State May Change Rules For Identifying Learning Disabilities In Children

DPI Considers Allowing More Time For Children With 'Developmental Delays' To Get Special Services

Melanie Holtsman (CC-BY-SA)

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction is looking at changing rules for identifying children with significant developmental delays.

A significant developmental delay ranges from a mix of social, physical, speech or other challenges that affect a child’s ability to learn. Children between 3 and 6 years old can receive special education services before they may be labeled with a learning disability. There are 4,079 children in that age range who have significant developmental delays, according to the most recent figures from the department.

DPI Spokesman Tom McCarthy said they’re looking at extending services to such children through the age of 9.

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“We don’t have compulsory student attendance until the age of 5 for Wisconsin,” said McCarthy. “So essentially you’re giving a teacher one year to try to catch them up with their peers before you’re labeling them with a disability that could stick with them for a long period of their life.”

Bayfield Schools Special Education Director Sandra Raspotnik said all children grow differently. For children under 6, Raspotnik said it can be hard to tell whether they have a disability or just need more time to develop.

“This is a way that we can help them maybe over that little hump of part of it being a developmental thing,” said Raspotnik.

Washburn and Bayfield Schools Psychologist Douglas Jardine said some children may not get the help they need under the current system.

“Even though the child continues to demonstrate some delays, it’s not significant enough to place them in any of the other categories at age 6, which is very unfortunate,” said Jardine.

McCarthy said this gives teachers and students more time. A hearing on the proposed change will be held April 3. The change could take effect on July 1.