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The best interests of the child: a national issue - a local dilemma.

Although this article discusses communication, the problem affects all children. Based on reports we have heard, the planned withholding of needed services and equipment, educational and/or therapeutic, is one way that local officials have tried to cut costs. Because of the pressure to reduce costs, sometimes more subtle withholding of services takes place. In fact, some professionals lose sight of the fact that they are recommending less than adequate care because of the stresses imposed by financial limitations.

Parents and their advocates at the local level as well as state directors and their legal counsels must monitor the ways IEPs are created and carried out to assure that needed services and equipment are provided. Within such a monitoring system, parents or professionals who believe that decisions are being made based on fiscal constraints rather than a child's needs must have confidential mechanisms for lodging complaints without creating trouble for themselves or their loved ones.

A relatively small segment of our students with disabilities must rely on augmentative and alternative communication (AAC). To participate meaningfully in the education process, these students need certain special services. In addressing the needs of these students, speech/language pathologists (SLPs) sometimes determine that the best interests of the student would be served through the acquisition and application of an AAC system.

Unfortunately, it has come to our attention that some professionals have been instructed not to include this determination in the student's IEP since this would obligate the school to provide it. Or it is stated that an AAC system will be procured on the basis of cost rather than function. However, different systems allow significantly different levels of functional communication and, hence, personal achievement. The penalty for sound clinical practice by the professional toward team members, implied or communicated directly, can be termination of employment.

When this occurs, two things happen. The SLP usually violates his or her code of ethics which states that the interests of the student being served should be held paramount. And then, perhaps worse, this violation is kept secret. No one knows that the right thing has not been done. Parents are usually completely dependent on the expertise of school personnel in determing appropriate services. The parents are not aware that the best possible services are not being provided and that the student's future levels of personal achievement will be adversely affected.

This practice is short-sighted as well as illegal. First, many students who receive appropriate AAC devices and training have realistic opportunities for success in mainstream classrooms. My experience has been that "successful" students require decreased school services in future years. I have seen students go on to college and obtain competitive employment.

Students who do not receive AAC devices and training continue to need significant assistance from personal aides. They move from grade to grade without academic or personal growth and seem destined to live in custodial settings for their lifetimes. The obvious costs for failure far exceed the costs of success.

Sadly, although this practice is clearly illegal, many families do not go on to due process hearings because they are intimidated, they do not want to create adversarial relationships with professionals or they are unaware than an alternative for success may be available.

My observations suggest that this practice of refusing to provide appropriate services appears to be made on the local school district level only. In my travels and presentations across the country, I have had the opportunity to meet several state directors and their legal counsel, none of whom have espoused this practice and are appalled to learn about it. Unfortunately it is at the local level that students seek and receive services.


One approach would be a series of in-service informational meetings so that the personnel responsible for special services at the local levels, including their fiscal representatives, thoroughly understand their ethical and legal mandates. Topics could include how to write technology into an IEP, what assessment steps should be followed to determine the appropriate technology, how to set realistic educational goals for the student using technology, what are the legal responsibilities of the public school, etc.
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Title Annotation:refusing services to handicapped children
Author:Romich, Barry
Publication:The Exceptional Parent
Date:Apr 1, 1993
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