school kids and their teacherBy Cheri King-Guler, School Counselor

Dear Cheri,

My son is in first grade. During parent-teacher conferences last month his teacher suggested that he might have special needs because of poor grades and problems with the other students in his class. My wife and I are very upset about this and we feel very anxious about the special education process. Could you please prepare us for what we are facing?


Dale, Wisconsin

Dear Dale,

The road you and your wife are facing can feel very intimidating–but with a little advanced preparation and guidance, it needn’t be overwhelming. I will try to outline the process for you in order to better prepare you for the experience.

First Steps

Your son’s teacher has already taken the first step–telling you she believes your son might have special needs. The next step is usually an initial meeting with your son’s teachers, the school psychologist, social worker, and usually the vice-principal or principal of the school.

Initial Meeting with School Team

This first meeting is not designed to determine special education needs, but is used to provide information to you and school personnel that might be helpful for aiding your child without special education.

The name of this meeting varies by school district– they are often called Child Support Teams, or Pupil Support Teams, for example. Another purpose of this gathering is to brainstorm interventions to help your child, and to determine which member of the team will implement which part of the plan.

Planning Interventions

One of the prerequisites for special education placement is that interventions have been attempted and have failed. During this meeting, please remember that while you may feel “outnumbered by school personnel, you are the expert on your child and there is no need to be intimidated.

Unless there are extreme circumstances, school personnel cannot use any interventions with your child that you do not support. Examples of interventions include tutoring, counseling, parent involvement in tracking homework, shortening student assignments, and social skills groups.

Special Education Evaluation

If, despite the efforts of all involved, there is no change in your child’s academic and social functioning, a referral may be made for a special education evaluation. This involves testing, observation, and interpretation of your son‘s academic, adaptive, social, and behavioral functioning.

You will probably be asked to interview, and will receive a number of questionnaires to fill out regarding your son‘s behavior at home and developmental history. The school has 90 days from the day of initial referral until placement of your child in special education programs, including academic; speech and language; psychological; physical and occupational therapies; or any visual or hearing testing that needs to be done. After completing interviews with school personnel and questionnaires, you simply have to wait until the school is done with their end of the process.

Multidisciplinary Team and Parents  Meeting

When your son has been assessed and evaluated, a multidisciplinary team meeting will be held to determine your child’s special education needs and eligibility. You will again meet with your child’s teachers, a special education teacher, the school psychologist, vice principal, social worker, and any other therapists that assessed him.

There will be a thorough discussion of the assessment findings and his eligibility for special education services will be decided. Programs are available for learning disabilities; emotional disabilities; cognitive impairment; speech and language services; hearing, vision, or physical impairment; or autistic disorders. Once eligibility has been established, the location and provision of services will be decided.

Your Child’s and Your Rights

As your son’s parent, you have the right to be involved in every step of your child’s special education determination, and no services can be provided until you sign your permission for them. It is also your right to bring a friend or advocate with you if you feel that you need support for yourself and your child. However, in a best case scenario, the school psychologist should be that advocate for you.

Going Forward

If your child is eligible for special education, a re-evaluation will be done every three years to determine his continued eligibility. The process in this case is basically the same as in the initial evaluation, although school personnel may not need to repeat developmental interviews. The hope for these re-evaluations, of course, is that the special education and any ancillary interventions that have been provided for the last three years have been effective, and your son will no longer need special services.

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Cheri King-Guler

Cheri King-Guler, author and School Counselor received her Master's in Educational Psychology from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She has worked with students of all ages and specializes in parent interventions.

Cheri was published in the Communique, the monthly newspaper for the National Association of School
Psychologists. Cheri has a unique perspective on special needs children, as she has experienced the
special education system as a parent as well as a psychologist.
She is presently pursuing her second Master's degree in counseling psychology. In addition, Cheri is the author of both fiction and non-fiction for children.
Cheri King-Guler King-GulerSchoolElementary School Age ChildrenBy Cheri King-Guler, School Counselor Dear Cheri, My son is in first grade. During parent-teacher conferences last month his teacher suggested that he might have special needs because of poor grades and problems with the other students in his class. My wife and I are very upset about this and we...Parenting Advice| Family Fun Activities for Kids