Paging Dr. Freud

Published on February 15, 2010 by Jennifer Laviano

Girls can do anything!

I guess I was due for a rant.

First, I get a vile comment on the blog that likened Asperger’s Disorder to a fad, and further blamed a number of disabilities on poor parenting.  Thankfully, you, my loyal readers, jumped on board and shamed this yahoo with your reasoned replies.  I have yet to learn more about what motivated the comment, nor even what led him or her to be reading my blog.  Let’s just say, it seems to me that this person has issues.

Still, it is always heartbreaking to hear statements that realize your worst fears about what some people think about individuals with disabilities.

Next, I read a letter from a board attorney on a case of mine, documenting the school district’s “concern” that my client, who is placed in a private special education school at public expense, is “not being given the opportunity to interact with peers.”  Translation:  the school district is laying the groundwork to try to stop paying for the private school.

Granted, I was already doing a slow burn over the comment on my blog, but this statement just hits a nerve with me.


The reference made by the school’s lawyer was to the LRE provision of the IDEA, which mandates that, to the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities should be educated “with children who are not disabled.”  IEP teams are required to regularly document and justify any removal of students with special needs from the regular education environment.

Inclusion of kids with disabilities in the “mainstream” is one of the main goals of the IDEA, and in fact is at the core of its historical underpinnings.

However, for some students at some points in their life, the IDEA contemplates that a more restrictive environment might be required, as in the case of my client, who is in what is called a “self-contained” program.  This means that all of the students who attend this school have disabilities, and in this case, severe developmental disabilities.  Self-contained programs can exist within the public schools as well, although this one happens to be a private program.

Which gets me back to the comment by opposing counsel, that the school would like to see the child “interact with peers.”  What was meant was “non-disabled peers,” but that is not what was said.  What was said was “the opportunity to interact with peers.”   The child DOES interact with peers; it’s just that he interacts with peers who happen to also have disabilities.  You don’t have to be a Freudian to see the subtext in this omission.

Since when do schoolmates with IEPs not count?  Students with disabilities ARE peers!


The more I stewed over this, the more I came to realize how connected the two comments were:  the nasty (and ignorant) response on my blog, and this reply from someone who should know better.  At the core, they betray what I believe is one of the biggest obstacles to progress in the disability rights movement, which is a basic absence of concern for people who have special needs by most people who have no personal experience with it.

Years ago, I came to the realization that there are two types of people when it comes to special education rights:  those who understand what “there but for the Grace of God go I” means, and those who don’t.


Recently, I was speaking to a group of law students about special education law.  One of the students started to ask why we, as a society, should be spending “all of this money” on kids with disabilities and especially special education litigation, when “many more” students might go without.  I responded that, as far as I am concerned, free football versus a child learning to speak was no contest.  Being a smart law student, he countered with examples of much more important things than football, like books.  Fair point.  So, I explained how most of the cases that become very expensive do so because the school district failed to follow the law to begin with, and then proceeded to give about a half a dozen examples of cases I’ve litigated which could have been resolved initially for a fraction of what it ultimately cost the school system.

What I didn’t say is that I’ve had this exact debate for many years with a number of friends from high school, college, law school, and beyond.

Several of whose children I now represent.

There but for the Grace of God…

6 Responses to Paging Dr. Freud

  1. Anne
    February 15th, 2010 | 9:32 pm

    As the mother of seven children ranging in age from 20 years to 3 years with 3 of them diagnosed with ASD, I can tell you unequivocally that this is NOT a fad.

    I am the same parent I was 20 years ago (actually, I’m a bit of a better parent now) and my children have had the same rules in place for those 20 years. There is no deficiency in parenting here and as all of my kids are allowed to be ‘just kids’ there is also no denying the differences between the ASD children and the rest.

    Ignorance surely must be bliss for some, but it certainly isn’t for the parent of a child with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. The fear, sadness and guilt that goes along with such a diagnosis can be crippling.

    If it were parents making the diagnosis, I might see your side (the errant commenter on the other post) a little plainer, but the people responsible for making these diagnoses are TRAINED PROFESSIONALS. They have nothing whatsoever to gain by pronouncing 1 out of less than 100 children afflicted with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. None whatsoever. Please try to think before you speak.

  2. Jennifer Laviano
    February 15th, 2010 | 10:04 pm

    Anne, thank you for this comment and for reading. I am always amazed at how many people try to make my clients feel like their child’s disability is in their heads! It’s something I wrote about early on in the blog, in this piece:
    …hope it resonates. Best, Jen

  3. Rochelle Dolim
    February 15th, 2010 | 11:33 pm

    Our district can’t use the ‘interaction with peers’ argument because we’ve been requesting interaction for years. My autistic daughters have a project they spearheaded which has had great international success. They could serve as
    an inspiration to their peers.

    What officials usually mean is that they want the disabled student to follow, not be a leader to their peers … diabled or not.

    The fact is there are less than two and a half years of school obligation toward my girls to get 4 years of academics completed. Delays have happened for six years. This would be over and monies not being spent if only the schools had done their job in the first place.

    I’ve found resources where services could be provided for less than half what the district would have to spend. They prefer to maintain absolute control, at the price of denying my girls any education at all.

    I spoke with my brother in California last week. His autistic son has applied to ten major universities. Five of those saw enough promise to hold interviews with my nephew … four of them Ivy League – Yale, Princeton, Harvard and Brown.

    My girls, who have higher standardized scores in some areas, won’t so much as have the opportunity to earn a diploma.

  4. Jen
    February 16th, 2010 | 7:39 am

    Thank you for this important and inspiring post. You remind me why special education law is so important.

  5. Penny
    February 17th, 2010 | 8:37 am

    This is an example of the anguish parents of special needs children experience at the hands of the “ignorant” public. My son has ADHD and it is often seen as an excuse for poor parenting or lack of discipline. Even I still, after 15 months since diagnosis, have a hard time calling it a disability, a hard time referring to him as “special needs.” While he has difficulty in school because of ADHD, he is perfectly able, just in different ways than the expectations established by main stream public education in the US.

    If we changed our education system to address the needs of ADHD and Aspergers and other disorders, we wouldn’t need to spend as much money on special education. For instance, if our schools incorporated movement, hands-on activity, art, and music into daily instruction, so many struggling kids would be engaged and stimulated and struggling no more. I know my son would be exponentially more successful in school.

    We have personally run up against a huge wall with the school system because, despite my son’s school struggles due to his ADHD, he tested with gifted intelligence. Under current law, it’s an easy denial to services. We have a very understanding school administration though and they have been very generous in accommodations in his 504 Plan.

    Don’t worry about the ignorant (uneducated about this subject matter) commenter, if they were lucky enough to have a special needs child in their life, they would have the facts and wouldn’t be so judgmental. It is people like this that make me want to take on a personal public campaign of education about ADHD.

    I admire your commitment to the rights of special needs children and your passion in your profession. Keep making us proud!


  6. Angela Keef
    February 17th, 2010 | 7:28 pm

    This is so right! I just wrote about a similar thing. I think schools sometimes use the “full inclusion” buzzword to force parents into believing that is what the law says, and because it says that, we don’t provide this or that service…..they don’t have the appropriate service, they don’t want to spend the money to provide it, so they say we need to fully include the student. Inclusion can be great….when it is APPROPRIATE….but it isn’t always appropriate. Good post. Thanks.