The beginning of the year in any school is hectic and full of change. Many students struggle to adapt to changes in routine, new teachers, and managing a new schedule. Parents have to wrap their heads' around how to help their children manage a new school year while also managing their own new beginnings. While a lot of students are able to "get by" during the first month of the school year, difficulties often arise during October. This is when teachers often raise red flags and start to notice students who fall behind or may have regressed over the summer. Parents begin to wonder, What are my options? How do I get my child some help? While it depends on your school district, the intention of this blog is to help you navigate the process of getting your child the help he or she needs.
Go Directly to the Teacher First
Your child's teachers know his or her learning style better than anyone. The teacher can tell you whether your son/daughter should be spending hours and hours on homework or whether 30 minutes is enough. She can also tell you what the day looks like for your child. Is she very nervous? Does he have friends? Is she able to take re-direction? Does he require more time on task than others in the class? Sometimes what the teacher sees in the classroom is very different from what a parent sees at home, and it's helpful to get information and communicate as much as possible (keeping in mind that teachers do not have a lot of free time!)
Consider a Discussion w/a Specialist or Guidance Counselor
If after talking to your child's teacher you determine that your child is struggling in the classroom, discuss your concerns with somebody who can help. Call the school psychologist or guidance counselor or consider finding out who chairs the "pre-referral" or "Teacher Assistance Team." If your school uses Response to Intervention (RTI), there's a good chance that your child will be able to get help in a small group or even in a 1:1 setting during the school day. RTI services typically happen during a set time period that is designated for extra help and enrichment. The interventions are designed to bring kids up to speed without needing to go through the process of evaluating your child. If your child makes progress, there may be no other necessary steps. However, if your child continues to struggle, it is good data for the team and can be used to drive a referral to the special education team.
Navigating the Special Education Process
This section could be an entirely separate blog post (coming soon!) However, there are some things that parents should know about requesting an evaluation at school. If you suspect that your son or daughter may have a disability, contact the special education department in writing and request an evaluation. Depending on the area of disability that you suspect, you might request cognitive testing, academic achievement testing, occupational therapy testing, speech language testing, etc. Talking to the team chairperson at your school can be very helpful in determining what you should request. Keep in mind that requesting a lot of testing will take time and will mean that your child will miss instruction.
Once you have written a letter to the special education department, you will receive a consent in the mail. Sign the consent...and then the waiting process begins. Schools in Massachusetts have 45 school days to hold a meeting, which means that it could be months before you know the results of the evaluation. Keep in mind that school psychologists often have 10-15 evaluations on their plates at any given time, so there is a reason that they are given timelines. Once the evaluation has been completed, you have the right to request the written report within two days of the scheduled eligibility determination meeting. Make sure that you read the report before the meeting, but know that the school will go over the results in detail at the meeting.
What if You Don't Want to Wait?
If waiting 45 school days sounds unreasonable given how much your child is struggling, schedule an independent evaluation. At SEA, we have no wait list at our Beverly location! Evaluations can be scheduled within one week of the date that you call us or email us. Additionally, we pride ourselves on timely evaluations and strive to get results back to parents within three weeks (about 15 school days if you are doing the math!) We try our best to work with schools rather than against them. This means that we will provide you with recommendations that are feasible and appropriate. Additionally, we attempt to call schools to gather information about how the child is functioning in the classroom.
Navigating the process of getting your child help can be confusing and anxiety-provoking. For more information, please contact us at 978-778-0703 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Kate McGravey, Psy.D. is one of the co-founders of Success Educational Associates. She is a school psychologist who specializes in working with children and adolescents who have special needs.