What to do if you suspect your child has a disability?

When your child is struggling in school and you suspect that your child may have a disability, it can be an emotional experience and many people will provide you with a multitude of solutions to your problems. As former school professionals, we can provide you with our recommendations from beginning to end.

Meet with Teacher

Our first recommendation is always to start by meeting with your child’s teacher. Your child’s classroom teacher is the most knowledgeable individual about your child in the school building. They spend the most time with them and are should be a centralized hub of data regarding your child’s performance within the school. At the meeting, I would ask a number of questions to determine where your child currently stands in relation to other students in the class, school and nation. Here is a list of questions that we would recommend you ask your child’s teacher during that meeting:

  • What are my child’s current grades?

  • What are my child’s strengths and weaknesses?

  • What data do you have to support those areas of strength and weakness?

  • What does that data mean for my child’s educational performance?

    • How does my child’s data compare to the peers in the classroom, school, and nation?

    • Does the data show that my child is making progress or is my child’s performance stagnant?

    • If your child is making progress, is it considered adequate/does it meet expectations for progress?

    • How is this data used to inform my child’s instruction?

  • What interventions are being implemented in the classroom/what differentiated instruction is my child receiving?

  • Is my child receiving any additional supports targeting their area of weakness?

  • How long has my child been receiving these supports?

  • Do you have any concerns regarding my child’s social/emotional or behavioral functioning?

Meet with Intervention Team

After meeting with your child’s teacher, where you should be able to collect valuable information regarding your child’s academic performance, we would suggest that you request a meeting with the school’s intervention team. This team is called different things in many different schools. We have frequently seen these teams called: Intervention Assistance Team, RTI Team, MTSS Team or Problem Solving Teams. These teams typically will involve you, your child’s classroom teacher, grade level intervention specialist, school psychologist, and building level administrator. The purpose of these teams is to analyze student data, design intervention specific to the student’s needs, set an intervention goal, and determine how progress will be monitored. Most teams have a format that will guide the meeting. However, these are important questions that you should have the answers to before leaving the meeting:

  • What intervention options are available for my child in the school?

  • What Tier of intervention is my child receiving?

  • What intervention has team chosen for my child to participate in?

  • Is this intervention research-based?

  • Will my child receive this intervention one-on-one or in a group?

    • If in a group, what is the group size?

  • How frequently and for how long will my child receive this intervention?

  • Who will be implementing the intervention?

  • How is my child’s need being specifically met by the chosen intervention?

  • What tool is being used to measure my child’s progress?

  • How often will my child’s progress be measured?

  • How is the progress monitoring tool directly linked to my child’s need and the chosen intervention?

  • What goal has been set for my child to reach as a result of the implemented intervention?

  • When is the team meeting again to discuss your child’s progress?

Follow-Up

At the follow-up team meetings, which are typically held anywhere from 6-12 weeks apart in order to allow the team to implement the intervention and collect progress monitoring information, the team will work to determine the effectiveness of the intervention. At this meeting you should have an answer to the following questions:

  • Was the intervention implemented and progress monitored the way that it was designed in the previous meeting?

  • Did my child show positive progress to the intervention?

  • Did my child meet the intervention goal?

  • What was my child’s rate of improvement compared to the expected rate of improvement?

  • As a result of the progress monitoring data, what, if any, changes will be made?

    • Will a new research-based intervention be implemented?

    • Will there be changes in the frequency, intensity or duration of the current intervention?

This process and team meetings will likely occur multiple times before team can determine the most appropriate intervention for your child. While participating with your child in the intervention process, you have the right to request that your child be evaluated to determine the presence of an educational disability at any time. You may also wish to seek a private evaluation in order to determine the presence of a disability at any time.

We will cover more regarding the evaluation process in our next blog, so tune in!

 

What is a school psychologist?

