By: Reva Tankle, Ph.D.
A child’s pediatrician is often the first professional who hears a parent’s concern that their child is struggling in school. It is comforting to know that The American Academic of Pediatrics has recently provided guidelines to pediatricians that outline the important role they can play when a child is struggling in school. The guidelines refer to pediatricians’ involvement in prevention (e.g. avoiding brain injuries, good nutrition, etc.), early recognition, diagnosis, treatment, advocacy/monitoring and referral. Regarding referral, pediatricians are asked to consider involvement of a number of subspecialties, including neuropsychologists, child psychologists, speech and language pathologists and others.
In my prior work as a Special Needs Advocate and now as a pediatric neuropsychologist, I understand how the referral to a neuropsychologist for a comprehensive evaluation can assist a parent in the Special Education eligibility process, but it is still too often an unknown for many others. To be eligible for Special Education services, a child must meet three basic criteria (1) present with a qualifying disability; (2) demonstrate a lack of effective progress in the general education setting; and (3) require specialized instruction or related services (e.g. Speech Therapy, Occupational Therapy, Psychological Services, etc.). The determination of eligibility is made by the school team that includes the parents. The school will conduct its own assessments which may provide the information needed to make a determination of eligibility. A private neuropsychological evaluation provided by the parents can also help to inform the process, by providing a diagnosis(es) as well as a deeper and more integrated look at the child’s cognitive, academic and social/emotional profile.
School evaluators do not typically provide what are considered medical diagnoses, such as ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorders or Dyslexia. A neuropsychologist can make such a diagnosis, and a comprehensive neuropsychological evaluation should also provide an understanding of how the disability is impacting the child’s academic, social and/or emotional development. The neuropsychologist can then relate the diagnosis to the appropriate educational disability category for the school’s consideration. A neuropsychological evaluation can also assist in determining if a child is making effective progress within the general education setting. Data obtained through standardized testing, teacher reports and observation of the student in the school setting can provide information needed to determine if the child is making progress commensurate with their potential. Finally, delineation of specific skill deficits identified in an evaluation can provide information necessary for selecting appropriate specialized methodologies or the related services the child requires to make progress.
We often hear the phrase, “It takes a village.” It certainly “takes a village” of professionals to provide the coordinated and comprehensive care that a child who is struggling in school requires. With pediatricians providing the first line of support and referrals for parents, the outside professionals, including neuropsychologists, can work with the pediatrician and in conjunction with the school staff to provide the struggling student the range of services needed to foster their academic, social and emotional development.
About the Author
Combining her experience and training in both pediatric neuropsychology and educational advocacy, Dr. Reva Tankle has particular expertise in working with families who are navigating the IEP process. Having participated in numerous team meetings over the years, Dr. Tankle is especially knowledgeable about the many ways that schools can support and accommodate students with special learning needs, information that she clearly communicates in her evaluation reports and in team meetings, if needed. She also has a great deal of experience in articulating the reasons that a student may need a program outside of the public school.
Dr. Tankle evaluates students with ADHD, learning disabilities, high functioning autism spectrum disorders, and neurological conditions, as well as children with complex profiles that are not easily captured by a single diagnostic category.
Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton and Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 617-658-9800.