Evaluation and Eligibility
Obtaining initial eligibility can be time-consuming, but it is important for clearly establishing your child’s specific areas of strength and need. The IEP data will be updated annually with information based your child’s performance at that time. IEPs must be more comprehensively updated in tri-annual evaluations (every three years when the educational team determines if a new evaluation is required).
Once the evaluation is complete, the educational team convenes to discuss evaluation results and assign an educational diagnostic category, such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD), emotional disturbance (ED), or specific learning disability (SLD). Some states will assign multiple diagnostic categories where appropriate. Remember, you are a part of the educational team and must be included in all of these decisions. Even though you are part of the educational team, you may not always agree with the evaluation or placement decision. In that case, further discussion should occur.
What Assessments Will Be Used in My Child’s Evaluation?
Typically, a meeting takes place before evaluations are conducted, at which the educational team determines which assessment tools will be helpful in understanding how and why a child demonstrates the difficulties they do at school. Such a meeting is not required; however, Prior Written Notice (PWN) about any requests for evaluations or changes to your child’s IEP must be given. Parents must give informed written consent before the school district conducts any assessments. The educational team may use assessments that measure cognition, academics, social-emotional domains, and areas relevant to related services (occupational therapy [OT], physical therapy [PT], and speech-language pathology [SLP]). The school psychologist, social worker, classroom teacher, and/or SLP are some of the educational professionals who conduct educational assessments. In addition, an audiologist may complete hearing tests, and the classroom teacher will give input about your child’s academic progress and classroom behavior.
You will provide input to each specialist throughout the process. Then, one person on the evaluation team will coordinate all the information and the team will meet to make recommendations to the IEP team. Some school districts will include evaluations that have been conducted by outside sources (e.g., if you’ve already had a diagnostic team conduct a cognitive assessment and an autism diagnostic evaluation). You should always feel comfortable asking the team questions about different assessment tools, how they will be conducted and what the results will mean for their child. If you have heard of an assessment that you think would be helpful to your child and the team, ask the team about that assessment.
What Should I Bring to Team Meetings Regarding Evaluation and Eligibility?
- Evaluation tools you would like to provide to the educational team
- Reports generated by other service providers (e.g. PCP documenting a medical diagnosis of autism, private SLP’s progress reports, etc.)
- Materials to record meeting notes and documentation (e.g. paper, pen, laptop, etc.)
- Friend or family member to provide support or help take notes
The eligibility process requires time and patience, but it is worth all the thoughtfulness and dedication of every team member. Always remember that you are a valuable member of the educational team, and you have a wealth of information to share with the team about your child.
“There is no assessment that can measure your child’s spirit, will, or how much he is loved or valued. It is up to me, as his Mom, to keep my WHOLE son in mind. It helps sometimes if I bring a picture of him with me to meetings where he is being discussed.”
– Parent of an adolescent with autism
What’s the Individualized Education Program (IEP)?
Once your child is determined eligible for special education, they have specific rights governed by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which is legislated by Congress. According to IDEA, students with special needs:
- Must be provided with a free and appropriate public education (FAPE)
- Should be placed in the least restrictive environment (LRE), and
- Must have an Individualized Education Program (IEP).
You will participate in the development of an IEP, which should be tailored to the abilities and needs of your child, with a multidisciplinary team (MDT) of education professionals or educational team. The educational team either must or can consist of special and general education teachers, speech and language therapists, occupational therapists, school psychologists, and parents.
The IEP is a blueprint for all educational programs and supports that will be in place for your child in school for the following year.