Dear Dr. Sylvia

Daughter Overcomes Disorders

March, 2013

QOne of our six-year-old twin boys was diagnosed as having a generalized anxiety disorder with some behaviors and characteristics of Asperger’s. He has many sensory processing challenges that are managed well through occupational therapy and daily planning.

Our son has been on an Individualized Educational Program (IEP) through our local school district for two years and is doing well. He has OT and social skills classes, and he attends a regular preschool. We’ve been very pleased with the home/preschool/school district partnership. However, we’re encountering challenges as we move from preschool to kindergarten.

The school psychologist wants to consider moving from an IEP to a 504 Plan. His reasoning is that our son is bright and would only qualify for an IEP under some type of mental health disability. The school psychologist said that he has ethical problems labeling a child this young with a mental health disability. He also commented that he’s never had a child get so far on the IQ and achievement tests and wasn’t sure that special services were needed. We’ve known all along that his cognitive skills were good.

Our concern is to keep the IEP in place to ensure services for his kindergarten and first-grade transitions. A label verifies his need for support. It’s up to us as parents and the school staff to manage it well so that he isn’t pigeon-holed, or that the label doesn’t turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy. We believe that it doesn’t matter how bright our son is if he can’t successfully adapt to school routines and expectations, and is unable to positively navigate the social element of school. We recognize that our son is a unique mix. He’s bright, but he also has the sensory and anxiety challenges that can cause him to struggle and can impede his ability to learn.

Do you have any suggestions or recommendations on the best way to manage this with the school psychologist? Are we being overly concerned with the social/emotional angle?

 

A

It’s time for a second opinion, but I can’t provide that without knowing your son. I suggest you return to the original doctor who first diagnosed your son so that he or she can gauge your child’s progress and either back you in your request or reassure you that an IEP is no longer necessary. A 504 plan also provides services, but they may not be as extensive.

I can understand your concern related to transitioning to kindergarten and first grade because those transitions provide the foundation for your son’s school success. I also agree that no matter how bright a child is, social and emotional issues can prevent learning, adjustment to school, and healthy development. If he’s progressed well with social-skill classes and OT, the therapists providing these services may advise you in those areas.

Labels are useful for services, but they can often cause problems for acceptance by peers. Because your son’s problems relate to peers, labeling could be counterproductive and cause him further social problems.

When your son moves into the classroom where his academic skills are noticed and valued, his social skills may also improve; but only time will tell if that helps your son in his adjustment to kindergarten and first grade. Young children often attach status to high achievement.

Consider that the school psychologist has a very real concern for your son and that sometimes unnecessary services can be harmful. It’s often better not to put an emotional disability label on children when there are only minor issues.

Dr Sylvia RimmDr. Sylvia Rimm is a child psychologist and clinical professor at Case University School of Medicine, author, newspaper and magazine columnist, and radio/TV personality. For free newsletters about gifted children, AD/HD, and/or learning disabilities, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope for each newsletter to P.O. Box 32, Watertown, WI, 53094. All questions are answered.

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