In honor of School Psychology Awareness Week, we would like to highlight our chosen profession! At its core, school psychology is a helping profession, which lends itself more to a week of awareness than appreciation-awareness about all of the ways school psychologists are trained to help reduce educational barriers and improve outcomes for clients and their families. According to the National Association of School Psychologist website, school psychologists' graduate training develops knowledge and skills in the following areas: data collection and analysis; assessment; progress monitoring; school-wide practices to promote learning; resilience and risk factors; consultation and collaboration; academic/learning interventions; mental health interventions;  behavioral interventions; instructional support; prevention and intervention services; child preparedness, response, and recovery; family-school-community collaboration; diversity in development and learning; research and program evaluation; and professional ethics, school law, and systems (NASP, 2014). 

School Psychology Training

School psychologists receive graduate training in education and psychology aimed to develop skills in psychological theory, educational strategies, and assessment. Training includes both coursework and practical experience. School psychologists take classes in child development, assessment, diagnosis, educational skill development, academic interventions, social/emotional interventions, problem-solving consultation, group and individual counseling, diversity, special education laws, and ethical issues.

Currently, there two degree tracks that school psychologists complete: specialist-level or a doctorate. A school psychologist with a specialist-level degree completes at least 60 credits, which takes three years of full-time study, and typically earns either an Educational Specialist degree (Ed.S.) or a Psychology Specialist degree (Psy.S.). Some individuals who received their training in the early stages of the profession may hold a Master's degree. To earn a doctoral degree, school psychologists complete at least 90 credits and write a dissertation, which generally takes between 5 and 7 years. Both those with specialist-level and doctoral degrees end their training with a year-long 1200-hour supervised internship. In addition to competing the coursework and practical components, school psychologists must also pass the Praxis School Psychologist examination (NASP, 2014).

Although all school psychologists receive similar training, work setting often drives the skill set that they use most often. School psychologists may work in public schools, private schools, independent private practice, hospitals, preschools, school district administration offices, school-based health and mental-health centers, community-based day treatment or residential clinics, and juvenile justice programs. We will cover public schools, private schools, and private practice, where the greatest number of school psychologists work. The information below is based on school psychology experience in Ohio. It is important to note that each it may vary depending on the specific state you reside and its laws.

School Psychologists in Public Schools

The majority of school psychologists (81%) work in public school settings (NASP, 2017). These school psychologists are licensed by the State Board of Education, and their main role is to support students academically, behaviorally, and social-emotionally within the school setting.

A large part of supporting students happens through Response to Intervention (RTI) and Multi-Tier Systems of Support (MTSS) frameworks. Both RTI and MTSS, which are similar, are tiered systems that use a problem-solving approach to provide increasing levels of support for school-related needs. Fully integrated RTI or MTSS systems address both academic and social-emotional/behavioral concerns.

In the academic RTI/MTSS system, school psychologists use their knowledge of child development, academic skill development, and grade-level curriculum to ensure that effective instructional practices are driving instruction within the general education classroom. School psychologist also use data to determine which students still need additional academic interventions and supports despite receiving quality instruction in the classroom.

On the behavioral side of RTI and MTSS, school psychologists work to implement a multi-tiered approach to social, emotional, and behavioral interventions and supports though the Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) framework. Within this infrastructure, school psychologists and their school teams create school-wide supports to promote healthy social-emotional development and appropriate school behavior through positive strategies. Similar to academic supports, behavioral and social-emotional interventions intensify based on the student's response to the supports provided. If a student fails to respond to the school-wide behavior plan, the student might need an individualized plan. School psychologists are uniquely trained to conduct Functional Behavior Assessments (FBA). During FBAs, data is collected to determine the triggers and consequences of specific behaviors to find out why a student behaves in a certain way and how the behavior is being reinforced. Based on the results, school psychologists and team members create a Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP) to reduce the unwanted behavior by providing ways in which a student can get his/her needs met while behaving in a more positive and appropriate manner. School psychologists may also provide individual or group counseling to students through the intervention process.

School psychologists' skills allow them, along with a team, to design an intervention plan, monitor the student's progress, and evaluate if intervention is being provided with fidelity to determine whether or not a student has responded to the interventions. Based on the team's findings, after receiving intensive interventions, a student may be referred for an evaluation if the team suspects a disability.

