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Understanding the Special Education Process (1 of 3)

In my previous post I talked about eligibility for speech therapy in public schools. The special education process can be confusing for parents and sometimes disconcerting- particularly when you don’t get your desired outcome. With that in mind, I am leaving my School SLP hat on and talking to you today about the referral and IEP process. Sometimes it is the parent who initiates the referral process and requests school-based speech and language services, but what do you do when you receive a letter from your child’s school inviting you to a referral/ planning meeting? Today I hope to take some of the mystery out of the process and arm you with tips to help you prepare.

A referral or planning meeting is held with the classroom teacher, parent, and members of the Child Study Team. It will be your first step in the referral/ classification/ IEP process. The purpose of the meeting is to discuss with you- the parent- that your child has been identified as someone who may need special education and related services in school. The team will discuss the areas of concern regarding your child. Hopefully this is not your first introduction to your child’s teacher. Nor should it be the first time that you are hearing that your child is having difficulty in school.

When you are invited to the referral meeting it is a good idea to write down any areas of concern that you may have as well. Here are some things to think about:

  • Is your child struggling with homework at home?

  • Does your child have difficulty understanding or answering questions?

  • Is reading a struggle?

  • Does he have a hard time following multi-step directions?

  • Do people outside of the immediate family have difficulty understanding him?

  • Does he have difficulty focusing?

  • Does he sleep well at night?

You should also tell the team what your child does well. They should be aware of your child’s strengths as well as his/ her areas of weakness. The team should know the whole child. All of this can be useful to the Child Study team as they develop a plan to aid your child. It is also a good idea to write everything down before the meeting so you don’t forget anything.

At the end of the meeting the Child Study Team may recommend doing formal (standardized) testing to determine whether or not your child is eligible to receive services in school. The testing may include, but is not limited to a speech and language evaluation, a learning evaluation, and psychological testing. Feel free to ask questions. Ask as many questions as you need so that you walk away understanding everything that will occur. You are now an integral part of the team so you need to leave the referral meeting understanding what the plan is for YOUR child. Remember you are your child’s first and best advocate!

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