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Supporting the Educational Needs of Youths With Developmental Disabilities

Oct. 15, 2021

This blog post is authored by Caroline Turner, LMSW, social worker at the Developmental Behavioral Pediatric Clinic at Dell Children's Medical Group, and Jeffrey Shahidullah, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychiatry at Dell Medical School and a pediatric psychologist at UT Health Austin and Dell Children's Medical Center of Central Texas.

“Why does the school not see the diagnosis you all gave my child?” This question comes up very often in the Developmental Behavioral Pediatric Clinic at Dell Children’s. After receiving a new medical diagnosis — such as autism, ADHD or anxiety — children return to school to get a separate evaluation by their local district. Unfortunately, these diagnoses do not always align with the medical diagnosis received at the behavioral clinic.

A school district is not necessarily required to accept a medical diagnosis. However, it’s difficult when parents see their children face challenges that potentially could be aided by additional support in school. Thanks to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, every child should have access to free and appropriate education, but if a district does not recognize a diagnosis, how do parents ensure that their child is getting the support they would best benefit from?

The School of Law at The University of Texas at Austin has created a pro-bono program called Project INCLUDE, which is home to different supports for individuals with disabilities. This project allows for families to connect to free educational advocates while also giving law students the opportunity to develop their legal skills through real-world experiences.

By partnering with Project INCLUDE, the behavioral clinic has created a streamlined approach for families to get fast access to accurate information and legal support for school. Since February 2020, the behavioral clinic has referred over 40 families to Project INCLUDE to get support for better access to special education. These families have spanned the state of Texas, representing six different Texas Education Agency regions and covering a range of diagnoses. Families are referred to Project INCLUDE with a warm handoff from a social worker at the behavioral clinic and are then given direct support through individual consultation or access to one of Project INCLUDE’s free advocacy workshops. Referrals have resulted in a wide range of additional services, including further accommodations and even reevaluation.

So what does this mean for families? By using Project INCLUDE, families have access to educational advocacy in terms of getting their children the support they need and deserve in public school. Project INCLUDE has helped families change the way their children get access to services and helped students learn the challenges families face to free and appropriate education.

The Developmental Behavioral Pediatric Clinic is grateful for the help and support of UT Austin's School of Law program clinics and Lucy Wood, who leads Project INCLUDE.