Finding the right fit for the child with “learning differences”: Identify the issue and assemble a team
This is the first in a series of posts about helping children withÂ learning differences/special needs. Deborah Gutman has learned through her own experience raising a child with ADHD and shares helpful tips on how to choose a school for your ADHD/LD child and how to find the appropriate resources and books for your family. Today she describes putting together a team of people to help you and your child, including early identification and finding the right services and treatment.
It’s possible you’ve always had the feeling your child is a bit of a “square peg” trying to fit in a “round hole” but you just couldn’t put your finger on why your child doesn’t fit in. It’s also possible that you never noticed an issue, but every time you put your child in a structured educational setting or with same-aged peers, you receive feedback that there is something wrong.Â Helping your child with learning differences is often a moving target and requires lots of patience. I am the mother of a child with ADHD, generalized anxiety and sensory integration dysfunction. These labels came after many professional consultations, lots of struggles, and trial and error. We are familiar with every synonym for “energetic.” We are still on the very bumpy road to finding the right fit for our child; however, if you are at the beginning of the process, it is important to get the right team in place. If you can name the problem or issue, you can better problem-solve a solution and arrange for the appropriate educational setting, services and/or accommodations to help your child succeed with his/her self-esteem intact.
There are a variety of specialists who offer both evaluation and treatment services.Â The type of professional you choose may depend on several factors including the age of your child and you (and your child’s) needs at the time of the consultation. There are many practices that incorporate many different types of specialists in one setting and are able to address both diagnosis and treatment within a single practice.Â Health insurance will cover many of these costs, but not necessarily all of them. Review your policy and speak with your insurer to better understand your coverage. Your school district may also cover the costs of educational testing. This will vary from one school district to another and you should contact your local school district. Here is a brief primer on the types of specialists you might encounter or consult on the road to diagnosing your child’s learning differences.
Clinical psychologist: A professional specializing in diagnosing and treating mental illness, emotional disturbance, and behavior problems. Psychologists may have a master’s degree (MA) or doctorate (PhD) in psychology. They may also have other qualifications, including Board certification and additional training in a specific type of therapy. Many conditions, including anxiety disorders and ADHD may benefit from therapy. Psychologists can only use talk therapy as treatment; you must see a psychiatrist or other medical doctor to be treated with medication.
Neuropsychologist: Neuropsychologists have additional training in the administration, scoring, and interpretation of tests that measure different aspects of brain functioning. Neuropsychological testing involves the standardized administration of tests of certain cognitive processes with respect to short- and long-term memory, abstract reasoning, attention concentration, executive function, and motor skills. Different tasks rely on different parts of the brain for their accomplishment. This type of testing often provides additional evidence that helps to establish a diagnosis and identify areas to target with treatment or educational interventions.
Psychiatrist: A physician (MD) who specializes in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of mental illness. They may have additional training in a psychiatric specialty, such as child psychiatry or neuropsychiatry. Psychiatrists are able to evaluate the need for and manage medications if they are necessary. Each psychiatrist’s practice will vary, some will conduct testing, some will do talk therapy, etc.Â It is important to discuss in advance what services the psychiatrist normally provides.
Early Intervention: Early intervention is a system of coordinated services provided through the State Department of Human Services.Â Early intervention supports families with a child upÂ to age 3 and provides services to children with developmental delays, certain diagnosed conditions or circumstances that may lead to significant developmental problems. Services may include speech therapy, occupational therapy, and physical therapy. Children referred to Early Intervention receive a comprehensive developmental evaluation to determine if they are eligible for the program. Together with the family, a plan will be designed for services to address the child’s developmental needs.
Department of Human Services (DHS) Info Line in Rhode Island: 401-462-5300.
Educational consultant: an independent consultant who helps parents and students with educational planning. Educational consultants tend to specialize with particular kinds of students, or students with particular kinds of needs. For example some consultants work exclusively with college placement or planning, some with students seeking a private education at the secondary level, and yet others with students who are learning disabled or have behavioral/emotional difficulties. Consultants generally have a background in psychology and/or education. They may perform testing, classroom observations, write reports with recommendations for placement or services, or attend IEP (individualized education plan) meetings.
Deborah Gutman, the mother of a very spirited, active, funny, and persuasive 8-year-old, is currently spending much of her time learning to navigate the school system while practicing and teaching emergency medicine on the side.