Obvious Disability Factors for Consideration By Donald J. Frazier, Ph.D
Caution!! The use of the “obvious disability” option essentially sidesteps the assessment process and thus should be used with great caution. This option should not be used as a means to expedite a non-emergency referral or to respond to pressures of any type.
What does and does not constitute a “disability”? Federal law (social security) broadly defines a person with a disability as an individual who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities or has a record of such impairment or is regarded as having such an impairment Major life activities can include self-care, ambulation, communication, employment and the ability to rent/buy property.
Exclusionary Conditions Potentially dangerous or harmful (non-psychotic) conditions such as sexual disorders(paraphilias) and impulse control disorders(compulsive gambling, kleptomania, pyromania) are specifically excluded in federal law of being considered disabilities. DSM-4 Axis II Personality Disorders are not considered a mental health disability. Temporary or minor conditions are not considered disabilities. For instance, DSM-4 diagnoses often require at least 6 months of consecutive problems. Active or ongoing alcohol-drug abuse is not considered a disability (but can be considered as such once a person is in treatment). Health conditions associated with normal aging are often disallowed during Social Security benefit applications. Educational and social-emotional problems that can be dealt with via Tier 1 and Tier 2 interventions.
Autism Spectrum Disorder Deaf-Blindness Deaf or Hard of Hearing Developmental Delay Emotional Disturbance Mental Retardation (Intellectual Disability) Multiple Disabilities Other Hear Impairment Specific Learning Disability Speech Language Impairment Traumatic Brain Injury Visual Impairments (including Blindness) **Gifted** (under special education in only a handful of states) IDEA Disabilities
Impact of the Disability Educationally, in addition to meeting eligibility criteria for a school-based disability, there must be a significant and clearly negative impact before it can be determined that a student has a “disability.” That impact is determined from the data gathered by the SAT team, including multiple data points in the academic areas of concern, state/mandated test results, classroom performance data, CBM’s, grade and observations
Genetic condition associated with Intellectual Disability (MR) Traumatic Brain Injury Visual disorder Hearing disorder Lower functioning Autism Multiple disabilities It is likely in an “obvious disability” situation that the child: A) is very young and first being identified via some Child Find process OR B) is the victim of a recent debilitating situation/accident OR C) has a deteriorating medical or sensory condition that has reached a serious level of impact Conditions Most Likely To Be Considered as an “Obvious Disability”
Documentation for Obvious Disability • In almost every case it is important to gain access to the medical or clinical documentation behind a diagnosis that reflects an “obvious disability.” • The diagnosis must be made by a licensed professional in the appropriate medical, mental health or speech-language field. • Any supplementary information is important as well (i.e., test/screening results, laboratory findings, etc.)
IMPORTANT REMINDER: The Need To Demonstrate Impact • Remember, even with evidence of a serious diagnosis, it is important to document the impact of the disability. These identified areas of impact will constitute the focus of the interventions. • Sometimes data related to demonstrated impact is already available (through previous evaluation results or clinical observations). • When eligibility and impact can be determined from the information at hand, the district can then use the Review of Existing Evaluation Data (REED) process to expedite to eligibility determination in such a case. • If there is no available data, the district might also consider the possibility of using a Section 504 Plan (Tier 2) while assessment and documentation of impact occurs at the school level. • In an emergency situation where no clear data is available as to impact, the district could also consider writing an initial “best effort” IEP while ASAP assessment occurs. USE OBVIOUS DISABILITY only in the case where placing a student in general education without appropriate supports for up to 60 days would likely be harmful (to self or others) or otherwise clearly detrimental to the student.
Do Psychological or Psychiatric Evaluations/Reports Indicate an Obvious Disability? • The mere presence of a psychiatric diagnosis is not sufficient in order to qualify for “obvious disability.” Information as to educational impact is often lacking in such DSM-4 diagnoses. • Factors that might lead one to possibly consider an obvious disability for ED include: • A diagnosis that constitutes an emotional disability (thought/mood disorders) with a GAF of 50 or below. • A history or current danger of harm to self or others • A clearly documented inability to learn in a general education context • Educational records that provide some information as to impact
Parental Demand for Expedited Evaluation Ultimately, the parent has the right to request an evaluation and thus bypass the SAT intervention process. The district has the right to decide to refuse the request for expedited evaluation but had better be on very solid ground in doing so, should the case go to hearing. However, sometimes additional information can help the parent to favor the SAT intervention approach over a rush to immediate evaluation. • An understanding of the Rti model and process • An understanding of the need for “least restrictive environment” considerations • An understanding of the SAT process and how it can help • An understanding of the active role the parents will play in the SAT process • An understanding of the importance of having at least two short cycle data points in determining whether a child in grades K-3 has an SLD or not