Many parents are overwhelmed when a child is suspected of having, or determined to have, a learning disability or other special educational need. Where should you start? This article will provide some basic direction for parents who are negotiating these difficult questions.
Q: Who should I speak with if I suspect that my child has a disability and needs additional support at school?
A: Requesting an initial special education evaluation for your child is different at each age level. If your child is under 3 years old, you should speak to your pediatrician about your concerns. There are many early intervention programs that your pediatrician may be able to recommend. You can also contact Early On Michigan to begin a referral for evaluation. A referral hotline number and link to the organization’s referral form is located on the Early On Michigan website. If your child is between the ages of 3-5, you can contact your local intermediate school district (ISD) or regional education service agency (RESA) to inquire about an evaluation. If your child is aged 5+, you can go directly to your child’s teacher or the school administrator to inquire about an evaluation.
Q: What does the evaluation process entail?
A: The evaluation process begins with your informed consent. The school district must receive a parent’s signed, written consent to begin the evaluation process, which differs from a written request for evaluation. Once your consent has been received, the multidisciplinary evaluation team will conduct assessments and complete observations, based upon the concerns raised about your child’s progress, to determine if your child is eligible for special education supports and services.
Q: Who will be on the Multidisciplinary Evaluation Team?
A: Your child’s current teacher will be a member of the team along with special education professionals familiar with the eligibility criteria necessary for special education supports and services. These professionals may include a school psychologist, social worker, occupational therapist, speech pathologist, teacher consultant, and any other members needed to create a comprehensive report of your child’s strengths and weaknesses in the school setting in order to determine eligibility for supports and services.
Q: How long will the evaluation take to complete?
A: Once you have given signed, informed consent the Multidisciplinary Evaluation Team will have 30 school days (this does not include weekend days or days when school is not in session, such as holiday breaks) to complete the assessments and observations and submit a written report with their recommendation, which will detail whether your child is eligible under special education rules and criteria. Once a recommendation has been made, the team will meet with you to review the results of the evaluation, the team’s eligibility recommendation and to determine next steps.
Q: What should I do during the evaluation process?
A: During the 30 day evaluation timeline, you should ensure that your child attends school every day to the greatest extent possible. Your input during this process is also very important as you may be asked to complete rating scales and interviews concerning your child’s overall development and progress in school.
Q: My child is already eligible and receiving special education supports and services, why does the team need more assessments and what can I do if I would like to request additional supports and services?
A: Eligibility for special education supports and services must be reevaluated every three years by the Multidisciplinary Evaluation Team. The team must obtain your informed consent prior to reevaluation. If you believe that more information is needed, parents can request a new evaluation on a yearly basis. The special education evaluation process has many steps and can be difficult to navigate, but remember to ask questions throughout the process and continue to seek out assistance along the way in order to ensure your child’s success. More information about parental rights during the special education evaluation process can be found in the Procedural Safeguards Notice provided by the Michigan Department of Education on its website.