Once you’ve recovered from going through the process of identifying, evaluating and classifying your child, you can now rest for three years. Even though you will review your child’s Individualized Education Plan annually, your child will not being formally assessed for eligibility for another three years.
The beginning-of-the-school-year-honeymoon-period is now over, and your child is settling into the school year. Perhaps you’re noticing that your child is struggling with word problems, identifying letters, remembering the sounds letters make, or writing. Perhaps your child’s teacher is pointing out to you that he is struggling to sit in his seat, finish work in class, interact with his peers. So now what? What do you do with this information?
If you’re making these realizations now, you may want more information about your child’s strengths and weaknesses, and possibly gain a support plan in school. In essence, you may be ready to seek an evaluation. The next question is what kind? Who can provide an evaluation for my child? What information do I want to gain from this evaluation? So, where do you begin?
Seeking a Psychological Evaluation for Your Child:
Step One: Speak to your child’s teacher and gain feedback regarding your child’s performance academically, socially, emotionally and behaviorally? What are academic strengths and weaknesses?
Step Two: Decide if you would like for your school’s Child Study Team to perform the psychological evaluation vs. seeking an independent evaluation.
Before you make that decision, you need to answer the question: what’s the difference between the evaluation and report you would gain from your Child Study Team vs. one gained from an outside professional? Well, there are several and here is a summary to help you when you make this decision.
The Psychological Evaluation through your Child Study TeamThe Psychological evaluation completed by your school should consist of a standardized test, such as the Wechsler Intelligence Scales, an observation, and a student interview.
In the end, you will gain a report that provides an IQ of your child’s cognitive/intellectual performance, a summary of a classroom observation, and information about your child’s interests, preferences, and reported academic strengths and weaknesses. Please note that the School Psychologist is not permitted to provide any diagnoses, if relevant, within this report.
This information will be used to compare to the results of the Educational Evaluation that is completed by the Child Study Team Learning Specialist in order to determine if there is a learning disability that is negatively impacting your child’s ability to perform academically.
The School Based via the Private/Independent Psychological Evaluation:
If you are seeking an independent psychological evaluation, that means that you are working with a Clinical Psychologist, privately, to provide you with an evaluation and report. The Clinical Psychologist has the ability to administer additional tests in order to answer questions you may have as a parent, or to gain more specific information about your child’s intellectual and academic skills.
Being a School and Clinical Psychologist, when I perform a private psychological evaluation, I also administer an achievement test and executive functioning testing, as well as look at anxiety, attention, learning, and memory. All of this information creates a learning profile that indicates your child’s learning style, strengths and weaknesses.
This report is comprehensive and offers information about learning style that the School Psychologist’s report does not contain. That is, is your child a visual spatial learner; an auditory learner? A hands on learner? With this information in mind, the recommendations in the report can then be geared towards the best way to teach new information to the student that is in line with the way he naturally takes it in.
Pros & Cons
So, what are some of the major pros and cons of a Child Study Team (CST) generated psychological evaluation vs. a private/independent one?
The Essentials of a Successful School Year for You and Your Child’s IEP
When a new school year begins, students are not the only ones with butterflies in their stomachs. Parents of students with special needs also worry about what a new year, a new teacher and a new classroom may bring. If your child has an Individualized Education Program (IEP), the legal document clearly delineates your child’s needs. Here are tips for creating a positive classroom experience and successful school year.
Schedule a parent-teacher-case manager meeting.
At the start of the school year, all of your child’s teachers provide written signatures that they have reviewed your child’s IEP. However, it is a brief overview and teachers are not yet familiar with your child’s program, modifications and accommodations.
After the first couple months of school, schedule a time to sit down with your child’s teachers and case manager to review academic supports and accommodations. In essence, you are setting aside this time to give teachers an overview of how your child is best able to take in information while reviewing accommodations, such as providing a word bank on a fill-in-the blank test or giving a lesson outline prior to the presentation of new material so that your child can follow the outline and add personal thoughts or notes. This is also a time for you to meet and make a connection with all of your child’s teachers, permitting them to know you by name and face.
For a Successful School Year: Put it in writing.
Once your child’s IEP meeting has been held, your child’s program goes into effect within 15 days of the IEP meeting date, with or without your signature. Sometimes, parents are misled to believe that if they do not sign the IEP, they are showing disagreement or require more time to review the document in detail. However, when you are in disagreement with an element of a behavior plan, related service or program within your child’s IEP, prepare a written letter to your child’s case manager indicating what specifically you are in disagreement about.
