Guest Post by William John, Nationally Certified School Psychologist
One does not need to look very far before finding a blog or article detailing some dispute between parents and their local school district, especially for children receiving (or being evaluated for) special education services. Many of these are written by advocates or parents themselves, providing information, advice, and perhaps even a cautionary tale.
For most parents, the focus is on the Individualized Education Plan (the IEP), which defines what accommodations, modifications, interventions, and therapy services a child will receive throughout the school day. However, before any of that can happen, the child must be evaluated and determined eligible for special education services. There are many variations of who that team may be comprised but the most common denominator is often the school psychologist.
While it may simply seem like a means to an end (the “end” being the IEP), the evaluation process is a great opportunity for parents to learn—and share. If you are a parent and are considering special education services for your child, here are three things school psychologists want you to know before you get started.
1. The evaluation can and usually does take a long time.
While every evaluation is individually designed for each child, the truth is that the tests themselves take a significant amount of time to complete (not including the time it takes to then score and then analyze the information). Children are often administered several different tests as well, including achievement, intelligence, behavior and social skills, fine and gross motor, and even communication (just to name a few).
Special education law lays out a series of timelines from the initial referral all the way to the drafting of the IEP. While each state applies these timelines somewhat differently, it generally means parents are waiting anywhere between one to three months before the report is ready and the results are shared (and another month before a plan is drafted).
2. Special education is not all there is.
The purpose of the evaluation is not just to determine your child’s eligibility for special education services—it is meant to identify areas of needs as well as strengths and can inform the team (you and the school) of ways to better help your child moving forward. Sometimes, a child’s area of need may be determined significant enough to warrant special education interventions. For others, it may reveal that a child is indeed having difficulty with a particular skill, but there is an alternative way to help them.
For example, the team may mention something called a Section 504 Plan (which can be talked about in its own article), they may recommend enrolling your child in another class (not uncommon for junior and senior high schoolers), set-up a time your child could talk with a school counselor (or even the school psychologist), along with myriad other classroom interventions and supports that can be utilized without the need for an IEP.
3. It’s okay to ask questions—a lot of questions!
This point can also be for teachers, but if you are a parent and have concerns about your child struggling in school (or at home), you do not need to wait for an evaluation to be completed to get support. Special education law dictates who qualifies for services and what services can be provided to children, but there is no law that says you cannot ask questions.
You may only bump into your local school psychologist once every few years, but they are trained to do more than just give tests. School psychologists are experts on childhood development, including behavior, emotions, and social skills, and are available in most districts year-round if you’re looking to pick their brain for some insight.
It is not uncommon for a school psychologist to consult with a classroom teacher or building administrator, to help arrange social skills or other groups, provide support for a child going through a rough time, or simply be another friendly face walking the halls. As a parent, you too can (and should feel welcome to) reach out if you have any questions.
The bottom line is that school psychologists have many professional responsibilities—assessment, counseling, consultation—but above all else we are there to support the community. Whether it be a student, a teacher, an assistant at the district office, a custodian, or an inquisitive parent, we would just like to give you a friendly reminder that we are here, use us.
About William JohnWilliam is a Nationally Certified School Psychologist, for-fun web designer and developer, and a full-time dog dad. While his degree from the graduate program at the University of Hartford has allowed him to work with staff and students in classrooms from preschool to senior high school, it is his passion for creating and exploring that drives him. After all, as the legend Dolly Parton once said, “Never get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life.”