I have had two meetings in the last two days, representing families of children who are being considered for special education services within the public schools or Birth-Three programs. It occurred to me that having sat on both sides of the table (I worked for 20 plus years in the public schools and am now in private practice), I could offer some help to parents navigating the system of special education.
- Know the program you are pursuing and what qualifies a child to be included. If you are pursuing Birth-Three services, understand what kinds of services they provide (social work, speech therapy, occupational therapy, etc.) and what the guidelines are for qualification (such as a child scoring two standard deviations below the mean in one area of development, or 1 1/2 SD’s below the mean in two areas).
- Be prepared with copies of any prior testing on your child that will help in the next assessment. Bring copies of past evaluations to the meeting.
- Write out specific examples of your child’s functioning in different settings–home, school, playing with a friend or in a group. This is immensely helpful to the evaluators. Since they don’t know your child and you know her best, this gives them a head start. Be specific such as, “During a play date, Emma plays by herself, talking to herself and not seeming aware of the other child’s requests.” When the kids started playing tag, they were running around her while she seemed unaware of their game.” When parents give me specific descriptions of how their child reacted or what they specifically said, I can be a better diagnostician and ultimately be more helpful in planning a program to help their child. Give your written examples of behaviors, sentences, or sounds that your child typically uses to the evaluators. (Give a list of sounds your child uses, and examples of words she mispronounces if you are concerned about her articulation.)
- If applicable, have written reports from other professionals or teachers who work with your child.
As with several children I work with, they often perform very differently at school versus home, or one-on-one versus in a group. Have the teachers or therapist again give specific examples from their venue. One teacher this week told me, “He doesn’t enter into a group play activity unless he is prompted and only greets each child by name, rather than talk to them during play.”
- Ask the professional what the sequence of events and likely timeline will be for evaluating and possibly placing your child in the program. This week one mom found that her school district does not begin the process of assessing children in the summer, even if they turn 3 over the summer. That mom started making alternate plans for her child to receive the services he needed while waiting for the school program to kick in in September.
Stay informed and be your child’s advocate.