What do you do as a parent if you suspect there is something wrong with your child’s learning? If your son is three-years-old and not speaking? If it is the end of Kindergarten and your daughter still doesn’t know her letters? If it is the end of second grade, and your child is still struggling to sound out simple words?
Many parents do not know about the myriad of laws that govern seeking out, assessing, and administering services to children who need special help. Luckily, there are lots of websites and parent organizations that can help you out. Here’s one of my favorites: National Center for Learning Disabilities.
In simplest terms, if a child would potentially qualify for special education services before the age of three, then your pediatrician would refer you to the county in which you lived. County services could include everything from speech therapy, to an early intervention preschool. Once a child turns three, then the school district takes over from the county.
Younger than Three = Go through the county. Three or older = Go through your school district.
At three years of age, a child who needs special education services would qualify for an Individual Education Plan with his or her school district. An IEP is a legal governing document specifying accommodations and learning goals for the course of one year. An IEP is decided upon at a meeting with parents, teachers, school district personnel, and in some cases, the student. (For more information on the IEP process, please see here.) Even if your child is homeschooled or goes to private school, they could still qualify for an IEP if they met the criteria for special education.
If your child is already in grade school when you notice something amiss, your first course of action would be to discuss your concerns with your child’s teacher. Next you might have a conference with the classroom teacher, the school principal, or perhaps a counselor.
These meetings might lead to a recommendation for formal assessment to be administered, which would require your written consent. There is a way to bypass this entire process by writing a letter to the Special Education office in your district requesting immediate assessment. However these learning assessments are costly, time consuming, and can be stressful for children, so it is always best to go through your classroom teacher first.
In addition to pursuing help through the school system, you would also want to bring your concerns to your child’s pediatrician, in case there were services your health insurance could provide. There are also private agencies that can help your child such as the Shiloh School of Language Development in Edmonds, or Lindamood Bell Learning Center in Seattle.
Phew! Just writing about all of that stresses me out a bit, even though I’m just talking about hypothetical situations. Parenting a child with learning disabilities can be a rough road. But it is important to remember that there is help available. So take a deep breath, square your shoulders, start a file folder to document everything, and plan for success!