Integrate a sensory diet into your child’s day.
Create a personalized activity plan that can be integrated into your child’s daily schedule in order to satisfy the need for movement, deep pressure or heavy work. These types of activities satisfy proprioceptive, vestibular, auditory, visual and tactile needs for a child who may have a sensory processing disorder, difficulty sustaining attention, or is restless and fidgety.
For example, a child diagnosed with ADHD or Autism may not be able to maintain attention and focus to one task while sitting down at a desk for an entire class period. As a result, a sensory tool may include a move ‘n sit cushion, which is a seat cushion that is wedge shaped and filled with air. It is used to help fidgety or lethargic students maintain a level of alertness. A child who is restless may also need the opportunity for movement breaks within the school day. It might benefit a child like this to work at his or her desk for ten minutes and then take a five-minute break to go to the bathroom or water fountain, or to send a note to another classroom teacher or the main office.
For children who are hyperactive, a five-minute gym break for a quick run or game of basketball can be integrated into the child’s schedule to allow for a better ability to focus on class tasks.
Consult with the occupational therapist (OT) in your child’s school for additional ideas and how they can be integrated and implemented on daily basis. Overall, these strategies can help you and your child to transition into the new school year smoothly. While also giving you the chance to discuss your child’s academic program and develop a positive rapport with your child’s teachers.
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When it comes to doing homework sometimes kids can be nomads. They will plop themselves on a couch, bed, floor, wherever they may land. Unfortunately, this is not optimal for homework or studying. Your child should have a designated study area. This should be an area as free from distraction as it can and calming. For some children, this may be an office desk or kitchen table. If their desk is in their room, it is important they use their desk and not the bed or bean bag chair that may be in it. While some students use apps such as Focus Keeper to stay on track, not having it placed within reach is key. It should be close enough that they can hear the timer for their break but not close enough where they can play games and browse social media.How to study
As many of us learned the hard way, cramming was not the best way to learn and retain information. Setting up a study schedule for an allotted amount of time before the test will help your child retain information and reduce stress before the exam. This can be done using their agenda book or a dry erase calendar in their room. Including reminders and goals will help reduce the last minute cramming and test anxiety. While they are studying, allow for breaks. As mentioned above there are apps that can be used to set an amount of time to study and time for a break. These breaks should be restorative and not involve screen time. That can make getting back to studying more challenge and cause a power struggle between you and your child.
Celebrating their hard work
Even though they may have not gotten a perfect score, celebrate their effort. Knowing that studying is difficult for your child, the fact that they were able to sit and prepare for their tests is a success. It’s the process not the product. The more encouragement and sense of pride they feel the more they will want to continue these habits to make not only you proud but they will make themselves proud!
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A strong, developmentally- appropriate social/emotional emphasis is crucial in creating a successful inclusion program. Through structured social/emotional lessons, modeling emotional coaching in the moment, as well as play experiences, children learn that we all have feelings and different coping strategies. Mirror neurons fire in our brains through observation of other human beings. By exposing our children to teachers and caregivers co-regulating with other students and working them through strong emotions, we are laying the groundwork for building empathy. Students also learn how to enter into another child’s world and see the world through another person’s eyes. For example, another child may share a similar passion for Mickey Mouse, however, their play may look a little different e.g. stacking or lining a figure up. With assistance and modeling from adults in the room on how to engage with students, we are teaching them how to consider others’ interests and needs. In the future, this may help our children to include other children in their play and social interactions that may not initiate on their own. I know that my hope for my own child is to be an individual who respects and includes all people.
Enhances Communication and Interpersonal Skills
As adults, an important skill to be successful in life is learning how another individual communicates and tailor our interactions accordingly. Exposing our children to inclusion settings from an early age helps them to gain an understanding that we all communicate differently. In addition, exposing young children to a variety of communication modalities help to strengthen and develop language.
Multi Sensory supports and engaging lessons help each student access the full curriculum and accommodate all learning styles.
