By Mary Kathryn McKinley
OSEP- The Last to Know?
On July 6 the US Dept. of Education, Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), sent out a “Dear Colleague Letter” to the States.  They have apparently “received reports that a growing number of children with ASDs (Autism Spectrum Disorders) may not be receiving needed speech and language services.”
Attorneys or advocates who work with families who have children with Autism wonder what took OSEP so long to figure this out.
In many instances of which we are aware, schools do evaluations that demonstrate that a student has a decent vocabulary, or can form words acceptably.  Then schools often use these evaluations as a basis for informing the parents that the student is doing so well that they no longer NEED Speech and Language Services!  How wonderful!  Of course, that way of thinking conveniently misses the boat.
FACT: Most people with autism struggle mightily with communication challenges throughout their lives!  And need professional speech and language services throughout their lives, including at school, to try to strengthen these deficits.
In fact, communication is at the heart of ASDs. The DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, the “Bible” for defining “mental disorders”) defines ASDs as being characterized by:

  1. Persistent difficulties in the social use of verbal and nonverbal communication as manifested by all of the following:
  2. Deficits in using communication for social purposes, such as greeting and sharing information, in a manner that is appropriate for the social context.
  3. Impairment of the ability to change communication to match context or the needs of the listener, such as speaking differently in a classroom than on the playground, talking differently to a child than to an adult, and avoiding use of overly formal language.
  4. Difficulties following rules for conversation and storytelling, such as taking turns in conversation, rephrasing when misunderstood, and knowing how to use verbal and nonverbal signals to regulate interaction.
  5. Difficulties understanding what is not explicitly stated (e.g., making inferences) and nonliteral or ambiguous meanings of language (e.g., idioms, humor, metaphors, multiple meanings that depend on the context for interpretation).
  6. The deficits result in functional limitations in effective communication, social participation, social relationships, academic achievement, or occupational performance, individually or in combination.”

We advise parents who are told that their kid doesn’t need speech and language services at school to request an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE), based on a disagreement with the School’s evaluations.  Our office can help parents with this; if the process set forth in IDEA is followed, the school often ends up paying for the evaluation.
Then we advise parents how to get the best evaluation for their child.  The evidence developed through the IEE process can provide powerful support for parents’ position that their child does indeed need Speech and Language Services as part of his or her IEP in order to receive an appropriate education as defined by IDEA.
If you’d like to learn more or if this is an issue you are facing, feel free to contact us.