Why I Refused Certain School Services for my Middle School Child who has Dyslexia

I am terrified and second guessing myself. But like so many other times on my journey as a parent my gut is telling me this is the right thing to do.

So, I inhale deeply, and slowly exhale. Look at my husband (a teacher) and mother (a special education teacher) by my side, and walk into the IEP meeting to refuse all resource and inclusion class services for my sixth grade profoundly dyslexic son. 

Pause. 

I’ll give you a second to process that as you are probably thinking WHY?!? WHY ON EARTH WOULD YOU DO THAT?!? 

Well, it wasn’t a decision I took lightly. My son came home one day and, through tears, told me he attends a “bad school” and wants to be home-schooled. That broke my heart, but I also knew it was unlikely the entire school was bad. As I started talking to him more, I realized his resource and inclusion classes were the problem. Very little to no grade-level learning was occurring, and my son is cognitively on grade level even if his reading level is much lower due to his dyslexia.

He was bored. He was frustrated. And worse, I realized he was being held to lower expectations, and he was slipping due to it.

He knew that the gen ed ELA class had already read two novels while his resource ELA class had not even completed ONE. He was upset about that. Yes, he struggled to pull print off a page, but his mind yearned to learn. He wanted out, and he was asking me for help. I’ve never backed down from that challenge.

My son is profoundly dyslexic yet also academically advanced in certain areas (science, specifically). Would it be better to keep him in resource ELA to work on decoding and fluency? Or to put him in gen ed ELA with audiobooks and other assistive tech to learn grammar and vocabulary and writing along with his grade-level peers?

What should I do? What is the right answer? 

I leaned on the wisdom of my mom and husband, both high school teachers who love my son. And also, Ben Foss, another profound dyslexic and an author who said:

“I’ve learned that if you make your primary goal teaching your child to read or spell just like every other child, you’re going to decrease your child’s chances of achieving success. It’s like telling a person in a wheelchair that she needs to put in more time to learn how to walk.”

We decided to get him out of SPED classes. Now. ALL SPED. Oh boy ….

I would never pull a child from quality resource interventions in elementary, but by middle and high school things begin to shift. If they have had years of OG based interventions already and can read (even if not on grade level), you may be tasked with making a decision. For me, it was a hard one. It’s a tight-rope balancing act, and I certainly second guessed myself. Bottom line, for me, was that my child was experiencing extreme anxiety and I needed to try this.

Flash forward six months ….

My son has earned a semester average of 86 in GEN ED ELA!!!!! My boy!!!! He comes home excited about what they are learning in class.

He has homework. For the first time since second grade he brings home homework, and he DOES it independently!

He tries to read more. He still uses his AT (assistive tech), but he tries to read grade level content more and more. It’s still slow going and painful, at times, but it’s coming along. I want to note that we did keep his IEP, consultation only, with all accommodations and that was KEY to his success.

And his self-esteem is thriving and growing. He no longer thinks he attends a “bad” school. He no longer asks to be home-schooled. And he is currently happily playing with a friend he made on the middle school fishing club.

He’s happy. And he’s learning. It’s not always easy, and he definitely works 5x harder that non-dyslexic peers to get to the same place, but he is learning along side them.

High expectations matter.

Recently, I saw a post on a local education chat group stating that special education kids should take “different” state tests than their peers. Based on my experience, I feel that is a dangerous path to start down. The large majority of kids on IEPs have either learning, attentional or communicative “disabilities” (different abilities) like dyslexia, ADHD or autism. They CAN learn the same content if given the chance, and if held to the same expectations as their peers.

But they also need understanding, patience, and access via accommodations. 

Did you know that in 2011, only 68 percent of students with learning disabilities graduated high school with a regular diploma, versus 80 percent of all students? And 12 percent of students with LD/dyslexia graduated with another type of certificate, making them not eligible for many college or career opportunities. That is NOT okay.

IDEA is the federal law that governs special education for children with disabilities. According this article on Wrightslaw, Congress says

“implementation (of IDEA) has been impeded by low expectations, and an insufficient focus on applying replicable research on proven methods of teaching and learning for children with disabilities.” 20 U.S.C. 1400(c)(4)

The article goes on to say Congress found that “over 30 years of research and experience” demonstrated that special education would be more effective by:

“… having high expectations for such children and ensuring their access to the general education curriculum in regular classrooms, to the maximum extent possible” (20 U.S.C. 1400(c)(5); page 46, Wrightslaw: Special Education Law)

I saw a meme once that said “IEP” = “I expect progress.” And I do, but not just a little bit of progress. If my child is cognitively able to keep up with his peers in academics, I expect and demand that he be taught at his academic level, and NOT at his reading level. 

We parents should accept no less.

 

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