Special Education Munchausen’s?

Published on May 10, 2009 by Jennifer Laviano

I simply do not understand the attempt by so many school districts, and their counsel, to portray the genuine concern of parents of children with special education needs as exaggerated, or worse, fabricated.   Having practiced special education law in Connecticut for many years, and represented hundreds of families in that time, I am just getting fed up with this approach.

Do these people think that there is some massive, epidemic case of special education Munchhausen’s Syndrome running rampant throughout the country?

In the majority of the IEP meetings I attend, the school district is trying to portray the student as performing better than the parents are seeing.  Obviously, when the parents are there with a lawyer claiming that a Free and Appropriate Public Education is not being provided, the school has an interest in “propping up” the progress.  I get it.  But what I DON’T get is how special education administrators can continually insinuate that the concerns the parents are raising are disingenuous.

For example, if I have to hear one more special educator tell a parent of a child with autism that “lots of 5 year olds do that,” I’m going to throw a shoe.

You’ve been there…the school is saying that the student is doing just fine, the parents are saying that they are very worried about their interaction with typical peers.  It goes something like this:

Parent:  “He doesn’t seem to be having any conversations with the kids on the playground.”

Special ed administrator:  “Well, his teacher said she is seeing him talking to other kids, right, you see that, right?”

Parent:  “Well, yeah, he’s talking, but we’ve noticed that what he’s really doing is repeating the entire Diego video he loves.  The other kids just look at him like he’s weird or something.”

Special ed administrator:  “Well, LOTS of five year olds talk about the videos they’re watching.”

This is the part where I start itching to throw my shoe.

I just want to ask these administrators, what parent wants to see their child as struggling, if they aren’t?  In fact, don’t most parents generally see their children in the best possible light?

This whole attitude that, somehow, parents of children with special needs set about to make their child’s needs seem greater, so that they can get more special education services, is just ridiculous!  I actually had a Board attorney write a brief once that focused repeatedly on the parents’ “plan” to set the school district up to have to pay for their child’s services.  As if, years before, the parents, newly married and with stars in their eyes, looked at each other and said “honey, I have a GREAT plan…let’s have a really impaired child just so that our school district has to spend a lot of money on him in 10 years.  What do you think?  Great plan, huh?”

Or, those cases where the parents are fighting to have their child attend a private special education program because their child’s needs are so significant, and the school acts as if they want the town to pay for Choate.  Do they ever stop and think how incredibly difficult it must be for a parent to look at some of these self-contained schools and think that this is where their child needs to be?  Wouldn’t any parent be happy to just put their child on the bus and see them head to school like everyone else in their neighborhood?

I wish more people who work in special education would consider that the parents of children with special needs want the same things that the parents of children without disabilities want:  a successful education and life for their kids.  It’s just that parents of kids with special education needs are far less likely to get it, at least not without a fight.

With very few exceptions, I can tell you that the hundreds of parents I have met are not making this up.  In fact, many have had to work hard to acknowledge their child’s disability, or to have their spouse do the same.  Instead of making them feel like their concerns about their child are “in their head,” perhaps school staff should consider whether the parents might have more insight into this one child, who is in fact THEIR child, than they might have given the number of kids for whom they are responsible.

It would be a good start.

5 Responses to Special Education Munchausen’s?

  1. Jackie
    May 10th, 2009 | 10:31 pm

    Wow, it’s as though you’ve been in our IEPs! lol
    We’ve heard ‘all kids do that’ or ‘you’ll see that in all kids’ so much I could scream. The Sped coordinator actually told me I had ‘high expectations’ for my kids as an excuse not to give recognize the issues. It gets to be so much negativity, like an uphill battle.

  2. Jane
    May 11th, 2009 | 7:13 am

    In addition to the premise that parent’s are making it seem worse than it is to garner funding, there is often the implication that the parent’s are doing this to put the spotlight on themselves.

  3. Cyndi
    June 30th, 2009 | 8:54 pm

    Were you at our last ARD?

  4. Bonnie the Web Designer
    June 30th, 2009 | 10:36 pm

    You nailed this so perfectly! We are a set of those parents who are fighting so hard, only to cry on the way home from meetings for the struggle we endure (well I cry, my husband doesn’t). How many times have I looked at my beautiful son and wondered how we are going to help him?

    Just today our son’s OT sent us this email: I realize that as a parent we are the advocates for our kids but some things may be anticipated as a greater challenge than they will actually be. Please think about taking a deep breath and letting first grade start before getting too worried (and remember kids pick up on the vibe of worry and nervousness without actually being able to process it like we do). You think she’s advocating for the school? She knows we’re switching lawyers and she’s trying to talk us out of it.

    Sorry if my tone is angry… I am angry about this whole process. Wish we lived in CT because you sound like a fabulous lawyer! Thanks for sharing so much!

  5. Charlene
    August 30th, 2009 | 11:11 am

    We fought for years to get my Autistic child de-classified as “mentally retarded” as the School Psych only has to review what the medical doctors have said, but not obligated to “agree”. Whatever.

    Last IEP with 3 Lawyers in tow – and demands that could choke a horse – we got our 10 year old in a MAINSTREAM classroom with Aides that very next day. Funny how that happened, huh? Trust me, I was armed and ready to “throw that shoe”.

    He is now in a 4/5th grade class – in a different school and flourishing. He reads at a 2nd grade reading level – and two years ago he couldn’t read a word and his former school told me he would NEVER read. Yay, right.

    I have taken steps to be trained by the Legal Council so I can be classified as an Education Advocate and know the laws. I know them now, and watch out – nothing is more feared than an informed parent about the laws.

    Thanks for your great website.