School psychologists in the public schools can assess students for a variety of reasons, but the majority of the time they are conducting special education evaluations. School psychologists serve as the team chairperson and case manager of psychoeducational evaluations, known as an Evaluation Team Reports (ETR). These reports are referred to as an ETR because a team approach is used to determine if a student has an educational disability under one of the 13 disability categories defined in Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The school psychologist and other evaluators on the team provide a description of the child's educational needs and the implications that those needs have on instruction and progress monitoring. Based on those needs and implications, an Individual Educational Program (IEP) is created for the student with specific goals the student will achieve the following year and the services that they need to meet those goals. 

Despite having many responsibilities in a public school setting, the child remains the school psychologist's main focus. Advocating for the best interest of the student is the foundation of all work that a school psychologist does. Family involvement is essential, so a large part of student advocacy involves collaborating with the family. School psychologists also work to link students and families to outside services to ensure that the student’s needs are being met.

School Psychologists in Private Schools

The role of school psychologists in the private school setting vary greatly. In private schools, their role is typically shaped by the type of students the school serves and what both the school and individual students need.

School Psychologists in Private Practice

School psychologists who work in private practice only need to be licensed by the State Board of Psychology. Most individuals engaged in private practice have licenses from the State Board of Education and the State Board of Psychology.

To gain a license from the State Board of Psychology, a school psychologist must have four years of experience working as a school psychologist and pass an oral exam to demonstrate understanding of laws governing school psychologists. This additional license allows those who work in private practice to provide diagnoses within their areas of expertise.

Depending on their focus, those who work in private practice primarily use their expertise in assessment to conduct comprehensive psychoeducational evaluations. Such evaluations include assessment of intellectual ability, learning patterns, achievement, motivation, behavior, or personality factors directly related to learning problems for both children and adults. These evaluations are conducted based on client self-referral. While assessments are chosen by the school psychologist, the driving force behind the assessment is the client’s presenting concern.

In a school setting, a school psychologist is conducting a psychoeducational evaluation to determine if the student has an educational disability that needs to be addressed through special education. In a private practice, a school psychologist is evaluating based on the diagnostic criteria of DSM-5 or ICD-10 to determine if the client has a disabling condition. A private school psychologist can provide a diagnosis and make recommendations regarding disability categories that the school should assess, but only a school team can determine if a student qualifies for special education services.

School psychologists in private practice also frequently complete Independent Educational Evaluations (IEEs). IEEs are evaluations conducted by a qualified examiner who is not employed by the school district. If a parent disagrees with the outcome of the evaluation that a school district has completed, the parent can request an IEE. School psychologists in private practice are uniquely positioned to complete IEEs because of their familiarity with both DSM diagnostic criteria and educational disability criteria under IDEA.

As part of an evaluation, school psychologists in private practice incorporate recommendations that can be used in educational planning. For K-12 students, this may include strategies for the child's teacher, private tutor, or family members to use at home, such as accommodations and/or direct instruction strategies. For adult clients, recommendations may include accommodations for a Section 504 Plan in the classroom setting or standardized professional assessments as well as strategies/supports for the client to implement themselves or seek out from professionals.

Within their private practice, some school psychologists may provide services that are recommended. School psychologists' training prepares them to provide counseling, academic intervention, behavior intervention, and tutoring services.

They may also provide advocacy services. Having worked both in public schools and private practice, school psychologists understand the complicated special education process. As advocates, school psychologists are available to attend meetings with clients and their educational team to help guide them through the process and act as a bridge between clients and school staff to ensure that their client's educational needs are met so they can achieve their fullest potential.

No matter what setting school psychologists are employed in, their main goal is to help individuals thrive within their educational setting.

References
For more information on school psychologists, please visit the National Association of School Psychologists website at https://nasponline.org.  

National Association of School Psychologists. (2017). A Career in School Psychology: Frequently Asked Questions. Retrieved from https://www.nasponline.org/about-school-psychology/becoming-a-school-psychologist/a-career-in-school-psychology-frequently-asked-questions

National Association of School Psychologists. (2014). Who Are School Psychologists. Retrieved from https://www.nasponline.org/about-school-psychology/who-are-school-psychologists