Special Education After Stroke

Returning to school full-time following a stroke will be a major milestone for your child and needs to be carefully planned. Returning slowly may be best. Keeping in touch with friends while not in school can also assist your child in settling back into school.

Changes in your child's functioning, including physical and cognitive differences, need to be taken into account. Special education services can help children who’ve had a stroke as they re-enter school. Some children may need to be in a different classroom or need an aide. It is important to be aware that your child's needs may change as he or she recovers. For younger children, problems may not show up until years after the stroke.

Many parents with school-age children who have had a stroke wonder about how they should approach their school district about an evaluation for their child.

Understanding special education evaluations and special education law can help you advocate for your child and work with the school to create a plan for your child's school re-entry.

What is special education?

  • Special education is specially designed instruction provided at no cost to parents that meets the unique needs of each student that is identified with a disability.
  • Special education includes instruction in the classroom, in the home, in hospitals, institutions and other settings, physical education, travel training, and vocational education.
  • Related services are services such as transportation and developmental, corrective, and other supportive services as are required to assist a child with a disability to fully benefit from special education (therapies).

Special education and the law

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a federal law that secures special education services for children with disabilities from the time they are born until they graduate from high school. It was reauthorized by Congress in 2004, prompting a series of changes in the way special education services are implemented.

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of disabling conditions by programs and activities receiving or benefiting from federal financial assistance. It ensures that the child with a disability has equal access to an education. Section 504 covers individuals who meet the definition of a qualified "handicapped" person — for example, a child who has or has had a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity. Major life activities include: walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, working, caring for oneself, and performing manual tasks.

Special education evaluations

In general, a special education evaluation is appropriate for all children with brain injury, including stroke. Evaluations in schools are often multidisciplinary and include specialists from psychology, occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech therapy, a teacher, a behavior specialist, etc. Reevaluations are also provided as assessed by the evaluation team, but at least every three years. Reevaluations are often set up at times of transition (i.e. moving from elementary school into middle school) and when educational expectations change.

There are several types of special education evaluations:

  • Psychoeducational: This evaluation focuses on academic functioning. It can be completed by the school psychologist through the school district (for free).
  • Psychological: This evaluation usually focuses more on behavior/emotions as well as cognition, but can be appropriate depending on the provider.
  • Neuropsychological: This evaluation focuses on brain/behavior relationships. It is different from a psychoeducational evaluation in that it includes assessment of memory, language, visual-perceptual skills, fine motor skills, attention, and executive functioning. It is often recommended as first step for kids with neurological injury.

The evaluation must determine whether the child is eligible for special services through IDEA or 504 and identify the child's programming needs. Parents must receive copies of the Evaluation Report at least 10 school days before the Individual Education Plan (IEP) Team Meeting (unless the family waives the 10-day period).

How do you request a special education evaluation?

Parents should request an evaluation for Special Education eligibility from the child's school district in writing. Typically, you can write to the principal of your child's school.

To speed up the process, parents should tell the School District that you want to sign the "Permission to Evaluate" form.

The District must complete the evaluation, and give the parents a written report, within 60 calendar days (minus the summer months) of the date they sign the Permission to Evaluate.

Parents - keep a copy of all papers you send or sign!

How does the system work?

  • Within 30 calendar days of the completion of the Evaluation Report, a meeting must be held to write the IEP (Individual Education Plan).
  • The IEP describes the special program and the type and amount of related services the child needs.
  • The IEP must include measurable annual goals, short-term objectives, the type of special help your child will receive in the classroom, how your child's progress will be measured, the extent to which your child can participate in the general school curriculum, and whether the child can participate in state or district-wide assessments, with supports if needed, or an explanation of the alternate method of assessing the child.
  • The child must start receiving the services in the IEP within 10 school days of the parent's approval of the IEP.
  • "Waiting lists" for special education are illegal.
  • Appropriate services (OT, PT) must be provided - not having sufficient therapists is not a valid reason to not provide services.

What if I am not satisfied with the evaluation?

If you do not approve of the proposed IEP, check the "I disapprove" box and sign the IEP. Request an independent evaluation in writing. Make your case clearly why you think the evaluation was not sufficient. If approved, the district will pay for an additional, independent evaluation.

Communicating with your child’s school

Try approaching the situation from a positive, collaborative point of view. Be friendly, but stand up for your child's rights. Remember – educators care about kids, and they want to help your child. Schools may be underfunded, and people who work in schools may be underpaid and overworked. When problems arise, try approaching the school principal directly. Follow up all discussions in writing.

Be careful regarding legal advice from school personnel. While they may believe what they tell you is true, most educators are not legal experts and have not read the law, regulations and case law for themselves. You need to know what the law and regulations say, so you are empowered to help your child.

Where else can I go for help?

In Pennsylvania:
Disability Rights Network of PA
Helpline: (800) 692-7443; (717) 236-8110
TDD (877) 375-7139; (717) 346-0296

In New Jersey:
Education Law Center
Phone: 973-624-1815
Fax: 973-624-7339
TTY: 973-624-4618

Center for Parent Information and Resources

August 2011 Rebecca N. Ichord, MD