from evaluators on the list. Basically, the point of obtaining an IEE is to get another expert opinion that will better help the school district understand the needs of your child. It is important for parents to seek out evaluators who have experience and expertise in these types of evaluations.
It is very important that parents have a good understanding of their child’s strengths and weaknesses and how these may impact the student’s functioning in an educational setting. You are your child’s best advocate.
- Make sure that you have familiarized yourself with evaluation results, observations, and progress reports.
- Make notes to bring to the IEP meeting.
- Ask questions.
- Know the continuum of services your district provides.
- You do not have to agree with the school’s recommendations. There are due process procedures and laws when you do not agree. There are particular laws and rules that apply to the transition from CPSE to CSE.
- If you don’t agree with the district’s evaluations, you may request a private impartial evaluation known as an IEE (Independent Educational Evaluation). There are procedures for making this request.
Special Considerations for High Functioning Children on the Autism Spectrum
School-based evaluations often use measures that are not sensitive to the complex challenges that these children have. For example, these children often have excellent vocabulary (semantic knowledge). However, they are weak in pragmatic skills (social aspects of language and communication). Children with HFA (High Functioning Autism) will often perform well on standard language measures because standard measures are so loaded on semantic knowledge. It is important that parents request that pragmatic skills be evaluated or observed. Frequently school therapists are unfamiliar with just how to assess these issues and they often go unmet unless parents are well informed and assertive.
Children with HFA have social skill problems as a core deficit. It is important that these areas be included in any IEP and that annual goals are developed to help students with these deficits. Parents should insist on evidence-based programs for social skill deficits. These types of programs provide opportunities for practice and foster family communication to ensure generalization of skills beyond the social skill development setting.
Most school-based evaluations do not assess executive functioning and again school personnel are often unfamiliar with how to evaluate them. These skills which underlie most tasks include motivation, persistence, flexibility of thought, getting started and organization. Most children with Autism Spectrum Disorders have some difficulties in these areas which makes learning more difficult for them. It is important to make sure that these challenges are evaluated and addressed in an IEP.
Advocacy Tips (From Special Education Process in NY State).
- Be involved in every step of your child’s life.
- Know your rights in the education process.
- Keep lines of communication open with the people who deal with your child (provide positive as well as negative feedback).
- Always work toward solutions when there is a problem. Insist that your child’s educators create positive plans for change to correct any problem that exists. Be collaborative.
- Be persistent.
- Never lose your cool.
- Bring along a respected member of the community or clinicians to meetings if you feel your views are not being well respected. While you want to keep a partnership and good relationships with your school district, sometimes it may help to include an advocate or even an education lawyer in meetings. In addition, there are times when it might be in your child’s best interest to request an impartial hearing.
- Keep things in writing: Keep a notebook for yourself of all communications with school personnel and outside clinicians; use opportunities to back up conversations with written confirmation – that way promises will be kept and you will have proof of your active involvement.
- Send all important information by certified mail, return receipt requested. Keep copies of all documents for yourself.
Dr. Ilene Solomon is a clinical and pediatric neuropsychologist practicing in Roslyn and Manhattan, NY. She is an associate of The Institute for Cognitive Diversity at Bank Street College of Education in New York City. She can be reached at (516) 747-8583.
“A Guide to Special Education,” www.nysut.org/k12_6055.htm, captured from the internet 2/25/2010
“Autism Program Quality Indicators,” http://www.vesid.nysed.gov/specialed/autism/apqi.htm, captured from the internet 3/8/2010
“Special Education Process in NY State,” eastislipsepta.org/Special Education in NYS.htm, captured from the internet 2/25/2010
Steedman,W. “Independent Educational Evaluations: What? Why? How? Who Pays?” www.wrightslaw.com/info/test.lee.steedman.htm, captured from the internet 3/6/2010 (adjust spacing)