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Mom Wants Child with MMI to Be Tested
Q: My daughter has always been "slow" to get things in school. For five years, I repeatedly begged her school to test her for a disability. Finally, they tested her in fifth grade and came back with a diagnosis of mildly mentally impaired (MMI). I really don't know what this means. She does ok in math and some of the other subjects but her comprehension is horrible. Do you have any advice for me on how to help her with comprehension? How can a school let a child get to fifth grade, be mildly mentally impaired, and not want to test her for a disability?
A: If you begged your school to test your daughter for five years, that's about how long they've been violating your rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) which was signed into law under President Clinton on June 4, 1997. Among many other things, this law gives you and your child specific rights. The part that you should be interested in is the part that says if you ask the school to evaluate your child to determine if she has special educational needs, they have to do it. Not in five years, nor five months -- but within about a month. So if you indeed asked, and they didn't do it, then you should call the Department of Education in your state capital, or contact the disability rights department of your state's Office of Civil Rights. Tell them what has happened and they will help you.
Now, for your question about the diagnosis. Diagnostic terminology varies from state to state, so I'm not sure exactly what the school means when they say your daughter is MMI. They are probably suggesting that she is mentally retarded --which means that they believe that she is limited intellectually and may not be expected to do school work at her age level. You need to go back to the people who did the evaluation and ask them to explain their diagnosis and the implications. Ask them specifically if they are saying she has a learning disability or that she is mentally retarded. Also ask them to tell you exactly what her learning strengths and weakness are. I would assume, based on this diagnosis, that they have developed and Individual Educational Plan (IEP), which is also required under federal and state law. If they did not, tell the Department of Education and OFC about this when you call them.
There are lots of ways to help a child with comprehension difficulties, but I would have to know more about the nature of your daughter's learning style and needs. You will find some good general suggestions at the U.S. Dept. of Education website (http://www.ed.gov). Click on the parent section and see the listings under "Helping my Child to Read." To learn more about the special education law, you might try http://www.reedmartin.com or http://ericcec.org/minibibs/eb26.html.
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Jerome (Jerry) Schultz is the founding clinical director of the Learning Lab @ Lesley University, a program that provides assessment, tutoring, and case management services for children with learning challenges. Schultz holds a Ph.D. from Boston College, and has completed postdoctoral fellowships in both clinical psychology and pediatric neuropsychology.