Please Don’t Worry About Labels or Early Services – Embrace Them

preschool teacher and child giving high-five

I work as a school and developmental psychologist at a few private schools and in my outside practice. In this role, there is a great deal of effort put into directing families to appropriate assessments and matching children with valuable services. While I understand a parent’s hesitation at the process (it’s big), and their worry about labels (they stick), the information gained about a child and the beneficial services that often become available in the process far outweigh the concerns.

I can see how the evaluation process is intimidating. You are taking your child to see an unknown professional for a series of unfamiliar evaluations. Even on the easy end for a speech and language screening, a parent doesn’t know what to expect. On the hard end, a full educational and psychological evaluation can take three or four long visits. The happy news is that some evaluations are fun for young children. A full evaluation may include puzzles, mazes and word games. An OT’s office looks like an indoor playground. In most cases, you will likely meet a professional who really enjoys working with children and makes the process as comfortable as possible.

Evaluations can also be expensive. If you are looking at an evaluation through the public school system the cost is covered. Private evaluations can range from a hundred to a few thousand dollars depending on the level of investigation. Some Universities and hospitals also provide these services. Universities with graduate student evaluators often work on a sliding or reduced scale. Hospitals often work in an easier way with insurance coverage.

And then there’s the labels. If you are using a private evaluation, it is up to the parents to share or not share the information that follows. I’d encourage you to share though, because a lot of the point is providing information to your child’s teachers and other professionals to make better informed decisions, determine placement and provide an individualized plan. If you are using the public school system and accept services, that does become a piece of your child’s records. That said, the services are often very helpful. The services are also flexible, meaning children test in and out of services with evaluations provided on a regular schedule. Parents can also advocate for changes as their child participates in the system.

I want parents to think of the labels as keys to unlock the door to better services and individualized instruction. The labels also give parents a specific thing to focus on, learn about and support that hopefully replaces the broad concerns they had previously.

There are a few other important differences between the public and private evaluations. The central focus of evaluations offered through the public system is to determine if the child’s concerns meet the criteria for their services and programs. The goal is to prepare children for success in school and best meet their academic needs. The focus is not to provide a diagnosis or recommendations for success at home.

Meeting the criteria for services and programs can be a high bar. When a child qualifies through the public system, it seems safe to assume it is at least a moderate rather than mild concern. So if qualifying points to at least a moderate concern, I strongly encourage parents to take any services that are offered. When a child doesn’t qualify, it doesn’t automatically mean your child won’t benefit from services. There may very well be a concern that should be addressed, but it leaves it up to the parents to address it through a private provider.

Private evaluations are focused on deciding the level and area of all concerns, providing diagnostic language where it is appropriate and giving a broad range of recommendations for home and school success.

While private evaluations provide a wealth of information, they may not be seen as sufficient for qualifying for public services. Often, schools will take outside testing into consideration, and will add their own pieces or provide whole additional assessments to give further evidence.

Whether an evaluation shows no clear concerns and you are given a few ideas of how to address the original concern, or your child qualifies for support services, or there is a specific diagnosis, the evaluation itself is helpful. You are gaining valuable information about your child, and are in a better informed position to make decisions and provide support moving forward.







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