The special education process through your child's school can be a difficult one to navigate.

The educational law to determine a disability is different than the medical model for diagnosing a disability. So, it is completely possible that your child's pediatrician may have diagnosed your child with a reading disability but the school evaluation determines that your child does not. This is a common occurrence and can cause frustration.

Your child is struggling in school and you don't know what to do. This situation can be confusing because not all children who struggle have a disability and not all children who have a disability struggle in school.

A child might be struggling for many reasons that aren't due to a disability. Situations that contribute to struggling academically include poor attendance at school, changes in schools/school districts, not completing homework and/or an unmotivated student.

On the other hand, a child with a disability may be doing just fine in school. For example, a child with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder may be able to manage attention and concentration through medication or diet and exercise. A child with a reading disability may have to work twice as hard as other children, but he may be completing work successfully on grade level.

If you think your child has a disability, take some time to consult with school staff about their thoughts and intervention procedures. Also, take some time to read the educational disability criteria in the different areas. The Wisconsin Department of Education website has a great document "An Introduction To Special Education," that can help guide your decision. This link will take you to the document: dpi.wi.gov/sites/default/files/imce/families-students/intro-se.pdf

If you decide to make a special education referral, talk to the coordinator at your school to get the process rolling. First, the coordinator will talk to you about your concerns. Second, a team will be assembled to address your concerns, and they will determine what tests will be used. Third, you will be asked to sign a permission form for the team to administer the tests. After you sign, the team will complete observations, talk to you more in depth and administer tests. When all the testing is completed, you will be invited to meeting to review the test results and, as a team, determine if your child meets the educational criteria as a child with a disability.

The team will then develop an Individual Education Plan (IEP) for your child. This plan will indicate what instruction or what educational settings will help your child and accommodate your child's needs. (Learn more about IEPs: Effective IEP meetings)

Last, the team will ask you to sign permission for your child child to receive the services outlined in the IEP. You will either sign "yes, I accept all services" or "no, I accept none of the services offered."

This process can be hard as a parent or caregiver, so you might want to bring a supportive person with you who may be familiar with the process. Also, make sure to ask any questions you have throughout the process. You know your child best and will be your child's greatest advocate.■

Tracy Christman is a psychologist with the Milwaukee Public Schools and the mom of two boys.


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