Determination of Special Education Eligibility: From the School Psychologist’s perspective:
There is no band-aid big enough to cover the broken heart of parents when they find out that their child has a serious learning or developmental disorder. As a school psychologist, I would rehearse the words that needed to be delivered to the parents waiting for me – across “the table”.
I knew that “Bad” or unexpected news needs to be carefully and eloquently given versus blurted out like guesses for Jeopardy. You owe them that much. They trusted you with their child.
I gave hundreds, perhaps thousands, of parents “the news”. Usually starting my “spiel” with some glowing remarks about their child – “Such a great worker”, “Really motivated and tried so hard”, or “Fabulous ability to stay on task”. Then came the description of what transpired over hours of one-on-one evaluations, observations, interviews, and discussions with staff. Finally, arrives the moment that many await – the results.
“As you know “your child” and I worked together for many hours over a course of several days. He was alert, responded to my requests without any problems, and seemed to enjoy most of our activities. He was very good at ___ (fill in the blank) and a joy to get to know. With that said… based on the findings from this comprehensive psychoeducational evaluation your seven-year-old child currently has the developmental level of a child younger than himself. That means that his cognitive (intellectual) ability to complete tasks combined with his academic skills, and skills for his daily living – appear also to be delayed for his age and grade. (This is where I pull out a chart that shows visually what I mean – such as the one below
I stop. I look the parents in the eye. And then ask if it is OK to continue with the meeting or if they have any questions about the evaluation process.
I then continue as if I am doing a “big reveal” – but without the cheering and happy faces … “I need you to know that these results allow for our team to discuss options for eligibility and possible programming within special education as I am recommending that your son meets the eligibility qualifications as a child with Intellectual Disabilities. “
This is where a few parents will ask me to repeat – EXACTLY – what I just said. They need to hear it twice as to help with the understanding. It is not uncommon for people to ask questions that seem “basic” but are very important. One parent asked a question that would seem very politically incorrect by today’s standards – “Is my son retarded?”
I respond, “Yes, that is a much older term but the definition probably is the same. However, I need you to know that he is young and we use strategies and programs that have not been introduced to him yet. So, please know that these results may change by the next time we re-evaluate him. We need to keep an eye on your son’s educational programming – monthly – school year by year. We do not have a crystal ball – but I am very hopeful that consistent intervention and programming can only help him to developmentally and academically grow”
THEN I WAIT. With this news or any other “heavy news” I wait. I need to press pause right here and now as I just dropped a potential “heart bomb” and I owe it to the parent(s) to have a moment to process it. I ask if there are any questions. And, if they need a moment to privately discuss or regroup?
By the way… This is where some psychologists fail parents. They simply drop “the news” and then move on because they are thinking of their next appointment, meeting, or even lunch. They fail because they don’t know what it is like to sit at the other side of the table and the immense need for that moment of allowing the messaging they just received to sink in.
“Are you surprised by what I just said?”, I will ask.
Sometimes the response is “not really”. Other times the parents go through the Kubler-Ross stages of grief at record speed with ANGER being where they stop. “NO WAY, he is just like me and I learned just fine!”, announced one very demonstrative father to me. (How do I respond to THAT?)
Or the sobbing begins. This is so hard. I almost rather have the anger. Sobbing means that the dreams they had for their son are now being reformulated as we sit in this too formal setting. News like this should happen on comfy chairs over tea and with boxes of tissues. Not in a room of strangers who just altered your world in a blink.
So, begins most parents’ initial journey into special education.
Please keep in mind that I am using this scenario as one of my scenarios that could happened – just as an example. But, as I have mentioned in prior blogs – special education encompasses a large number of eligibility categories – from needing speech therapy to those with multiple impairments who may need intensive services. The process is almost the same with each category – meetings, reviews, possible evaluations, and/or eligibility meetings and perhaps writing of an IEP.
The Parent Perspective:
It hurts. Hearing any words of concern and describing the most precious and beloved person in my life as less than perfect – hurts so much! But, I recognize that our son needs support with his learning – his talking – his muscles – etc. He is perfect to us- but in the “eyes” of the special education process – he is another “qualifier”. This means special classes and therapies as a child under the age of 3. He will have home visits and I will need to bring him to special centers for infants and toddlers. I will meet other parents and we will share our ‘war stories”. This is helpful to some degree. To others it is not. We decide to supplement his structured learning by placing our little fella also in “regular” daycare. He doesn’t do well the first go-around. He cries too much. Seems a bit lost until recess. Doesn’t want to sit or follow-directions. He is a “handful”. But, in time – with both special and regular preschool – he “graduates” from all of the services except for speech. He can’t pronounce correctly a few sounds and speaks very fast. That seems “do-able”. But, our time in special education isn’t over – we are just “on hiatus”.
When Dreams are Altered.
Dr. Ken Moses is quoted in an article saying these wise words which helped me as a parent:
Parents attach to children through core-level dreams, fantasies, illusions, and projections into the future. Disability dashes these cherished dreams. The impairment, not the child, irreversibly spoils a parent’s fundamental. heart-felt yearning. Disability shatters the dreams, fantasies, illusions, and projections into the future that parents generate as pan of their struggle to accomplish basic life missions. Parents of impaired children grieve for the loss of dreams that are key to the meaning of their existence, to their sense of being. Recovering from such a loss depends on one’s ability to separate from the lost dream, and to generate new. more attainable, dreams.Dr. Ken Moses, Childhood Disability: A Parent’s Struggle (read more)
I recall going to a conference when our son was young with Dr. Ken Moses as the key presenter. Gosh, it was great! But, I was emotionally drained by the first break. He started the session by having us do an exercise that brought us all to tears. We were to envision our child – before they were born. And then we were to think of our hopes for this child. What we dreamed for their future. These thoughts were to be mentally placed in “thought bubbles”. Then Dr. Moses asked us to reflect on our reality of the challenges this child has endured. Which bubbles are now burst? Which remained? He then went on to discuss how we can make new and attainable dreams with our child – and that hope is a good emotion.
Break out the tissues. This life lesson was extremely powerful.
But, it taught me a huge lesson as a parent. And a psychologist. Dreams are only dreams that sometimes can become reality – or just need adjustments. Regardless, you can DO this!
Being a parent in the digital age
I have learned as a parent and professional to be careful of what information I read and absorb on the internet. And yes, I am keenly aware that my website is chocked full of “suggested resources”. But, please note that when I offer an article or video I do with this caveat – please use your due diligence to be sure to check the content for accuracy and application to your life. With that said, here is a resource that I found helpful on this topic:
- Part 1 of this series :Intro
- Part 2 of this series – starting the process
- Part 3 of this series – psychologist’s perspective of the evaluatoin
- Part 3 of this series – continued- parent perspective of the evaluation