Child's Mental Illness Creates Educational Disability

October 23, 2011 Angela McClanahan

Quarter-end parent/teacher conferences were last week, and after meeting with Bob's teacher and reviewing his report card, I'm convinced an IEP is the right direction to take.

iep1I've known Bob is struggling with basic math concepts at home--partly from the "learning jet lag" caused by summer, partly because he has zero interest in studying. Even so, I didn't expect to see the scores I saw when his teacher and I reviewed them Thursday night.

Our district's elementary school report cards are almost indecipherable (as if they want to go to any length to keep from having to assign a letter grade to a child) but effective this year, students receive an actual letter grade in four subjects: science, math, language arts and social studies.

Bob's grades were B+, C, B- and C, respectively. When we reviewed his "primary assessment" test scores, he scored "average" or "below average" in all subjects.

Yes, these are passing grades. Yes, these are grades some parents would be thrilled to see. But I know for a fact Bob is capable of more. Additionally, his teacher stated the testing is done by computer--and the students know they can do other things on the computer when they finish--and Bob tends to rush through them, often not even stopping to read the directions.

I think back to my own school experience--I was a nearly straight-A student in grade school (math and PE being the exceptions). Coursework came easily to me. I was generally bored. In high school, grades became based on homework and assignments--neither of which I had any interest in, because I was severely depressed and didn't give a crap about algebra or American government or writing a five-paragraph essay. As a result, my grades suffered. I still graduated with a 3.5 GPA, but any hope of college scholarships or grants was gone.

iep2I am far from wealthy, and will likely be even less so by the time Bob is ready for college. It's highly likely I will still be paying on my own student loans by then. If his grades continue in this vein, he may have a hard time even getting into college, much less paying for it.

It may seem I'm putting the cart before the horse, but we're already in 4th grade--high school is right around the corner. Without acknowledgement of the disability created by his psychiatric illness(es) and some assistance therewith, the road ahead becomes more of a downward spiral.

Fortunately, his teacher and principal appear to be of the same mind, and are working to kick-start the IEP evaluation process (which in my opinion is long overdue). The evaluation, itself, seems more geared toward students with chronic disability--unlike Bob, whose disabled state comes and goes--so I see arguments and appeals in our future. And I'm willing to make them for Bob's sake.

Whatever it takes.

APA Reference
McClanahan, A. (2011, October 23). Child's Mental Illness Creates Educational Disability, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, February 28 from

Author: Angela McClanahan

October, 28 2011 at 11:05 am

Good luck. You are getting ready to start down a long and winding road, and every step will be a battle.
I'm sure you already know this, but you are your son's greatest advocate. Never back down--know your special education policies and procedures, and make sure they stick to them. My daughter's special ed teacher asked me once, "Are you a lawyer?"
Again, good luck.

Carol Liu
October, 25 2011 at 4:49 pm

Whatever it takes indeed. I think you're right to go the IEP route; he has a right to services and accommodations if he needs them. It's on you though to ask, then push, then as you say, argue and appeal. Even when you come across well-intentioned folks, their support is fleeting, as teachers and principals come and go. Never really on an unwritten promise. Make it all official and in writing.
And I agree that the IEP process doesn't seem to fit quite right with emotional issues. It's often hard to determine which challenging behaviors are a manifestation of the disability. And this is where often parents and schools disagree.
A long journey for sure--I wish you the best!

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