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Reimbursement to Parents for Personally Providing Therapies to Their Children

by Robert A. Muccilli, Esq.

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals recently upheld an administrative hearing officer’s decision awarding reimbursement to a parent who herself provided Lovaas therapies to her child. Bucks County v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, et.al, 379 F.3d 61 (3d Cir. 2004). Lovaas’ therapy is a highly structured behavior methodology used to teach some children with autism disorders.

The student was eligible for early intervention services under Part C of Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”) because the child was diagnosed with pervasive developmental disorder. The responsible agency refused the mother’s request to increase services and incorporate Lovaas therapies. The parent hired her own Lovaas therapist, who eventually trained the parent to provide therapies to meet a gap in hours.

The parent sought and received an award of reimbursement for the time she personally spent delivering therapy to her child. The court reasoned that while the parent was not certified or licensed, she had the training necessary to give the therapies. The parent was justified in acting beyond the expected parental role in a situation where she could not find a qualified therapist to provide educational services that the public agency had an obligation to provide, but refused to deliver. The program offered by the public agency was deemed not to be appropriate for the child.

This case expands the reimbursement right of parents where the public agency is found not to have offered an appropriate program. Parents may rely upon Bucks County, supra, to obtain public financing of home schooling efforts. While the case involved services under Part C, it could have implications for services under Part B of the IDEA. The fact that this type of therapy can be performed by persons without formal education or certification may limit the case’s application. Exposure can be reduced somewhat by reviewing the programs of children with autistic spectrum disorder to make sure the programs are substantively appropriate and to insure that services are delivered by qualified individuals at the frequency stated in the child’s IEP.

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