There is a child who attends a local elementary school who is quite unique, and has a special way of learning information that is very different from his classmates. During Reading class at his school, he is able to look at a picture and come up with an entire story as to what is going on with the characters just by looking at the pictures, but has not yet learned to count. During Math class, he is able to draw pictures of different shapes and can identify them, including a circle, square, rectangle, oval, a heart and stars, but he struggles with the concept of more and less than during counting activities. In Science class, he is able to classify different types of animals as either having fur or not using felt books, pictures of the animals and descriptions, but he struggles to count the number of animals that are in each group. He can also draw a full-scale model of a one-dimensional bridge during Art class, but cannot count the number of crayons he used that are in the box. What should be done next?
The first step is to recognize the unique qualities and challenges that the student is displaying and recommend the child for Special Education Services. This can be done by writing a letter to the Special Education IEP Team to refer the child, such as a principal or the assistant, school teacher, or another staff member. A child can also be referred by the parent or guardian, as this person is likely to spend the most amount of time with the child at home and other places, and can often be the most helpful in sharing important details and information about their child. A family medical doctor can also recommend that a child be evaluated for special education services, especially if the child is not meeting certain developmental or physical milestones in their life, such as crawling, speaking and forming words by a certain age, or even responding to his or her own name. These are all indications that the child may be a good candidate for special education services. Some other indications include a lack of eye contact, poor organizational skills, reading, writing, or math difficulties, poor balance, concentration or memory skills, sensitivity to light and sounds, as well as difficulties with daily living skills, such as brushing their teeth on a regular basis and many other daily living skills. Students can be evaluated anytime up until they are 21 years of age for these important services, as it is never too late. Making sure that children are evaluated early on will ensure that they have the step ahead they need, as well as the proper resources in place to succeed in their schooling and achieve!
The second step is to have the child fully evaluated to see what difficulties the child may be experiencing. Only a full evaluation can clearly show what is causing the child to have the difficulties they are experiencing, and can be done once a year. The following are different types of evaluations and their descriptions:
✰ A recent physical evaluation by a doctor will note any important areas of concern. Can also include an evaluation by a licensed psychiatrist who can prescribe medicine.
✰ Social history evaluation, which notes the child’s background and socialization skills, along with any areas of concern with regards to the child’s social development, interaction, and play skills.
✰ Classroom observations made by the teacher and staff to help give a well-rounded picture of the child’s everyday classroom interactions, such as their manners, daily living skills, and other important developmental skills noted by the teacher and staff.
✰ Psychological Educational Evaluations, which includes the child’s academic test scores on a wide range of psychological and educational exams, such as the Brigance Inventories, The Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children, Wide Range Achievement Tests (WRAT), and other comprehensive examinations used by school psychologists.
✰ Physical Therapy (PT) Evaluation, for children who have problems with their full range of movements who have suffered an injury, illness, accident or a disability and now require physical therapy to help strengthen certain parts of the body.
✰ Occupational Therapy (OT) Evaluation, for children who need help with their motor skills, such as buttoning a coat, zippering a jacket, holding a ball, or opening a container of juice- occupational means “work/job related.” Fine motor skills include the fingers, and gross motor skills include the arms and legs and larger body parts.
✰ Speech and Language Evaluation, to help determine what strengths and weaknesses the child may be experiencing with regards to their everyday speech and language development. A chart is also used to see what goals should be met by certain ages.
✰ A vision or hearing exam, to check the child’s sight and hearing in both ears.
The third step is for the school to create a document called an IEP, also known as an Individualized Education Plan. This official document is an outline that clearly displays the resources that will be used to help your child achieve, along with any pertinent educational information that is exclusive to that child. It is a unique blueprint that lays out all of the services, resources, and educational goals that are individualized for your child, and should include the following sections:
- Present Levels of Performance: how your child is currently performing in school, which includes a full educational profile description and test scores.
- Social and Emotional Performance: to help describe how the child gets along with others in social settings, as well as their emotional well-being, moods, and behaviors.
- Measurable Annual Goals: these goals are usually written for the entire school year in areas such as English Language Arts, Math, Counseling, or other areas as noted on the form. Goals should be updated regularly as the child meets them, and recommendations can be made during IEP meetings by the staff and student.
Good annual goals are ones that follow the SMART acronym, and should be “Specific” “Measurable “Achievable” “Relevant” and “Time Sensitive.”
- Testing Accommodations provided for the child, which may include having more time on exams, having test passages and questions read aloud, using a calculator, or even the use of braille for students who are blind. These accommodations are meant to accommodate your child in successfully achieving their goals, and should be used to gently support learners taking academic exams.
- Related Services: including counseling and guidance, speech and language services, occupational or physical therapy, and other related services the child is receiving should all be documented on the Individualized Education Plan, along with how many times a week the service will be offered, and how long each session is.
- Transitional Services for older students who are entering the upper grades.
- Transportation Services which details what special transportation needs the child may require, such as bus operators who can accommodate children in wheelchairs.
The Fourth Step is the final step in the special education referral process and includes the actual implementation of your child’s Individualized Education Plan by the school. It is during this critical and important time that all of the special education services that your child is receiving will be implemented and evaluated to see the overall outcomes that these supports are making. A meeting is usually planned once a year to evaluate the special education supports the child is receiving, and all of the school team members come together to provide feedback regarding the progress the child has made. Family members, staff, and other school personnel come together in this final step to see the progress the child has made and collaboratively share their insights.