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IEE not accepted by SPED team - is rejecting ok for the year?



6-year-old 1st grader, ADHD-combined with some sensory issues + gifted reading (5th grade level), verbal, and math (2nd/3rd grade level)...

A bit complicated and long backstory, but I'll try to make it brief:

- Last year was really tough for my kid - she was at a Catholic school where the teacher didn't understand her at all and asked us to do basically every evaluation in the book. Had her checked for reading/verbal skills (way above average), hearing (fine), etc. Teacher didn't seem to understand what ADHD + giftedness looks like - our kid was bored and acting out because she wasn't being engaged. We were also working on getting meds right, and she had a few weeks at a time of weird behavior until we got the right med combination.

- At the end of the year, the teacher asked that we do an autism eval. We agreed because we were certain it would come back negative (we've never had any thought that she might be autistic, and she definitely has ADHD) - but the eval performed by the SPED system in our public district was heavily based on the teacher's evaluation and an assessment in the classroom, where our kid was continuing to act out. Their finding was that some of her behaviors were "consistent with autism" (these are behaviors also consistent with ADHD, like fidgeting and not looking at people when they're talking).

- Last year's Catholic school used this as a reason to say our kid wasn't welcome back to school there - and the SPED department in public school wanted her in a mainstream setting with an ABA tutor. We disagreed with the autism assessment and rejected the placement and the addition of autism as a disability to the IEP (partial rejection, we kept the services she'd had on there already - PT/OT/speech/social).

- Our daughter's now in a new school - a small gifted school that is the perfect setting for her. She is engaged academically, encouraged socially, and she's thriving. She comes home happy, and she has tons of friends. We don't really have any social concerns for her in this setting, and she's not going to the public school for the foreseeable future.

- Last month, we were able to get her in for a 6-hour neuropsych evaluation, which was specifically aimed at distinguishing autism from ADHD and getting to the root of her behaviors. We don't want to be doing the wrong things for therapy/services/meds/ etc, so we wanted to know whether she might be autistic even though it didn't "fit" in our minds. The evaluation came back saying that she is gifted and has ADHD-combined type, but she's definitely not autistic - the behaviors that cross over between ADHD and autism are due to ADHD issues (e.g., poor affect recognition due to lack of focus, but excellent understanding of emotion). The neuropsych emphasized that our first instinct was right - the issues she has socially and in the classroom are related to not paying attention to friends' body language and teachers' directions, and therefore are ADHD-related.

- We had a meeting with the SPED IEP team last week, and although they saw these evaluation results, they were not comfortable with considering the report as an IEE and incorporating its results into her IEP rather than their evaluation. They want to keep the disability as autism and the proposed placement into a classroom with an ABA tutor for this year. She has a re-evaluation due next year - they want to keep this until they can do the re-evals next year and see if they agree.


So the issue is this -

We are definitely going to reject the parts of the IEP that include the autism disability and ABA placement. However - the SPED team has led us to believe that we can just reject this part and leave everything else as-is for the entire year, and then revisit next year, without any issues going forward. We have learned not to trust everything they say, though - so we are worried that leaving this in the IEP, even if rejected, might lead to some problems down the road.

Practically, the distinction doesn't mean anything right now - she's in a private school receiving private services at the moment, and we won't be doing anything with the school system. But she needs an IEP for standardized testing, and we don't want to assume that we'll always be in a place to afford the private school and services, so we'd like to keep the door open to the *appropriate* placement at the public school if we ever needed it.

Two questions here are:

1. Can we leave the IEP partially rejected for the entire rest of the school year and re-assess when we do the re-evals next year? Does this cause any problems down the road - e.g., if different people are on the SPED team next year and don't know the background?

2. If we do partially reject the IEP and leave in the services we agree on (which we get privately now anyway), and then they do a re-eval next year and still say she's autistic rather than having ADHD - what do we do then? Nothing in our experience or the clinical evaluation says she's autistic - they are basically saying that they can't accommodate her in a setting appropriate for her (i.e., a gifted setting with social supports), so they're going to label her as something else in order to place her somewhere she doesn't belong. Do we need to fight them if this happens? What are the next steps?


Please note - we have absolutely no issue with the possibility of our child being autistic. I know most people are in the opposite situation - knowing their child is autistic and not being able to get the right eval/diagnosis and therefore not getting the supports they need. But we have spent a long time considering things from every angle, and it just doesn't fit for her. The school setting they're proposing putting her in sounds like a terrible fit for her - somewhere where she'd be learning below her academic level, then probably acting out due to boredom, then being "corrected" for her behavior and having her self-esteem plummet. I don't need to hear from anyone who just wants to tell me to accept that she has autism - we get enough of that from our IEP team already.


Thanks for any advice you can give!

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The rules vary by state but I was able to "waive" services for speech therapy for my son while they continued to provide the other IEP services.  This might be what you can do but you might need to agree with their eval.  Have you thought about asking the public school for a neuropsych eval given that that would be on par with the outside eval you had done?

Did the public school assess for gifted?  Is gifted enrichment mandated in your state?  I'd definitely want them to see that she is gifted & needing gifted services.  (There are lots of children who are both gifted and autistic and there is lots of overlap between ASD & ADHD.  I've also seen where gifted asynchronous development overlap with symptoms of autism.  It's hard to tease out exactly what's going on.)

You might want to remind the school that misidentification of a disability and providing remediation for it is just as bad for a student as not providing the intervention a student needs where the school assessment overlooked an area of need.

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My philosophy is that the child on paper should match the child in front of you. If the school refuses to do the necessary evaluations right now to change her eligibility category then I would write a very detailed, comprehensive parent concerns letter about why you feel her ADHD (under Other Health Impairment in most cases) impacts her education and access to the curriculum the most. Ask that the letter be included, in its entirety, in your daughter's IEP. Also, submit all the medical documentation you have that supports this if you're comfortable doing so. Any changes they disagree with or deny should be put in the PWN and you would still have the options available to you in your state's procedural safeguards. 

At the end of the day, you have to decide if this is the "hill you want to die on" though. Qualifying for services under ASD is just that, a qualification. It is not a diagnosis and it is not supposed to be used to determine placement, goals, services, etc. Those should always be based on the child's needs. If the services are working for now, it would be my opinion that making changes in the eligibility category could wait until the formal re-evaluation. 

Michigan mother of two with IEPs, and owner of MI Student Advocacy Services. Trying to change the world one IEP at a time. 





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