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Ask the Experts

After Five Years in Special Ed, My Child Is Still Behind

By Debra Collins, Family therapist


My oldest child has ADHD and dyslexia. He is in fourth grade and repeated first grade. He is behind in all of his classes, in reading the most. I had a meeting with one of his teachers last week and found out that he is still reading at a first-grade level. He has an IEP (Individual Education Plan) and is "labeled" as OHI (other health impaired). I have had many meetings with the school and have been dealing with this for five years. I feel as if he is falling through the system. I have tried everything I can think of to help him. If you know of anything that I might be able to do to help, please let me know.


The IEP is structured to prevent children from falling through the cracks. Depending on the severity of your child's impairments, an IEP meeting can be held once or twice a year, or more frequently if his teachers feel this is necessary. The IEP and his classification/diagnosis allows the IEP process to continue throughout his school years. Having the IEP is a wonderful resource for you to have in place, because it holds people accountable.

Unfortunately, some children don't get to this step soon enough. So, even if it doesn't feel like it to you, you've done a lot for him by getting him to qualify for the IEP.

Since you feel he is not making progress, I would take all the treatment plans and goals you signed at his IEP meeting IEPs and go over them to familiarize yourself with what was supposed to be accomplished and in what time frame. If you no longer have copies, the school should be able to provide them. Once you've examined the full scope of all his IEP goals, you can present your specific concerns to your principal. Ask what other services he is eligible for.

If you are still not satisfied, you can contact your school district's special education office and ask how you might file a grievance. Principals, teachers and special education personnel all have different ideas of how to interpret the laws of special education, which makes it difficult for parents to sort out. You may also want to go to the Web site of the National Center for Learning Disabilities. NCLD is an advocacy center for parents, students and educators to better understand how this system works. You are doing the right thing by advocating for your child and staying on top of it.

Debra Collins is a licensed marriage and family therapist and has worked in both primary and middle schools as a school counselor. She gives workshops to teachers and students and offers parenting classes in the San Francisco Bay Area. To learn more, visit her website.

Advice from our experts is not a substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment from a health-care provider or learning expert familiar with your unique situation. We recommend consulting a qualified professional if you have concerns about your child's condition.

Comments from readers

"Try to set up a way your child can learn at a private setting.The state does not know how to deal with children with special needs.My child has gone through 12 years of school only to get a certificate that can't even get her into college.I feel very lied to by the teachers and the state of N.Y.If I had been told the truth about the program she was in.I would have put her into a trade school.And home schooled her.Now she will have to go to another program to get a G.E.D. It stinks.Why did't they prepare her for a G.E.D. in the 12 years of school?Something is just not right."
"My child was in Special Ed. graduate high school with a certificate. He went on to obtain his GED to validate his high school diploma. 5 years later, he earned his BS in Business Administration. 2 years later, he obtained his MBA. I often regret ever giving up and placing him in a Special Educational classroom setting. He always believed that he could perform in mainstream classes, but his high school teachers strongly opposed us removing him from the special ed. system. Now, my husband and I feel as though we failed our son. We feel as though we failed him because we delayed his progression in life. Instead of my son finishing high school at 18, moving on to college and graduating at the age of maybe 21-22, he did not graduate college until he reached 25. We listend to our child when he explained to us the difficulties he experienced when he went for his GED and went on to college. The way I understand it,the intricacies of having to learn Algebran, Finite Math & Biology wa! s tormenting. Thank the Lord someone invented intermediate courses & we could afford to assit him with paying for a tutor. Imagine our dismay to actually witness our son, complete 12 years of schooling,and to not even know the basics of Algebra. The intire situation just seamed so rediculous. I am not totally against Special Ed. programs, but I believe we should do more to educate our children and not just baby-sit them. If a student being in special education precludes him or her from graduating high school with a regular high school diploma, maybe we should push for the school system to prepare our children for the GED. "
"I have a child that was falling behind severely the older she got. After several evaluations done OUTSIDE of school, I found she has severe to profound dyslexia and cannot get past a first grade level. An orton-gillingham based education was recommended for her. I believe there are many children that cannot progress due to dyslexia and it is not identified accurately. Then these kids become behavior problems and the issues go on from there. I urge all parents/guardians with a lax child that can't get with it in school to get full evaluations by a qualified dyslexia expert and go from there. Your child will benefit."
"I have a step-son that has barely made it to 5th grade...thanks to summer school...but I have been in his life (full time) for a little over a now is a transition time for him...I truly believe that he is dyslexic.....and most schools in North Carolina do not test for that... what do we do now?????"
"My thought is that perhaps this child is performing within his capabilities."
"I taught fourth grade for 28 years and had several slow readers during that time. I asked what they liked to read, not what they had to read. They like pictures with their words, so I recommended comic books, not violent, or scary ones, but ones that teach while being funny. Students related the words to the pictures and made it easier for them to read. This may not work for all, but it helped mine."