The first step in obtaining special education services is for your child to be evaluated. The evaluation can be done when your child is first suspected of having a disability (pre-placement evaluation) or when your child’s level of functioning changes in one or more areas (re-evaluation). There are two ways in which a child can be evaluated under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act:
• The parent can request an evaluation by calling or writing the director of special education or the principal of the child’s school.
If you call, put your request in writing as well, keeping a copy for yourself. This should be part of your routine communication with anyone concerning your child’s education. Follow up on all telephone calls with a letter summarizing the conversation. This way, the other party has the opportunity to make corrections to any misunderstood information, and you have a paper trail in case of a disagreement with the school system.
• The school system may determine that an evaluation is necessary. If so, they must receive written permission from the parent before conducting the evaluation.
An evaluation should be conducted by a multidisciplinary team or group, which must include at least one teacher or other specialist with specific knowledge in the area of the suspected disability. IDEA mandates that no single procedure can be used as the sole criterion for determining an appropriate education program. The law also requires that the child be assessed in all areas related to the suspected disability, including but not limited to health, vision, hearing, communication abilities, motor skills, and social and/or emotional status.
If the parents disagree with the results of the evaluation, they may choose to obtain an independent evaluation at public or private expense. You may request a list of professionals that meet state requirements from your school, or you can choose one on your own. If the professional chosen meets appropriate criteria set up by the state, then the school must consider his/her evaluation in developing an IEP.
The above standards also apply for a child who already receives special education services. A re-evaluation must take place at least every three years. It may, however, be conducted more often if the parent or a teacher makes a written request. An evaluation may also focus on a specific area of concern. A re-evaluation of all areas of suspected need is necessary if parents feel their child is not meeting the short-term objectives of his/her current IEP.
Parents who feel their child’s placement should be changed need to have a basis for the request. For example, a child may be exhibiting new problem behaviors. It may be necessary to reassess his/her placement or develop new behavior techniques to address this area. As a first step, an evaluation by a specialist familiar with ASD behaviors could be requested. The IEP can then be changed to reflect the results of the evaluation.
For example, a child may have an annual goal to increase her language production and comprehension skills, but is not meeting the objectives developed in her IEP for this goal. The parent may wish to request a re-evaluation with a speech therapist who is knowledgeable about autism. It may be determined from the results that an increase in the weekly number of hours of therapy is necessary.
A re-evaluation of all areas of suspected need may come prior to the scheduled annual IEP meeting. If the child has made significant progress since the last evaluation, the treatment, placement and therapy recommendations may no longer be applicable. A re-evaluation addressing all areas would become the basis for a more appropriate IEP.
Parents may suggest that professionals with knowledge of autism be present at the school for these evaluations. The school does not have to use the suggested professional, but may appreciate the assistance in finding a qualified person. As explained above, if the parents disagree with the school’s evaluation, they do have a right to acquire an independent evaluation.
The evaluation (school or independent) should become the basis for writing the child’s IEP. The IEP must be prepared and agreed upon before placement decisions are made, rather than written after the fact to fit the placement decision.