By Janet Mainz, Clonlara Educational Advisor
“What do I do now?” This is the question many parents and guardians ask themselves when they suspect their child has a disability. The path from identifying the signs of a potential problem, to the evaluation, and to diagnosis can be a scary and uncertain one. Parents are often unsure what to do when they suspect their child has a disability. There are resources and places parents can turn to for support and information. First, it is important to remember that you are not alone. According to Wikipedia (n.d.), of the estimated 6.5 billion people counted in the 2004 census, almost 100 million of those people are considered disabled (“Disability,” para. 56). If you suspect your child has a disability, there are several steps you can take to ensure they are properly evaluated. This article will explore two possible avenues on how to get your child assessed for disabilities. The first is the public school system or “public agency,” and the second is through a private entity.
It is important to remember that even though your child is homeschooled, they are still entitled to services, including evaluation through their public school district where your child’s private school resides. If you are considering using your local school district, you will need to contact them to request an evaluation. Generally the special education director for the school district can direct you to the appropriate professional on staff to answer your questions. According to IDEA, the Individual with Disability Education Act of 2004 (section 300.301), a parent, child, or public agency may make a request for an initial evaluation to determine if the child has a disability. The evaluation must take place within 60 days of receiving parental consent to the evaluation. The initial evaluation must include the procedures for determining if the child has a disability and the educational needs of the child (U.S. Department of Education, n.d). It is important to note that accepting the public school’s help in diagnosing your child does not mean you have to enroll your child or accept any other services from the public schools. Moreover, it is wise to copy all documentation and correspondences that occur between the public agency and yourself. The policies involved in requesting an initial evaluation varies within school districts.
Equally important, there are circumstances when a family requests an independent initial evaluation. One reason is that a family would like to remain independent from the public schools. Requesting an independent education evaluation can be obtained in two ways. First, according to IDEA (section 300.502), the parent or guardian can request the public school district to provide information about where the family can obtain an independent education evaluation. It is important to note, however, that the public agency is allowed to ask why the family would rather havean independent evaluation rather than use the public agency. The family may decline to answer, without affecting their right to receive the information from the public agency (U.S. Department of Education, n.d). The public school may or may not be required to pay for an independent education evaluation. Please reference the law for the specific circumstances when the public agency is responsible for paying for the educational evaluation. Second, a parent or guardian can circumvent the public school entirely and seek out professionals who are approved to diagnose disabilities. Depending on the reasons for concern, there are a variety of professionals a parent or guardian can turn to for an evaluation. These professionals include, but are not limited to, an audiologist, an occupational therapist, a clinical psychologist, an educational psychologist, a school psychologist, a psychiatrist, a speech-language pathologist, or a physician. Sometimes it might be necessary for the child to see more than one professional for an appropriate diagnosis.
Furthermore, the evaluation procedures will vary in length and complexity, depending on the type of concerns in question, the opinion of the evaluator, and the child’s performance in their homeschool environment or community. Also, according to greatschools.org, it is important to note that one assessment is not enough to diagnose a student with an impairment (“Special Education Evaluation: An Overview,” n.d., para.10). Multiple measures are often used to appropriately evaluate all the skills and deficits of a child. Likewise, no single measure can access the multitude of skills and deficits a child might possess. A thorough explanation of the assessments given, and why they were chosen, should be outlined to the parent or guardian. The professional shall provide a detailed report of assessment results, including the determination outcome; that is, do they meet the federal requirements for a diagnosis in an area of special education?
Also, keep in mind that whether or not you go through the public schools or seek an independent evaluation, it is important that the assessments administered seek to explain the reasons why you are referring your child in the first place. Consequently, if you suspect your child of having a hearing loss, an evaluator will most likely not administer “The Developmental Test of Visual-Motor Integration.” Likewise, it is important to choose an evaluator qualified to diagnose children with the type of disability you believe they have. For example, a clinical psychologist can diagnose a person with attention deficit disorder, but an audiologist is often the professional to turn to if you believe your child has an auditory processing disorder, a type of learning disability. Above all, the professional you select for your evaluation should listen to your concerns and provide you with information on who would be the most qualified professional to diagnose your child.
Following the completion of the evaluation, your child will or will not be given a diagnosis. If you do not agree with the diagnosis or the lack thereof, you are free to seek additional opinions or testing, depending on the findings. Most importantly, the information obtained can be used to tailor your child’s education and can provide a clearer picture on how best to educate and serve your child’s educational, mental, physical, and emotional needs.
For many parents, finding out that their child has a disability can be devastating. The steps to diagnosis can seem daunting and confusing to many. Parents or guardians should remember that many other parents are in the same predicament, and that there are many supports and services available to walk them through this process. IDEA is the federal law protecting students with disabilities. Individual states have mandates in addition to the federal laws. Check on your state government’s website for their special education rules and regulations. A list of support agencies and a link to the IDEA legislation follow this article.
Disability. (n.d.). Retrieved December 16, 2011, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disability
Great Schools Staff. (n.d.). Special Education Evaluation: An Overview. Retrieved from http://www.greatschools.org/special-education/legal-rights/666-special-education-evaluation-an-overview.gs?page=1
U.S. Department of Education. (n.d.). Building the Legacy: IDEA 2004. Retrieved from http://www.ed.gov/
Special Education Support and Advocacy Groups: