It is okay to ask for an independent evaluation
At this point in my story, Jess was 7 years old. Three years had slipped away since I had overheard the word ‘autistic‘ at the school for the blind.
We had just received the result of her testing at school where she had been labeled as Moderately Mentally Intellectually Impaired. We were so upset about Jessica’s latest evaluation, we vehemently protested the results of the testing and insisted that report not become a permanent part of Jessica’s file. Thankfully, we were aware of our parental rights as outlined below.
From the Georgia Department of Education Special Education: A Parent’s Guide to Understanding Rights and Responsibilities
If you disagree with the school’s evaluation, you may have your child tested by a professional evaluator not employed by the school district, at public or private expense. Contact the school district to find out the procedures for accessing this right.
The school district must consider the results of an independent evaluator.
Continuing our effort to get what we felt like was appropriate placement and services, we went to our pediatrician to get advice and find out where else we could go. She referred us and got us an appointment with a pediatric neuropsychologist in Knoxville, TN. Two months before Jessica would turn 8 years old, we had our appointment. In a very thorough, eight-page, detailed report, the doctor reviewed all previous history and evaluation reports and then presented his own observations and findings. In his case formulation, he states:
- Despite Jessica’s multiple problems, the primary diagnosis must be considered autistic disorder…the autistic symptomatology predominate.
- The combination of autistic and visual deficits account for the majority of Jessica’s problems in adaptation, particularly as reflected in past psychological assessment.
- Jessica may, in fact, have significant untapped potential.
- Whatever potential she possesses will not be realized unless she is placed in a program predominantly specializing in autism.
- Traditional interventions for visually impaired children, for organically impaired children, or for mentally retarded children will all be misfocused and ultimately unproductive.
- Only through adopting a highly structured behavioral program for autistic children can Jessica be expected to overcome much of her autistic symptomatology.
Our next step in the process to get her label changed was to present the information to the school system. Jessica’s father and I sent a letter on June 6, with the pertinent information to the Director of Special Ed. We promptly got a letter back addressing all the issues of concerns we had outlined in our letter. The next steps on their part would be:
- The staff psychometrist (yes, the same one that previously tested her) would review the new assessment findings, then an addendum to her previous psychological report would be written.
- IF the assessments indicated that Jessica met eligibility requirements for autism as stated in the Georgia Special Education Rules, then her classification would be changed to autism, with visual impairment being her secondary disability.
- After the addendum was written, then we would schedule a placement meeting to discuss change in placement.
Our next IEP meeting was scheduled for August 18, and the addendum was written August 16. In the addendum, the psychometrist states, “Based upon a review of the case files, as well as the current neuropsychological evaluation, it appears that Jessica does display characteristics associated with autism.”
Oh, really? You think? Hmmm. That only took 4 precious years.
Finally! Progress! Now we just needed to work on getting that ‘highly structured program predominantly specializing in autism‘ that the doctor had said might help her overcome some of her symptoms and meet her potential. Since our school system did not have a program specializing in autism, my mother went to see the school superintendent to discuss bringing in a teacher or specialist for autism.
Well, more bad news… the superintendent abruptly and heatedly questioned the validity of the Knoxville neuropsychologist’s report–not having read it, by the way–and said before the school system would change anything for Jessica related to autism, their own testing would have to confirm that diagnosis.
Here we go again…
Next up – Beyond Disappointment: Gratitude
If you are new to Autism After School – The Transitional Truth, Jess is an autistic and visually impaired young adult. I am telling our story to help other parents and professionals learn from our journey. My hope is to help others better prepare for experiences within the educational system and the transition to adulthood.