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What can I do if I suspect my child has special needs?

If your child is struggling in school, you are probably exploring all your options to help your child find success. If your child’s challenges could be caused by a mental or physical disability, he or she may benefit from special education services.

Professionals who work with your child, such as a teacher, school psychologist or physician, can request an assessment. However, if you are noticing signs that your child may have special needs, you yourself can request the assessment to see if your child is eligible for special education services. Requesting an assessment is the first step you can take toward acquiring these services.

What will be included in an assessment?

If your child receives an assessment, he or she will go through a series of tests, interviews and observations. The purpose of these tests, interviews and observations is to identify specific school performance issues your child may be experiencing. The assessment may also identify the types of special education services that might benefit your child.

Keep in mind that, as a parent, you have the right to give or withhold consent for the school's proposed assessment plan, even when you were the person who requested the assessment. Once the assessment has been completed, you and the rest of the team will decide together if your child should receive special education.

If the team decides that your child is eligible for special education services, it will probably develop an Individualized Education Program (IEP) to address your child’s needs. If the team ultimately decides that your child is not eligible for special education services, you can leave things as they are or you can request an independent assessment.

How can I request an assessment?

To request an assessment, you must write a letter, called a referral for assessment, which should include all the pertinent information about your child’s situation. This includes:

  • Your child’s name and date of birth
  • Your name, address and phone number
  • The name of your child’s school
  • Your child’s history of special education, if any

You should also state that you think your child may be experiencing learning problems that may require special education, and that you want an evaluation. The letter can be addressed to your local education agency, which is most likely your local school district, and delivered to your child’s teacher or principal.

If your child is struggling in school, it is important that you do not give up looking for the most appropriate option to help your child with his or her specific needs. If you believe special education will help your child succeed in school, writing a referral for assessment may be the best way to begin the process of acquiring those services.

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