***Post written by Scott McGuire, Elections Chair for WSPA***

Doesn’t it seem strange that as an evaluator, you cannot rely on your professional judgement when determining for a Developmental Delay disability (DD)? Developmental Delay is a less stringent category available to children age 3 through 9 who do not qualify in other categories.  Developmental Delay means a qualifying child that experienced developmental delays in the following areas: physical development, cognitive development, communication development, social or emotional development, or adaptive development and these delays result in the need for special education and related services.

The Wyoming DD eligibility form states that the 13 other disability classifications need to be “ruled out” to meet the DD criteria.  In other words, if the student meets the criteria for any of the other disability classifications, they cannot meet the criteria for DD.  The DD criteria form is not as clear about the need to consider the child’s educational performance as part of the eligibility as the other eligibility category forms that do specifically mention that the disability “adversely affects educational performance”.  As a result, SPED can help address all areas of development not only educational progress with the goal of perhaps preventing problems.

I will focus in on the stated need to “Rule Out” the other disability conditions.  There could be many reasons that a student performs low enough to meet various disability classifications when they are young but be more appropriately identified as developmentally delayed.  The DD classification allows a child to grow and would require a comprehensive (new initial) evaluation before the student turns 10. 

In the case of a speech language disability classification some students may have low enough speech language scores to meet the SL criteria, but many improve before they are 10 and still show a need for OT, academic, or other SPED supports.  In which case a DD label would probably be more appropriate and beneficial.  Other examples where a DD label could be more appropriate than the more specified classification would perhaps be when a student was born premature and has demonstrated improving skills but met the lower criteria at the time of testing.  Or possibly a Kindergarten student that has been given appropriate instruction but lacked exposure to many life situations while growing up.  Occasionally a student enters school very emotionally immature or unfamiliar with structure and could qualify with an inattention or emotional disability but would improve with age and environment.

Before an eligibility determination can be made, alternative explanations for the student’s academic difficulties need to be explored.  Why would we need to “rule out” all other disability classifications before determining that the student has a more general “Developmental Delay” which implies the skills are delayed and may not be broken?  A qualifying SPED disability is normally viewed as a lifelong condition, it is a condition that qualifies a person for protection under the law.  If the student truly has a disability, it is likely that the effects of the disability on education will be clearer when the student is re-evaluated around their 10th birthday.  Why not go with a less stigmatizing designation when the facts are not as clear and give the student time to develop while at the same time provide them all of the services they may need?