DSM-5 and Special Education

As has been widely publicized and discussed, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) has recently issued a revised version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), a book sometimes termed a “bible” for mental health professionals. The manual might better be called a dictionary, as it aims to provide a vocabulary established by general (though not unanimous) agreement among mental health professionals so that they can productively discuss how best to help people who exhibit disabling emotional and/or intellectual conditions. The diagnostic labels and the lists of elements for each that appear in the manual are the product of votes taken at general conclaves held, often decades apart, by the APA after recommendations are made by committees assigned to explore current research and experience around specified types of emotional and/or intellectual dysfunction. As its authors would be the first to admit, the DSM’s resulting diagnostic categories and constituent elements are far from perfect and, while intended as a tool to help clinicians, should be used with skepticism and with a heavy dose of direct and personal clinical judgment.

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Theater Review: “Distracted”

While I don’t pretend to be qualified as a theater critic, why should I let that hold me back – at least when I run across a production that is so beautifully and engagingly relevant?  Over the weekend, my wife and I went to see “Distracted,” a production of the Underground Railway Theater at the Central Square Theater in Cambridge.  I left thinking I’ve got to spread the word on this production to those in our community with an interest in special education.  The play – written by Lisa Loomer and directed by Wesley Savick – is a wonderfully funny/sad and very, very savvy treatment of a family wrestling with all the issues that arise around a child with ADHD, within a culture that is itself afflicted in so many ways with the confusion and distraction of multiple simultaneous stimuli.  The story could easily have veered into slapstick or worse, but the dialogue and action were spot on, and in the hands of an extremely skilled company of actors the tone held perfectly and poignantly to the line between comedy and tragedy.  The author obviously took the trouble to get her facts straight on the many factors that impact a family around a child with ADHD – medical, educational, genetic, therapeutic and social – and the resulting experience is educational, thought-provoking and moving.  As the Artistic Director of the Underground Railway Theater, Debra Wise (a superb actor in her own right), noted: “Though Distracted includes information, it does not set out to inform, but rather to invite and provoke.  We laugh at its characters and see ourselves, trying to fix problems with ingenious tools of our own invention – medicine, technology.  How do we sort hope from hubris?”

The play is scheduled through June 2.  Hope you can make it!

Robert Crabtree is a partner in the Special Education & Disability Rights practice group at Kotin, Crabtree & Strong, LLP in Boston, Massachusetts.

Breakfast and Lunch at Private Special Education Schools

In a recent memorandum to school superintendents, special education administrators, and approved private special education schools, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (“DESE”) clarified the requirements surrounding breakfast and lunch for students who attend private special education schools at public expense. The DESE stated, Continue reading

Mediation at the BSEA

The Bureau of Special Education Appeals, or the BSEA, is part of the Division of Administrative Law Appeals and has original jurisdiction over all disputes regarding special education in Massachusetts (including claims based on Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act).  The BSEA provides five avenues for dispute resolution in case of a disagreement between a parent and a school district.   

This is the second in a series of five posts that will discuss the dispute resolution options at the BSEA.

You have just rejected your child’s IEP in whole or in part. Now what?

The school district must notify the BSEA within five calendar days that you have rejected your child’s proposed IEP, placement, or finding of ineligibility for special education. Shortly thereafter, you will receive a notice from the BSEA informing you of your options, which include mediation. Continue reading

Take a Look for Yourself

The Wisdom of, and Right to, Observe Your Child’s Current or Proposed Special Education Program

We have all had experiences in our lives where things look different on paper than they do in reality or purported eyewitness accounts of some event turn out to be less than accurate or complete.  As many of us well know, the same can be true of IEPs and progress reports in their description of a student’s special education program.  In 2009, Massachusetts enacted a law to strengthen the right of parents and their evaluators to observe any current or proposed program for their child.  Massachusetts law (M.G.L. ch. 71B, §3; 603 CMR 28.07(1)(a)(3) accords parents, and by extension, their evaluators or consultants, a reasonable opportunity to observe their child’s program or proposed program. The rationale for the law, as delineated in the first sentence of the statute is: “To insure that parents can participate fully and effectively with school personnel in the consideration and development of appropriate educational programs for their child…”  Continue reading

Facilitated IEP Meetings at the BSEA

The Bureau of Special Education Appeals, or the BSEA, is part of the Division of Administrative Law Appeals and has original jurisdiction over all disputes regarding special education in Massachusetts (including claims based on Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act).  The BSEA provides five avenues for dispute resolution in case of a disagreement between a parent and a school district. 

This is the first in a series of five posts that will discuss the dispute resolution options at the BSEA.

Your child’s annual IEP meeting is coming up and you believe your voice will not be heard or it may get contentious due to past conflict, current controversy, or your future wishes for your child. You question your own ability to keep the meeting on track and feel as though a neutral third party’s presence may be beneficial. What options do you have?

One option, which can be requested by either a parent or a school district, is to ask a facilitator from the BSEA to help with a difficult IEP meeting. Both parties must agree to the facilitator’s presence and the service is free of charge. Continue reading