In an age of high-stakes testing, the importance of supporting and enhancing childhood development in an educational setting is often lost. Children need to move and experience to learn. An inclusive setting supports the critical, developmental building blocks for learning that are sometimes not emphasized in all educational settings. The importance of experience and process is lost through pressure of the “product.” Multi sensory learning experiences are critical for all children to access the curriculum through their individual learning styles. Inclusive settings create a supportive learning environment, engage a variety of learners and creates a more responsive learning environment.
When I walk into my son’s classroom, it’s difficult to distinguish between the students who have individualized education plans and those who do not. This is exactly as it should be. Through my son’s eyes, each and every one of his classmates are his buddies. Some communicate with technology and sign language. Some need cool little gadgets to make their bodies feel safe and ready to learn. Some of them like Paw Patrol just like him. Most of them like to move while learning just like him. Most importantly, they are his friends. By exposing our children to these types of educational environments from an early age, we are raising children who will grow into empathic adults and creating a more inclusive world.
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Think about EF as the skills that we want our children to begin to develop in different phases of their development. These skills are also referred to as:
- inhibition of impulses
- performance monitoring
- working memory
- task initiation.
Looking closer at our children’s EF skills will help us better understand our child’s areas of strength and weakness, which will ultimately help us as parents to better be able to effectively communicate and advocate for our children in school. In the book, Smart but Scattered, Dr. Peg Dawson and Dr. Richard Guare beautifully outline 11 sub-skills of executive functioning:
the ability to think before we act.
the ability to hold information in memory while performing complex tasks. It incorporates the ability to draw on past learning or experience to apply to the situation at hand or to project into the future.
the ability to manage emotions in order to achieve goals and complete tasks.
the capacity to revise plans in the face of obstacles, setbacks, new information or mistakes. It relates to adaptability to changing conditions.
the capacity to maintain attention to a situation or a task in spite of distractibility, fatigue, or boredom.
the ability to begin projects without undue procrastination, in an efficient or timely fashion.
the ability to create a roadmap to reach a goal or to complete a task. It also involves being able to make decisions about what’s important to focus on and what’s not important.
the ability to create and maintain systems to keep track of information or materials.
the capacity to estimate how much time one has, how to allocate it, and how to stay within time limits and deadlines.
the capacity to have a goal, follow through to the completion of the goal and not be put off or distracted by competing interests.
the ability to stand back and take a birds‐eye view of oneself in a situation. It is an ability to observe how you problem solve. It also includes self-monitoring and self‐evaluative skills. This is a higher-level skill that we try to build with our teens and young adults.
the ability to thrive in stressful situations and to cope with uncertainty, change, and performance demands.
Let’s be very clear – children are not born with these skills, nor do they develop as part of regular growth and maturation. These skills are learned and develop with practice.
As their parents and teachers, we can set the framework to help build these skills by setting routines, breaking big tasks into smaller, attainable chunks, and creating activities to improve impulse control and emotional regulation.
Children with delayed executive skills may display challenging behaviors and parents may find themselves in a reactive pattern. Executive functioning coaching can help families better understand their child’s unique profile as well as develop a plan to strengthen these capacities in order to build self -esteem and raise independent thinkers capable of regulating their emotions and reaching their fullest potential across environments.
Dawson, P., & Guare, R. (2009). Smart but scattered: The revolutionary “executive skills” approach to helping kids reach their potential. New York: Guilford Press.
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Children are Motivated
Locke, Shih, Kreutzmann and Kasari (2015) conducted a study comparing the playground habits between children with and without autism spectrum disorder. The results indicated that children with autism did spend majority of their time engaging with another student. Though the students may not be communicating and relating to each other on the same level, there is motivation from the students with autism to socialize.
Four Steps of Communication
One important strategy to teach students is the four steps of communication. Created by Winner (2000), these steps break down social interaction more concretely for students. Step 1 is to be aware of others and our own thoughts. This is the time we want to make sure we are on the same topic of conversation. Step 2 is to make a physical presence known. We have to approach the group or wave to initiate conversation. We just cannot get too close that would invade their personal space! Step 3 is to use our eyes to read others emotions and monitor how the person is reacting. The final step is use language to convey our thoughts. This can be done by asking questions and sharing thoughts. These steps can help students with their interactions.
