I have been a School Counselor for over 13 years in addition to owning a private counseling practice. When I talk to parents at my practice about issues their child is experiencing, whether it is anxiety, depression, ADHD, or something else, there is typically some sort of impact in school. For example, a child with ADHD may struggle focusing on classroom lessons or may have a difficult time completing tests on time. Children with anxiety may become very overwhelmed by the amount of homework they need to complete each night along with managing long-term assignments. Kids with depression may struggle finding the motivation to complete tasks and may become very overwhelmed in a larger class size. Whatever the issue is, there are supports that exist at school. However, you may need to seek them out. Most parents I speak to at my practice are unaware that these supports even exist.
Intervention & Referral Services (I&RS)
Typically, if a student is struggling in school in some capacity (i.e.: attendance, health, academics, social/emotional, etc.) and it is noticed by a staff member, the student may be referred to a committee known as the I&RS committee. This committee consists of a counselor, a general education teacher, the school nurse, a child study team member, a special education teacher, and sometimes additional staff members. Parents are informed of this meeting and are sometimes invited as well. Teachers, parents, and the student are surveyed to gather information prior to the meeting. At the meeting, presenting issues are discussed, a measurable goal is established for the student, and an action plan is devised consisting of various interventions intended to help the student become more successful in school. Interventions are tracked over a 6-8 week period and a review meeting is scheduled. At this meeting, data is collected and analyzed to determine if the interventions implemented were successful. If they were, they are continued. If they weren’t, a new goal may be established and new interventions may be tried.
Another type of support that schools offer is a 504 plan. A 504 plan is for students with a disabling condition that has a substantial impact on a major life activity. For example, if a child is diagnosed with anxiety, depression, ADHD, or any other disorder and it is substantially impacting the child at school, they may be eligible for a 504 plan. A 504 plan has a bit more leverage than an I&RS action plan because it is a legal document. This document includes the diagnosis, educational impact, and various accommodations that are created by the 504 committee. These accommodations are intended to provide the support a child needs to put them at an even playing field as other students so they aren’t being discriminated against. Anyone is able to request a 504 plan for a child. That includes parents. If your child has ADHD and is having a difficult time completing tests on time, an example of an accommodation would be extended time on assessments. If your child has anxiety and is having a difficult time managing long-term assignments, an example of an accommodation may be breaking down the assignment into smaller chunks. Each school should have a 504 committee so don’t be afraid to reach out and ask about the process.
Child Study Team Evaluations
If your child needs more support than a 504 plan or I&RS action plan would offer, it may be necessary to have them tested by the Child Study Team (CST). The CST consists of a Learning Consultant, Social Worker, and School Psychologist. Typically, if a child was referred to I&RS or is granted a 504 plan, and neither of these supports were effective, the committees may recommend that the child is evaluated by the CST. Testing can take upwards of a few months and is very extensive. It may include a social history as well as educational and psychological testing. These series of tests would provide valuable information to determine if a student has learning issues, health issues, or other related issues that are impacting a child’s education. If a child does not have a learning disability but their mental health issues are having a substantial impact on their learning, they may qualify for special education and other related services under the classification of emotionally disturbed. If this is the case, it would be up to you whether or not you would give your consent for your child to receive special education services. Special education services vary from student to student and may include a smaller group setting (i.e.: resource classes) or push-in (in class support/resource). In class support/resource is a general education class that also includes a special education teacher. This teacher would be responsible for providing modifications and accommodations for special education students according to their individualized education plan (IEP). Usually, there is a process for a student to be referred to the CST for an evaluation. However, any parent can write a letter to the supervisor of special education services requesting an evaluation. If you decide to do this, the CST is required to meet with you. However, they are not required to test your child if they do not believe an evaluation is warranted. If a child was not brought up as a concern at school, they may recommend that your child gets brought up at an upcoming I&RS meeting first.