As the school year draws to a close, many homes will receive the end of year report about their child’s progress in school. Some will also receive a phone call or even be invited to a meeting to discuss school concerns. You may have been advised to get an assessment for your child. Alternatively, you may have had a nagging feeling all year that your child is not progressing as well as he/she should and when you see the report, you realise that you want to explore this concern further.
Step 1: Getting an assessment
You have two choices in most cases, that is public or private. Unfortunately, in both sectors waiting lists are very long. If going downt the private route, make sure that the professional you are hiring is registered with their professional body, this is vital. Speech therapists and Occupational therapists are CORU registered but unfortunately many other professionals are not, for example psychologists are not CORU registered. Chartered psychologist is the highest membership grade of both British Psychological Society (Bps) and Psychology Society of Ireland (Psi) and most psychologists in Ireland especially those in private practice will be a member of either the BPS or PSI. You can check the PSI directory of Chartered Psychologists here
In any case, if you have any questions or want reassurance about credentials, please do ask. Professionals should have no problem answering your questions clearly.
Remember also although waiting lists are very long, if you can be flexible about last minute appointments, make sure to say this and they may put you on a cancellation list.
Step 2: Getting a Report
After an assessment you will receive a report about your child. This report would typically contain a detailed summary of all the information gathered during the assessment process, the conclusions that the clinician came to as a result of examining this information and a list of recommendations. In my experience three outcomes are the most common in reports;
- Clear diagnosis and list of recommended strategies for school and home
- No diagnosis and a list of recommended strategies for school and home
- No diagnosis, a list of strategies and suggestion for onward referral.
No Diagnosis Now what? As you can see, no diagnosis can be a common, albeit frustrating result and sometimes parents are worried that this means their child will not get support. It is really important to remember that in a mainstream school setting there is very little practical difference between options 1 and 2 in terms of support provided by school. Since 2017, schools do not allocate resources based on diagnosis but rather on what is called ‘identified need’, so you do not need a diagnosis to access support in a mainstream school. Diagnosis is usually needed to access specialist supports such as special class or when applying to 3rd level using DARE. Often a report will also suggest that you take your child for another assessment, such as Speech and Language assessment or Occupational Therapy assessment. This is very common. Each clinician can only work within their own areas of expertise, but often concerns about the possibility of something else outside their expertise is noticed during the assessment process. For example, it is very common for children struggling with literacy to have either dyslexia or a language delay, but finding out which can mean two different assessments.
What should I do now? As a parent you may feel frustrated that your child’s need does not fall into a clearly identifiable box, and that is very understandable. The criteria for diagnosis are very clear and not everyone will meet that threshold. Let’s use the analogy of a dysfunctional ankle. If someone has a non-functioning ankle that is clearly identifiable as a diagnosis of disability and they may need lifelong support. If someone has a broken or twisted ankle, that is clearly identifiable as a need but a temporary need. If someone has a weak ankle, they may need to wear good boots to support their ankle. As you can see the same area of need, gets support, just different levels of support.
Does the school have to do everything on the report: Resources are limited in almost every service. Clinicians write recommendations based on the best interests of the child and based on the data gathered during the assessment process. Unfortunately, schools and services may not have the resources to follow up. So practically speaking try to get some feedback from the clinician and choose the top three actions that must be done, this is something I do in my own practice. I often help parents make sense of professional reports as they can be overwhelming. Recommendations are just that, recommendations, they are not list of things a school is obliged to do. Schools should (and usually try to) do their best to enable a child to access the curriculum to the best of their ability. I find it can be really helpful to arrange a meeting with the school and discuss the report, how can the needs of your child be met in the context of the overall school resources, how can you support the school to get more resources? Can you lobby the SENO/NCSE/Local Politician, Can you ask the clinician to rephrase a recommendation?
The report is often only the starting point, it is useful for pointing you in the right direction.
In my experience that vast majority of schools will do the best they can with what they have but they are concerned about hundreds of children you are concerned about one and in that disconnect some difficulties can arise. It is really important that both parties communicate clearly, with courtesy, with consideration and compassion. In my own practice I often support parents by coaching them around advocacy skills and managing school meetings and taking some time to plan your approach can be really helpful.
Step 3: Do I have to repeat assessments? Not always but all reports have a shelf life. An in-date report is usually needed for 3rd Level. Sometimes schools will request an updated report, it may be useful to ask them for the reasons why and what resources are dependent on an up-to-date report. Reports are expensive and can’t be repeated too often so make sure that if you are paying for a review or updated report that it is really necessary. However, it is also important to remember that the reason reports have a shelf life is that the information changes. Your child has grown, changed, received supports or not, so a fresh baseline of information can be very helpful.
Who does what?
- NCSE – National Council Special Education. This service is responsible for funding related to special education, including special classes, SNA’s, assistive technology and school transport amongst other things.
- SENO’s- Special Educational Needs Officer, works for NCSE and is assigned to a geographical area to process applications, liaise between schools and the Dept.
- VTS- Visiting Teacher Service, now part of the NCSE, these are specialist teachers for Hearing impaired and visually impaired
- SLT- Speech and Language therapist (look for CORU registered)
- OT- Occupational therapist (look for CORU registered)
- Psychologist- currently not a protected title so look for Chartered membership of either BPS or PSI
- SET- Special Education Teacher or SET hours special education teaching hours. The terms learning support and resource are no longer used
- SENCO- Special educational needs co-ordinator- the teacher assigned to manage the allocation of SET hours in a school
- GLD- General Learning Difficulties, commonly refers to mild, moderate or severe intellectual disability
- SLD- Specific Learning Difficulty, commonly refers to dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia etc.
- IEP- an individual education plan which outlines the details about the additional support a child will receive, also called SSP student support plan, or SSF student support file
- DARE and RACE- when your child reaches post primary, they will have to complete state exams and may apply to 3rd level. The SENCO will advise you about applying for reasonable accommodations for exams and the disability access route to 3rd level.