Engage teachers and aides
The hardest part about social skills is the students generalizing their skills in different environments. Winner and Crooke (2016) stress the importance of having teachers and aides be apart of the students’ “social team”. Not only do teachers and aides directly observe what is happening on the playground, they can help guide play, reinforce social stories and vocabulary. One of the most important skills to teach children with Autism is observation. When you observe a social cue, you can interpret the most appropriate response. While this can be done in therapy rooms, the playground offers more opportunities for students to observe social cues. Naturally, this skill is difficult for students to do on their own. Having teachers help reinforce the concept of observation to students could improve their social skills.
Pair with Peer Models
Another common strategy is to utilize peer mentors. Higher functioning students can help guide students in need. These students would need to be trained on how to respond to children with Autism and on the nature of the condition. Most schools have a similar model for peers to help others. The one challenge to this strategy is peer pressure: often the mentors might face exclusion and stop helping. Teachers would still need to be closely monitoring in effort to ensure the success of the approach.
Create Structured Activities
Students with Autism tend to work in isolation with repetitive, predictable tasks. There are various activities that can meet their interests and help them socialize. The monkey bars, see saws, and swings often lend to pairs playing together. Alternate activities such as side walk chalk or scavenger hunts are predictable but increase participation. Indoor recess has easier options to structure. Art activities, Lego buildings and board games lend themselves to cooperative play. Another important strategy is to allow the students to bring toys from home. They can use this opportunity to share with others and make potential friendships.
Practice In the Classroom
The classroom and therapy room is a vital place to work on recess goals. This is a time where social skills can be taught and practiced. Teachers can instruct students on games they can play, the rules and expectations of the game, and why people like this game (Lucci, 2019). These are concepts that are hard for children with Autism. Videos showing recess activity and games help students see a clear picture of what will happen. Reinforcement systems in the classroom can motivate students to interact in an appropriate manner. Our goals for students is to feel connected with others during social times. These strategies can help students build successful peer relationships.
Locke, J., Shih, W., Kretzmann, M., & Kasari, C. (2015). Examining playground engagement between elementary school children with and without autism spectrum disorder. Autism, 20(6), 653-662. doi:10.1177/1362361315599468
Lucci, D. (n.d.). Helping students with Asperger’s make sense of recess. Retrieved May 11, 2019, from https://www.aane.org/helping-students-aspergers-make-sense-recess/
Winner, M. G. (2000). Inside out: What makes a person with social cognitive deficits tick?: The I LAUGH approach: Asperger syndrome, high-functioning autism, non-verbal learning- disabilities (NLD), pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), hyperlexia. San Jose, CA: Michelle
Garcia Winner. Winner, M., & Crooke, P. (2016, September 21). 9 Strategies to Encourage Generalization of Social Thinking Concepts and Social Skills. Retrieved May 12, 2019, from https://www.socialthinking.com/Articles?name=9
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For some, this provokes a great deal of anxiety. The worry of:
- “Will they change my child’s program?”
- “Will they take away services?”
- “Is my child making any gains?”
- “Does my child have the best program?”
- “Does my child need more or different related services?”
Before I dive in to the topic, let me review the different types of IEP meetings that you can have:
An IEP annual review is your yearly meeting when you sit down with your case manager, general education teacher, special education teacher, and related service providers in an effort to review your child’s program as it has been set for the last year, and to decide what your child’s program will look like for the upcoming year.
A re-evaluation eligibility meeting is one you will with your Case Manager, general education teacher, special education teacher and related service providers every 3 years in order for your child’s continued eligibility for special education and related services to be reviewed. That is, your child will be re-evaluated (psychological, educational assessments, as well as necessary related service therapies) so that you may review your child’s progress. During this time, you can bring forth any diagnoses that your child has that were made by private professionals (e.g., ADHD, Sensory Processing Disorder, Dyspraxia, Central Auditory Processing Evaluation, etc).
Sometimes, your case manager may decide that there is enough data from your child’s teachers that shows that your child continues to be eligible and requires the program that has been established. As a result, your case manager may ask you to waive testing and re-convene in 3 years.
An initial eligibility meeting takes place after you or your child has requested a CST meeting in order to review your child’s learning needs in an effort to gain testing. The eligibility meeting occurs when all testing has been completed and eligibility is being determined…
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Within the public school environment, when you begin to notice that your child is struggling and needs accommodations, you can request an Intervention and Referral Services Action Plan (I&RS). As you begin to have more data, you can request different plans, but let’s start with the I&RS Plan.
