• Navigating Special Education Services for School-Age Children, Part 2

    Family TherapyIn the previous article, we discussed the challenges faced by parents who believe their children might have a learning disability and could benefit from special education services. The most important thing to remember is that learning disabilities are very common. A learning disability isn’t caused by poor parenting and it doesn’t mean something is wrong with your child.

    To identify a learning disability and get the special education services a child needs, communicate with your child’s teacher, pediatrician, and therapist. Understand appropriate learning milestones and behaviors so you can set realistic expectations. At this point, if you suspect your child might have a learning disability and could benefit from special education services, contact your school to start the process of requesting an evaluation.

    Nutley Family Service Bureau (NFSB) has helped a number of children and parents bridge the gap that often exists between home and school environments and navigate the process of finding special education services. Here is one of those success stories.

    Recognizing When Help Is Needed

    Victoria Bukey, MSW (Master of Social Work), LSW (Licensed Social Worker), and Certified School Social Worker at NFSB, started seeing Danielle soon after she started kindergarten. Danielle was very intelligent but had social deficits that made it hard for her to make friends and regulate her emotions.

    “At this age, tantrums aren’t common or as long and intense as tantrums of younger children,” Victoria said. “Language is usually sufficient for kids to express frustrations instead of showing through behavior, but that wasn’t happening for Danielle.”

    Victoria soon found that Danielle wasn’t performing as well as she could be, both academically and socially. It was clear that she needed help.

    Danielle did not have an individual education plan (IEP) so Victoria explained to Danielle’s family the process of requesting an identification meeting to determine if an evaluation for a learning disability was appropriate.

    “I didn’t know Danielle’s parents had already tried this process when she was moving to pre-K,” Victoria said. “They were discouraged about trying it again. I explained that children develop and learn a lot between ages 3 and 5. If a child is still struggling at age 5, something needs to change.”

    Identifying and Dealing with Learning Disabilities

    The school decided to evaluate Danielle and provided her with a substantial IEP and wonderful services. Danielle was moved to smaller classrooms to help her focus and manage social behavior and peer interactions. This was a big milestone. However, she was still struggling to make friends.

    “Danielle would make comments that indicated she really didn’t know how to make friends,” Victoria said. “After observing her interactions with siblings, it became clear that there were social deficits that weren’t consistent with appropriate child development. It looked a lot like autism.”

    In cases like this, Victoria typically seeks family feedback by asking a series of questions, such as:
    “What have you experienced?”
    “Do you find this behavior appropriate?”
    “Are you working to change this behavior?”

    “It’s important to get the family to feel comfortable identifying and discussing behaviors that they might find embarrassing,” Victoria said. “Parents sometimes feel as if they’re being judged, which couldn’t be further from the truth. We’re here to work with families who want and need help.”

    Victoria shared applied behavior analysis (ABA) strategies with the family. ABA is used for children on the autism spectrum to better understand behaviors and how learning takes place in real-world situations. Victoria finds this methodology helpful with many kids, regardless of diagnosis.

    “The family was working hard to implement those changes, so I understood their frustration that certain services weren’t working as well as they should have,” Victoria said. “We started having a much more fluid conversation about evaluation for developmental disabilities and they felt more comfortable with the information I was sharing.”

    Danielle was diagnosed with autism. This can be difficult to hear at first, but it can also be a relief to finally have the answer you’ve been seeking for more than a year and know that help is available. Victoria helped the family connect with in-home ABA services. She felt family therapy would not be intensive enough, so she recommended one-on-one therapy.

    Between the special education services at school and the therapy at home, Danielle’s parents felt like they had the opportunity to learn and interact better with others.

    “I always tell families that I may be an expert in child development, but the parent or caregiver is the expert in their child,” Victoria said. “If you feel something isn’t quite right, seek help. Contact the school for special education services. Speak with your pediatrician. Come see us at Nutley Family Service Bureau. Help is always available, but knowing where to look can be the hardest part of this process.”

    Learning disabilities are common, and services are available to help children lead a happy, healthy, and productive life. If you suspect your child might have a learning disability and need help navigating special education services and other resources, contact NFSB at 073-667-1884 today.

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