Recently I visited my doctor due to a sore hip. She examined me, asked me why I chose to discover kickboxing at this stage in my life and, in the end, she recommended I receive physical therapy. My insurance company paid for the sessions and eventually I felt better. Seemed like a pretty smooth process. But what if the doctor had to pay for any therapy she recommended out of her own pocket? Would she have told me to take a couple of Advil and call her in the morning?
Having your doctor both recommend and fund your medical needs seems like a pretty obvious conflict of interest, but this is exactly the way it works with school districts. It’s no wonder parents often ask if they can rely on the agencies that provide the services to also diagnose and recommend therapies. But this is not a simple “yes” or “no” question. Asking the question doesn’t necessarily mean these parents think their school district is acting more in their self-interest than in the best interest of the child, however, the reality is that if parents want a truly independent assessment, they need to work with a private evaluator.
How to Pick a Private Evaluator
Consider the evaluator carefully because their results and recommendations will likely shape your child’s future. For a comprehensive evaluation, make sure to choose a psychologist or neuropsychologist who specializes in working with children. Here are some questions you should ask each candidate so you can best understand how he or she will assess your child.
1. How many tests will you administer?
The school district is required to use more than one test to find a child eligible or ineligible for special education services, so a private evaluator should be held to the same standard.
2. What kinds of tests do you administer?
This will give you an idea of the scope of their evaluation. You want someone who looks at your child from many different vantage points: social, academic or pre-academic, cognitive, motor and self-help are some important ones.
3. How will you involve me (the parent) in your process? How will you involve the school district?
It’s important to gather input from the school district (or other therapists or professionals who are working with the child, if the child is not yet in public school). School districts often discount evaluations that take place in a strictly clinical setting, as well as evaluations that do not include the school’s input.
4. Will you observe my child outside of your clinic?
I think it’s critical that the outside evaluator observe the child at school or home and in some cases, both. Because the schools’ main focus is how the student performs in an educational environment, they will often dismiss reports that are strictly clinic-based. While results from a one-on-one clinical environment can yield a lot of useful information, they should be considered along side data from a group/educational environment.
5. Will you refer me (the parent) to a different specialist if you suspect my child has issues that lie outside of the scope of your evaluation?
A psychologist should able to recognize and identify areas of concern that lie outside of their expertise; however, they cannot diagnose nor make therapy recommendations within those areas. Other specialists often recommended include, speech and language pathologists, occupational therapists, physical therapists, and behaviorists. This could include recommendations for an evaluation by an occupational therapist, physical therapist, or behaviorist. It is always important to work with someone who is eager to enlist a second opinion when they themselves do not have all the answers.
6. What kind of recommendations can I expect from your report?
A good evaluation can be like a road map for lost or unsure parents, especially for those who are getting the very first evaluation for their child. Parents often seek out a private evaluator even when they already know their child’s diagnosis. In some cases, they have been working with the school district and they feel their child is not progressing. For these parents, an additional evaluation may provide more than another diagnosis; it may offer specific recommendations that are more useful in furthering their child’s development. In any case, having a trained professional diagnose and, hopefully, follow your child over time, will give you added knowledge of what therapies are available and where to focus your energy.
7. Have you ever attended an IEP meeting to present your report? Are you willing to do so, and how comfortable are you advocating for what you recommend?
Some parents work through their insurance companies to obtain an evaluation and the psychologists made available to them through hospitals and clinics will often not attend IEP meetings. Other evaluators simply make it a practice not to get entangled in what they perceive will be a contentious situation. This does not make them poor psychologists, but in my opinion, poor choices for the scope of what you need to help your child.
The point is not to find someone who agrees or disagrees with the school district, but to find someone who truly has the best interest of your child at heart.
As the first and most important advocate your child has, it is so important that you leave no stone unturned. Whether or not you have faith in the school district’s evaluation, the fact is that the scope of challenges facing your child will only be helped by soliciting the opinions of additional professionals. Worst-case scenario? You’ll find out that your school district truly is recommending the best available therapies for your child.
Make sure to check out my next blog where I’ll talk about what to do if you can’t afford a private evaluation.