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Daughter with Low IQ Needs Help
Q: I have a 12-year-old daughter who recently finished the sixth grade. She does not have learning disabilities or mental retardation, but she has an IQ of approximately 70. She is a hardworking, enthusiastic student, and performs better than her abilities would suggest she should. I understand the law requires the school provide her with an "appropriate" education. I struggle with deciding what that is for her. I'd like for my daughter to be included in the regular classroom for the social skills it provides, but I feel that many of the things they do in the regular classroom are a complete waste of her time. The activities are often so far over her head that she isn't getting much out of them; even modified, they are pointless. However, placing her with students with mental retardation or severe needs doesn't seem appropriate, either. I would like her to learn useful life skills, the kind of information people use everyday: basic math skills like time, money, measurement, how to calculate a discount, etc.; basic English skills like how to write an intelligent letter, how to read the newspaper with understanding, etc. I'm not sure how to get an appropriate education for my daughter and keep her in the mainstream at the same time. Any suggestions?
Thank you for your help.
A: You have child who's caught in the middle of a cultural and programmatic shift in education. The inclusion movement has, in too many instances, cut out appropriate options for a girl like your daughter. She needs to be with "typical" kids to learn and practice appropriate social behaviors, and she also needs specific instruction in basic life skills which have been learned incidentally by children her age in the regular classes. In the early grades it was probably easier to provide you daughter with this combination of services, since teachers more naturally cater to younger children who are learning at different levels. Once a child reaches upper elementary grades and certainly by junior high school, even heterogeneously grouped classes serve a much more narrow range of student skills. Because there is no real continuum of service, kids like your daugter end up spending time in regular curriculums that are over their heads. They are often placed in these classes ostensibly to address social goals, but often end up either being ostracized and scapegoated. Some take on the role of class clown or "mascot," or worse, just feeling more and more "stupid" (and that's their word, not mine). For the other part of their day, they are in classes for students with skill levels and needs that can be far below their own. It is obvious that neither environment meets the criteria of the "least restrictive" setting required by special education law.
So what's to be done for students like your daughter? In schools that are practicing appropriate and responsible inclusion, many children are working on individual goals at their own level in heterogeneous classes. Large group (or whole class) instruction is at a minimum, since that approach misses so many kids (including the gifted and talented learners). Small, closely supervised, cooperative activity-based learning groups are common, and individual needs are met via individual (sometimes computer-assisted) tutorials (sometimes requiring additional staff but often involving cross-age groupings with students from other grades with the same needs.) The focus is on accountability for both teachers and kids, as well as mastery of content and skills at a level that is commensurate with childrens' need and potential. This all sounds somewhat idealistic, the fact that when this is done in enlightened schools, all kids and all teachers benefit. Does it cost more? Often. Is it worth it? Always.
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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.