“Well ALL Kids Do That!”

Published on June 11, 2009 by Jennifer Laviano

T-minus 12 business days until the end of June, and therefore the close of yet another whirlwind Annual Review IEP Season.  Somehow, I don’t think I’m going to make it without another few rants.  In my special education law practice in Connecticut, I attend most of the Annual Reviews on behalf of my clients this time of year, and so starting in March and increasing in frequency through June, I am in IEP meetings almost daily, sometimes more than one a day.  So, please forgive me for being particularly cynical at this time of year, as I hear the same things in IEP meeting after IEP meeting, in district after district, coming out of the mouths of numerous staff members.

Let me be clear, there are differences in each IEP meeting, just as there are similarities.  I’m not talking about hearing similar things from meeting to meeting; I’m talking about THE SAME refrains repeated over and over.  And here is one I’ve heard three times this week alone, each time in response to a significant concern raised by a parent about their child’s progress or behavior:

“Well ALL kids do that!”

Deep breaths.  Deep breaths.  I realize, as do my clients, that there certain things, and certain behaviors, which most kids at some point might say or do.  However, when a parent is giving an example of something that their child is doing at home or in school at an IEP Team meeting, sitting next to their attorney who is there because they have such serious concerns, does the school district really believe that they are giving these examples just to point out that their child is just like all other kids in this regard?  NO, they are not!  They are letting the Team know that this particular behavior or statement is prevalent or significant enough that it goes beyond the norm.

Perhaps the school staff think responding that the child’s performance is “typical” will make the parents feel better; it doesn’t.

In fact, when the teacher’s or administrator’s response to the concerns of the parent of a child with special needs is “all kids do that,” the parents actually hear “that’s not a concern.”  Well, it’s THEIR concern, and they are raising it at the IEP meeting for a reason.  They are exercising their legal right to meaningfully participate in the development of their child’s IEP, one of the most important procedural safeguards under the IDEA.

To make them feel like the examples they give are not valid is dismissive and, sometimes, insulting.

For instance, if a mother suspects that her child might have an autism spectrum disorder, and she says “sometimes he won’t respond to his name,” she is letting the IEP Team know that her son is routinely unresponsive to his name, and that she is very worried about it.  The insensitive response: “well, lots of the 5 year olds in our class don’t respond to their name sometimes” is an uncanny grasp of the obvious.  My guess is she knows that already.  Or when a father says “when I do homework with her I notice she is reversing her b’s and d’s,” he is expressing concerns about a learning disability, perhaps dyslexia.  So hearing “some kids will occasionally reverse their letters, it’s perfectly normal” is not helpful.

The purpose of the IEP Meeting is to discuss a child’s special education needs, not to “sugar-coat” them.

Now, don’t get me wrong; a child’s strengths are vital to understand in order to develop an appropriate program; and of course sometimes parents and the school district don’t see the child the same way.  In addition, it can be very helpful for a family to understand which things are developmentally or age appropriate as compared with other children, which is information teachers can often provide.

Yet, school district staff would go a long way towards establishing a trusting relationship with the family is they assumed that when they raise a concern about their child, it is a genuine expression of just that.

And the school would go even further if they actually addressed those issues in the services outlined in the IEP, but that’s another rant.

One Response to “Well ALL Kids Do That!”

  1. Barbara Giordano
    June 14th, 2009 | 1:51 pm

    Yes. This is absolutely correct. I’ve heard that mantra “well, all kids do that”, dismissive response to my concerns since my son was a toddler. I had to fight to get the special education services he needed. If I didn’t push back, my son wouldn’t get the necessary services. It’s that simple. And, as it is, I have to psyche myself up for every meeting.

    Right now, my son is 7 years old and continues to have problems with simple math and unable to tie his shoe laces. It’s not because my son hasn’t been shown 100 plus times and more – he has. He has special needs which means, in sum, it may take another year or longer to get basic concepts many of us take for granted.

    Parents fears about their children with special challenges need to have their concerns validated not dismissed. I stand firm in the knowledge that no one knows my child better than I do. However, I cannot understand how these educators who spend 7 plus hours a day with our children are unable to see the challenges as we the parents do.

    I think parents should not except comparison of their child to other children. It is insulting and dismissive. One thing I find useful when I go into IEP neetings is to bring along a photograph of my child. Our children need to be at least visually present at the meeting. I think it helps to keep the focus on the child the meeting is about.

    I’m revving up for my son’s IEP meeting. Finding this blog is very helpful and timely.