If your child is struggling socially, emotionally, or academically you may be confused about where to turn for help. Navigating these uncharted waters can leave parents feeling vulnerable and frustrated. If your child is in school, remember to work with their teachers and other school resources. Keep communication open and transparent, trust their guidance and professionalism, but also remember you know your child best, it is ok to ask questions, remember to trust your gut.
If you feel like your child is in need of more individualized support, you may need to have them evaluated. In order to qualify for an Individual Education Plan (IEP), a child’s educational performance must be adversely affected by a diagnosed disability. Your child can only be formally evaluated for special services with your consent. You should be included in all decisions throughout the entire process. Your school may or may not initiate the evaluation process, you may need to be the one who gets the ball rolling.
Whatever part of the process you may be in, it is important to know what to ask, what to look for, and what to expect. That being said, here are 4 key steps to follow if you have concerns about your child's social, emotional, or cognitive growth and you find yourself wondering if they should be evaluated by a professional.
1. First step, ask yourself ALL of these questions:
Do the issues or concerns I have consistently disrupt my child’s social, emotional, or academic growth, overall school performance, or our daily family life?
What are my concerns? Are these concerns age appropriate?
What interventions or strategies have we tried as a family? At school? Have they helped? Why or why not?
Does my child seem stressed by their own behavior and/or performance? Is my child asking for help? Is my child aware or unaware of their struggle?
Are these behaviors/concerns ongoing and pervasive?
How will an evaluation help our situation? What am I trying to find out as a parent? What help am I willing to accept or provide?
2. Next, educate yourself on what your child will experience during an evaluation so you know what information you will gain.
Schools and private agencies must use a variety of assessment tools and strategies, including information provided by the parent and classroom teachers. The evaluation should include cognitive, behavioral, developmental and physical factors. Information in the following areas will be collected and evaluated:
General health, vision and hearing
Speech and language
Social and emotional status
3. If you decide an evaluation is necessary, you have two options as a parent:
There are two ways to go about having your child evaluated; you may personally hire a licensed child psychologist to perform a private evaluation, or you may ask the school to perform a free evaluation. Typically an outside psychologist will administer all of the testing. If you decide to have the school district perform the evaluation there will generally be at least two to three people performing the evaluation.
A school must look over and consider the results of a private evaluation, but a private evaluation does not guarantee that your child will qualify or receive an IEP. It is also important to note that a school psychologist is not authorized to diagnose your child. They can certainly help pinpoint gaps in achievement, behavior, or cognitive growth, but for a formal diagnosis you will need to work with a private practitioner. An outside private professional will be able to perform the assessments necessary to diagnose in the areas of autism, ADHD, learning disabilities, dyslexia, anxiety disorders like OCD, ODD, and other neurological disorders.
4. If your child struggles in several of the following areas, take note of these potential red flags and follow up with your school and pediatrician to understand more about developmentally appropriate milestones for your child’s age.
Struggles with speech and pronunciation (will vary according to age)
Difficulty remembering common words
Trouble rhyming words
Trouble with multi-step directions
Poor pencil grip and handwriting
Lack of focus
Trouble regulating emotions
Trouble making friends
Poor time management
Little or no follow through
Pervasive and ongoing delays with reading, writing, or math
Pervasive and ongoing delays with social skills
Emotions that consistently affect day-to-day living
Fear, anxiety, sadness, or any emotion that becomes extreme and impairs one’s capacity to function
It is also important to have a basic understanding of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), this is the document which governs special services for children in school. The IDEA requires that an IEP be reviewed annually and that students be re-evaluated every three years. If necessary, the school and parents may agree that a new evaluation should take place sooner.