Intervention & Referral Services Action Plan
Based on the NJ Administrative Code (6A; 16-8.1; Establishment of Intervention and Referral Services) all school districts are required to have an I&RS committee available for students who are struggling with a learning, behavioral or health issue. The I&RS team is typically composed of the Principal, Guidance Counselor, teachers and the I&RS Coordinator. Other members, such as the Reading Specialist, Occupational/Physical or Speech therapist, and School Nurse can also be members.
An I&RS plan is developed and implemented within the school in order to provide accommodations and support to the student. This plan is created by the I&RS team in conjunction with the student’s parent(s). Accommodations are based on teacher observations and interventions already used. No testing is required.
The types of accommodations that can be a part of an I&RS plan range from preferential seating, extended time on assignments or tests, providing a bathroom or snack break, providing verbal and non-verbal cues to help re-focus, and providing study guides. This plan is reviewed every four to six weeks with the intent to remedy the situation and eliminate the plan.
Although this plan provides supports, the ultimate goal is to find solutions to the issue at hand. The belief is that the area of difficulty is short-term and by implementing a few strategies, it will be resolved.
The 504 Accommodation Plan
The 504 Accommodation Plan is guided by the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) to ensure that a student with a disability has access to accommodations to improve academic functioning, as the disability affects the student’s ability to access the general education curriculum, perform academically and make progress.
In order to qualify for a 504 Accommodation Plan, a student must have a diagnosis; however, a diagnosis does not ensure that your child will be granted a 504 Accommodation Plan. The diagnosis can include a physical or emotional disability, recovering from a chemical dependency, or impairment (e.g. Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder), a food allergy, a concussion that restricts one or more major life activity.
A document is created that specifies the disability as well as the accommodations needed by the student. Accommodations can consist of: moving a child’s seat, permitting a child to have frequent snacks or drink in the classroom due to a diagnosis (e.g., diabetes, etc), providing extended time on tests or assignments, modifying test questions, and/or providing statewide testing accommodations. Other accommodations include a personal aide to ensure safety around food allergies, or modifying the duration of a day for a child who has suffered a concussion.
Note that a student is not able to receive specialized instruction (e.g., In Class Resource program or Out of Class Resource Replacement) through a 504 Accommodation Plan.
The Individualized Education Plan (IEP)
An IEP is guided by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and is a plan and program that provides special education and related services to a student who is identified as having a disability that negatively impacts ability to receive academic instruction. A student who receives special education services is entitled to modification of curriculum, classroom accommodations, specialized instruction, and related services such as occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech therapy and/or counseling.
An IEP is a comprehensive and legal document that incorporates a student’s present levels of academic achievement and functional performance (PLAAFP) in which each teacher/therapist provides feedback about the student’s performance within the subject area and related service. Information from the PLAAFP guides the goals and objectives, which are specific identification of skills and areas that will be addressed through the IEP program. Goals and objectives are also ways of measuring growth within those areas over the course of the school year.
A child who is referred for special education and related services is tested by the Child Study Team. These evaluations can consist of the following: Psychological Evaluation, Educational Evaluation, Social Evaluation, Speech Evaluation, Physical Therapy Evaluation, Occupational Therapy Evaluation. Other evaluations, such as a Central Auditory Processing Evaluation, neurological exam, or psychiatric evaluation are often conducted by professionals outside of the school. Parents can request that the school cover the cost of these evaluations, or pay for them privately. Note that a parent can also gain an independent evaluation (Psychological, Educational) on a private basis, and submit these reports for the Child Study Team to review.
A student with an IEP is re-evaluated every three years to determine continued eligibility. However, a parent can request a re-evaluation sooner than three years, but not less than one year. An IEP is also reviewed annually; however, a parent can request a review of the child’s program as well as related services at any time.
I&RS vs. 504 vs. IEP
To clarify things a little better, an I&RS plan is what you can seek when your child needs formal accommodations, but does not have a documented disability (learning, behavioral or emotional).
You can request a 504 Accommodation Plan when your child has a diagnosed disability and requires classroom and statewide testing accommodations.
You can request a Child Study Team evaluation for a potential IEP when your child has a disability (learning, emotional, medical or behavioral) that requires the modification of curriculum and other special education programs, related services, and classroom and statewide testing accommodations.
I hope this has taken the mystery out of which plan is right for your child! If you still have questions, feel free to email me: email@example.com.