In this week’s article, “Parents Prevailed” Episode 3, I’m going to talk about a student who attends High School in the Riverside Unified School District. He has an above-average IQ, and with my assistance, he was finally found eligible for special education services under OHI, SLD, and ED. 

Before hiring me, the parents attempted to obtain an IEP for their son, but the district found him ineligible. He did have a 504, but as with most 504 Plans, the school site was failing to implement the accommodations and the plan fell short of meeting his needs. Most of his grades had slipped to failing and the district was ignoring any responsibility or obligation to intervene. He was unable to attend school due to his depression and anxiety and had been hospitalized for suicidal ideology.  

The first thing I did was request a Psychoeducational IEE, ERHMS Assessment, Speech and Language assessment, and a Functional Behavior Assessment. Let me explain why I asked for these specific assessments. 

To combat the district’s denial for eligibility, I knew that I had to have a comprehensive psychoeducational assessment. I also suspected he had a learning disability based on the fact that he had always struggled in school before the hospitalization and increased depression, even though his IQ scores reflected an above-average IQ. 


In California, an ERMHS (Educationally Related Mental Health Services Assessment) will evaluate a student in all social/emotional areas. If the student is found eligible, the district will provide Designated Instructional Services (DIS) Counseling by a qualified provider. 


I requested a Speech and Language assessment to evaluate the student’s pragmatic deficits. He struggled with friendships and interpersonal relationships and lacked social skills. 


When a student’s behavior impedes their ability to access the general education curriculum, the district is obligated to conduct a Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA). However, most of the time, they fail to do so, and the parent is required to request one. 

Schools are expected to use an FBA proactively and to intervene early to prevent serious problem behaviors. “The IDEA states that a behavior intervention plan based on a functional behavioral assessment should be considered when developing the IEP if a student’s behavior interferes with their learning or the learning of others (20 U.S.C §1414(d)(3)(B)(i). To be meaningful, plans need to be reviewed at least annually and revised as often as needed. However, the plan may be reviewed and reevaluated whenever any member of the child’s IEP team feels necessary.” 

IDEA 2004 provisions call for schools to have properly trained professionals available to conduct FBAs and develop appropriate BIPs. It is the district’s responsibility, working with the state department of education, to provide professional development, in-service training, and technical assistance, as needed, for school staff members to be able to conduct FBAs well.” (Taken from the SPaN FBA Fact Sheet.)  

You can learn more about an FBA HERE. 


I’ve spoken ad nauseam about the importance of obtaining an IEE at the district’s expense. This is the only way you will be successful in appealing the district’s denial to find a child eligible for special education services. 

We received the Psychoeducational IEE report prior to the meeting, and we met with the Psychologist who conducted the IEE to review the findings and prepare for the meeting. As I had suspected, the student was found eligible under Specific Learning Disability. As mentioned previously, since grade school the student struggled academically even though he had an above-average IQ, which is a red flag for SLD.  The report also found him eligible for ADHD under OHI and ED due to his anxiety and depression. 

In addition, the Psyched IEE findings found significant deficit scores in vision processing and recommended a Vision Processing Assessment. 

During the IEP meeting in which all assessment reports were reviewed, the IEP team awarded him eligibility under SLD, ED, and OHI due to ADHD. The parents and IEP team made the decision to use SLD as his Primary disability and OHI for his Secondary Eligibility. We agreed that his anxiety and depression were caused by his learning disability. Therefore, it was more important to name the ADHD under OHI rather than identify the ED as a secondary eligibility. 

The ERMHS assessment found him eligible to receive services and awarded DIS mental health counseling. 

The FBA revealed his behavior was impeding his ability to access the curriculum, which caused his school refusal.  Based upon the FBA findings, a BIP with behavior goals was developed to provide behavior intervention across settings during his school day. 

The Speech and Language Assessment found him eligible for pragmatic intervention and offered social skills group sessions.


We also requested a Vision Processing Assessment be conducted by a Developmental Optometrist and as recommended by the Psychologist who conducted the IEE. The outcome of the Vision Processing Assessment found the student eligible for vision therapy and the district awarded him vision therapy and the IEP team documented this service in the IEP on the services page. 


Once the student began receiving the supports and services he needed to address his multiple areas of need, he began to improve very rapidly. We identified a “safe staff member” for him to receive support when he became anxious or overwhelmed during his school day.  We advocated for appropriate accommodations in the classroom such as extra time and reduced assignments and homework, preferential seating, and check-ins with his case carrier. 

This year, he will graduate high school with very good grades. He plans to go to secondary education to study in the field of fashion and photography.  He is happy and he no longer presents with resistance to attend school.  He has made a few friends and has greatly improved his social skills and reduced anxiety in social situations. 

During my 25 years of advocacy, I have never been unable to have a student found eligible for an IEP, other than one student who was too young to show evidence of a gap in his learning. Most kids who have a disability will require an IEP, however, if the district can use one of its many denial tactics to deny eligibility, they will. If parents don’t know the appeal process or how to request an IEE, their child will go another year without the help they need to learn.  

It is unethical and unthinkable that our educational system doesn’t “seek out students with a suspected disability” as they are obligated to do under “Child Find.”  Instead of finding students with a disability eligible, they deny special education services and mislead parents. 

Recently, this student had his last Triennial Review prior to his graduation. His progress was staggering in comparison to the assessment findings from three years prior when the parents hired me to appeal the district’s denial for special education services. In most cases, special education really does work when parents learn how to advocate to protect the rights of their child. 

However, there is a caveat, until parents are trained to know how to advocate, in most cases, they won’t be successful. The IEP that was developed for this student would not have been awarded if the parents did not hire me or another highly trained advocate because the IEP team would have simply stated, “We considered the IEE findings and the district finds your son, not eligible.” Why? Because it takes a strong advocate to argue the IEP team’s excuses and denials during the IEP meeting in which the IEE results are presented.  

I hope you are learning great tips and gaining knowledge by reading these articles provided through my “Parents Prevailed” series. These real-life cases showing successful outcomes are great examples of how parents can implement their rights once they understand the IEP process.

Cheering you on always! 

Valerie Aprahamian

If you haven’t joined our Private Special Education Parent Empowerment Facebook Group yet, you should check it out here.

Here’s what parents are saying about the group:

“Thank you for sharing these pearls of wisdom. It’s an incredible service for us parents!” -Christina

“I can assure you and everyone here that I have learned more on your page than I have from my school district. I appreciate you and applaud you for what you do as it is NOT easy! You give us guidance and you have a place in the heavens for your selfless work and service to our special needs children and their families. Thank you, Valerie!” -Reyna

Valerie Aprahamian is a special education advocate, IEP strategist, and speaker. She speaks on behalf of parents to protect the rights of neurodiverse children to receive the supports they need in public school.

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