by Melanie Frederick, M.S., CCC-SLP
Some children may have difficulties that are easy to identify, such as a hearing impairment, and others may have difficulties that are not quite so obvious. If you suspect that your child is struggling academically or may struggle when he/she reaches school age, there are many resources available to you and your child to support his/her education. There are many professionals who provide special education services to children with different types of difficulties and disabilities. Among these professionals are speech-language pathologists, learning specialists, occupational therapists, physical therapists, behavior specialists, and school psychologists.
Often, if a child appears to be having educational difficulties (academic and/or social), the classroom teacher will refer the child to the appropriate specialist in the school. That specialist may give suggestions to the teacher on how to make simple modifications to the child's daily routine that may improve some of the difficulties.
If these "pre-interventions" do not appear to be effective, the child will receive an evaluation in the areas that are problematic. The specialist will obtain the parent's permission to test, perform the testing, write a report, and convene a meeting with the child's team of educators. In this meeting, the specialist(s), teachers, and parents will discuss the results of the testing and determine if the child is qualified to receive special education services. Due to the reauthorization of IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), the law has recently changed the way some districts determine how a child qualifies to receive special education services. Ask the education or pre-referral team how eligibility is determined in your child's school district.
If your child qualifies for special education services, the appropriate specialist will write goals for your child to help support areas of weakness. These goals and this plan are called an Individualized Education Program (IEP). Each year, you will meet with the other members of the IEP team to discuss progress toward goals and to create new goals. Every three years, your child should be re-evaluated to determine the continuing need to receive special education services.
If your child is not yet schoolage and needs special attention due to difficulties identified at birth or later, you may still obtain special services. Federal law protects all qualifying individuals from birth to 21 years old. Children younger than 5 years old that need special services will be evaluated by a specialist who will identify areas that need to be strengthened. The specialist will write a plan called the Individualized Family Services Plan (IFSP). This plan will have goals for the child to achieve. The team will typically reconvene every six months to review the child's progress.
There are many resources available to you as a parent. If you are concerned that your child is having difficulties with learning, language, mobility, cognition, or other problems, please contact your school district to begin working as a team with your child's educators. Children with difficulties benefit the best from the early detection of problems. Catching these problems early will help reduce their academic and social impact.