UPDATE: Parent Writes About Struggles To Get Special Education Services

New City resident shares tale of years of trying to get appropriate services and diagnosis for son


Elaine Mellon did not plan to write a book about her struggles to get special education services for her son.

“I started it because I was so over-the-top angry that I didn’t know what to do with myself,” said the New City resident.

While she found writing was a way to help her deal with the situation, she put that first draft aside and rewrote the book because the first version included many names and references to the district, which she declined to identify.

In a recent conversation, Mellon emphasized the obstacles she faced in getting her son the correct diagnosis of his special needs and supportive services are not unique to any one school district.

“I want it (the book) to bring a light to special education issues across New York State,” Mellon explained.  “I really felt like the story needed to come out.” 

Mellon documented her efforts from second grade through 10th grade to get her son the right support services and an accurate diagnosis of his learning disability. The long and frustrating journey included a lawsuit against the school district and an appeal of the decision when the lawsuit failed in 2008. 

She said the court’s decision was that the school district provided her son with an appropriate education because he passed all his classes. Mellon said that only happened because the district encouraged students who were failing classes to move to a lower level before the midpoint of the year and the failing grades would not appear on their report cards.

“One of the reasons we decided to sue was the goals of (an) IEP (Individualized Education Program) must be specific and measurable,” she said. “It was flawed in many ways. He did not get many of the services he was supposed to get.” 

Mellon’s son, who goes by “Blake” in the book, began having difficulty in school in the second grade. She found out when Blake told her he did not want to read out loud in class. That led to her request for the school psychologist to test him. Initially the request was denied because he was considered “too young.” 

On a friend’s advice, Mellon put the request in writing and the evaluation was conducted. The diagnosis he received was for processing issues.  Three years later when Blake was re-tested, the result was the same.  He was assigned to a reading program in first and second grade and resource room during fifth grade.  He was failing sixth grade when he told his mother he hated school. 

That shook Mellon up and the summer before he entered seventh grade she thoroughly read the school district’s reports about her son. Previously, she had accepted the verbal explanations from the school staff.

“I realized I never sat down and actually read the written part of the report,” she said.   

She was shocked when she read a sentence in the second grade evaluation referring to the possibility of dyslexia, a learning disability that was never brought up during all the meetings over the years with the school district.   Because of his academic struggles, she began pushing to have him placed in a reading program, an effort that continued from seventh through ninth grade before deciding to sue the district. She wanted him to have the assistance of a one-on-one reader for his exams, not as part of a group.

When he entered high school, she took him for an evaluation in Manhattan and found out that he was reading at a fourth or fifth grade level and that the decoding part of the school’s testing had never been done in his last evaluation. 

Mellon said the message behind her book, unREAL Education: Beyond Report Cards, is parents must advocate for their children.

“Most parents don’t have the time, the energy, the resources to do what they need to do for their kids,” she said.

Mellon offered specific advice.

“To follow your gut and don’t let anyone tell you no,” she said. “Don’t worry about retribution from the school system. The whole system the way it is set up it is an adverse system.” 

Mellon said despite the difficulties her son experienced through most of his primary school years he turned out “okay” and is attending college studying the major of his choice.

“It made him a stronger person,” she said.

Although in high school, he was told not to take sign language or television production in order 'to fit in' a reading program, he did anyway.  It turns out Blake is enrolled in those courses in college and pursuing his dream of becoming a sportscaster. 

Mellon’s book was published by AuthorHouse in February and is available from Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble.com and AuthorHouse.com with a portion of the proceeds donated to Everyone Reading NY and the International Dyslexia Association.

Tom Truth August 07, 2012 at 04:49 PM
I look forward to reading this book. My kids are now out of the elementary school system, but the struggle over the years was indeed difficult. Many think if your child "looks" normal they can't have a learning disability. Not everyone is trying to get over on the system - in fact many with children with learning disabilities just want our children to be able to be on a playing field that is a little more level. The law requires districts to provide many things for children with disabilities, but in many instances you only get those services if you know specifically what to ask for and our persistent to the point where you become a pain in the rear. I have often likened it to the old Groucho Marx show You Bet Your Life - say the secret word and instead of a rubber duck you get the services your child was entitled to. Much like airline fares, there is no set services the school will provide - you have to drag it out of them.
Z August 07, 2012 at 09:21 PM
As an advocate for my child, I had to do everything in my power to make sure that my child received all that he could after we found out he had a learning disability in elementary school. If I did not, he would have fell through the cracks. It was a fight to the finish to try to get the help he needed and I can only say that parents need to be their children's advocate and constantly stay on top of things. And, yes, I was a "pain the rear" but, because of that, my child made it through college and got a college degree.
betsy August 11, 2012 at 02:49 AM
I am reading the book right now and I am inspired by Elaine's determination to get what her son deserved from the school system. I am anxious to finish this compelling story.
Kerry Ohare August 21, 2012 at 12:48 PM
Thank you. I have to get this book today. My daughter is starting 3rd grade. I have a long way to go.
Elaine Mellon August 31, 2012 at 03:12 AM
Please check out my website (www.unrealeducation.com) and my facebook page (www.facebook.com/unrealeducation). I would be interested in your feedback. (unrealeducation@gmail.com) I wish you the best of luck!
Elaine Mellon August 31, 2012 at 03:13 AM
Thanks Betsy!!
Elaine Mellon August 31, 2012 at 03:15 AM
I hope through my book that I will be able to empower other parents to be "on top of things." Thanks for your comments!
Elaine Mellon August 31, 2012 at 03:18 AM
Good luck to you. I do feel my book might give you some suggestions, guidance and hope. I would appreciate any feedback. Please check out my website and FB page (www.unrealeducation.com, www.facebook.com/unrealeducation.) Thanks!


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