Helpful advice and tips for finding the right professional to evaluate special needs, by Cheryl Scott, MS, LMHC.
You have been watching your child for some time now and wondering if your child would benefit from special care in some manner. You don't want your child labeled, but you know they need a little more help then you can give them alone. So you begin to seek the right professional/s to evaluate your child to see if your child's special needs can be accommodated and helped.
Two important questions will arise when making the decision to seek a special needs evaluation for your child. The first question: Who should evaluate my child? The second question: Where can I find the professionals I need?
To begin the discussion regarding who you shall seek we need to identify which very general category of special need your child has, i.e., a physical special need or a mental special need.Though you may not think your child fits into either category, or you may not want to label your child, it will nonetheless be essential to obtain a diagnosis in order to receive services from agencies. Getting a diagnosis is just a formal step in helping your child. Try not to let a diagnosis rule you or your child's future, however, getting a diagnosis can provide for some basic essential framework for a good treatment plan. Your child may have more then one diagnosis and from more then one category. Your child will have a primary diagnosis that will fit into either physical or mental categories with a possible additional secondary diagnosis.
Starting out the entire evaluation process at your pediatrician's office is the best way to start. Get any physical treatments available and rule out physical causes for any mental symptoms. In that appointment express your concerns regarding any special needs your child has and ask this physician for referrals to specialists. Allow your medical doctor to help guide you in selecting some basic categories of specialists such as neurologists, physical therapists, or even psychologists. Your child may need a team approach to treatment having several specialists who work together. Be sure to keep all these professionals linked in some manner. You can sign a release form for each specialist to be able to speak with the others. You can request consultations that they call each other and cooperate on treatment.
If you are certain your child needs a mental health evaluator and you'd like to skip your pediatrician, I would recommend that you start with a psychologist. I would also recommend that it is a American Psychological Association (APA) certified psychologist. The reason for this is that a psychologist from an APA credentialed school would have undergone the most rigorous training of any mental health professional when it comes to evaluations. APA schooled psychologists must not only learn about mental disorders, but spend enormous amounts of time practicing the administration of evaluations and writing reports before they obtain their doctoral degree. A psychologist's report is generally thorough and includes a treatment plan for you to follow. The psychologist may refer your child to a psychiatrist for a medication evaluation and or a psychotherapist to provide counseling or a behavioral program. Social workers may additionally be recommended. To find the nearest APA approved psychologist in your area go to the Psychologist Locator at the APA website.
After looking for a psychologist through the APA website, the next place you can look for a qualified mental health professional for evaluations is at your child's school. Often the school will ask you to do some evaluations on your child if they think your child has some special needs. The school system is an enormous provider of children's services and if you can work with them it is usually in your child's best interest to do so. Begin with your child's guidance counselor.
When dealing with multiple treatment providers, become your child's case-manager or seek a professional case-manager. This means that you monitor and help design the over all treatment plan for your child keeping them from becoming just a case to anyone. This is your precious child and no one knows them better then you. Use your basic parental wisdom that was given to you upon the birth of your child. You are able to sense things about your child no one else can. Along with all the professional advice you get, never forget to ultimately go with your gut instincts when you know something is right or wrong for your child. God gave you this child, not someone else. That is important and matters in all things.
Second, and even third opinions are more then acceptable for you to obtain. In the case of your child, you do not want to leave any questions left unanswered that can be answered with diligence. I recommend that if you are not content with the information you receive in a report, or the manner in which the evaluator works with your child, seek another evaluation. Continue to seek until you are satisfied with your child's treatment plan. Diagnosis names are of no value unless a good treatment plan is formed. The treatment plan (or in the school system IEP) is the foundation of all you are doing in an evaluation process.
Here is a good link to learn about Individual Education Plans or IEP for short.
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