The implementation of RtI (Response to Intervention), a new way to identify students as learning disabled, may result in delay or failure to properly identify students as eligible for special education services, and in my experience some school districts have been overbroad in their application of RtI – causing students with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), not specific learning disabilities (SLD), to go without needed special education instruction, support and services. I believe that schools which are using RtI to delay the identification of students suspected of having ASD violates the law and I want to help you fight it.

First, the basics: The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA 2004) has significantly changed the way students suspected of having specific learning disabilities (SLD) are identified and found eligible for special education. IDEA Federal regulations required every State to develop criteria for SLD identification, and all 50 States have adopted to some extent a process known as RtI.  RtI is a three stage process designed to provide all students (including those without any identified disabilities) with research-based academic instruction of increasing intensity.  Only students who fail to make adequate academic progress after completing the third tier of RtI are considered for special education services – those students are assumed to be truly learning disabled.

RtI was developed for good reason –  to address the American trend of over-identifying students as learning disabled who were, in fact, merely struggling in reading or math because they failed to receive proper instruction.  If all school districts were implementing RtI as Congress had envisioned, all students, including those with ASD who struggle in reading or math, would benefit.  They would receive research-based academic instruction by well-trained personnel and schools would precisely monitor their progress through tiers of intervention.  Under the IDEA 2004, schools should be providing that research-based academic instruction to all struggling students, and at the same time psycho-educationally evaluating students who are suspected of having disabilities other than SLD, such as ADHD, ASD, speech and language impairments, etc., for special education services.

However, I believe school districts are perversely motivated to use RtI to reduce the provision of costly special education services in general.  The IDEA allows districts who implement RtI to divert 15% of their special education funds to general education, and the Obama administration explicitly encouraged the use of its 2009-10 education stimulus (ARRA) funds for the development of RtI.

In other words, under IDEA 2004 it should be business-as-usual for students suspected of having disabilities other than SLD – they must be evaluated within 60 days of parental consent and should be considered for IEPs.  Instead, many school districts are unlawfully telling parents that their children who are suspected of having ASD (and other disabilities) must go through the RtI process before they get district psycho-educational evaluations.  Not only are those students often not getting veritable RtI – which is very complicated to implement well and involves extensive retraining of school personnel – but they are not even being considered for any special education services, such as occupational and speech and language therapy, behavior intervention and support, and social skills development.

There is hope. If they learn the right strategies, parents can use RtI to the benefit of their ASD children – who often do struggle for various reasons with academic skills – by demanding that the schools provide research-based instruction and progress monitoring.  Parents and Advocates should also learn to challenge the bogus implementation of RtI and get needed special education services for their ASD children.  Contact me at [email protected] for help.