The Learner Support Ecosystem and Why it’s Important to Have One!

By Jess Corinne
July 26, 2021

You walk out of a meeting with your learner’s teacher, a psychologist, or the like with what seems to be an endless list of recommendations and referrals. This is all too familiar to the majority of us – the delineation of referral sources and professionals tied to learners these days can be lengthy and, thus, daunting. We would love to help you, as caregivers and educators, tease out who’s who in the field of experts so that you can best support your learner by providing them with the best team members to meet their needs. 

Why have an ecosystem?

Although the saying, “It takes a village to raise a child.” has been used tirelessly, it still manages to prove true as we, ourselves, find the need to outsource the layers of support our learners require in order to reach their full potential. Acknowledging that each player on a team carries a different set of skills, innate strengths, and areas of expertise is imperative as we aim to raise our children to be their best selves. Whereas one may have the patience of a saint and the other can set structured, firm boundaries – we gain monumental benefits from taking a team approach when it comes to the development of our learners. So, the reason for utilizing layers of support across all realms – academic, social-emotional, and so forth – seems relatively easy to understand, but how do you decide who to work with and when? 

Who’s who? 

Ok, you have decided to embark on this journey of finding the golden circle of support for your learner(s), hooray! Let’s spend some time defining who each person is on your learner’s bus and then we will explore how to prioritize the layers of your learner’s ecosystem to expedite and maximize progress. 

Diagnosticians: Professionals who can administer/conduct assessments, then provide sound recommendations and referrals to establish a solid learner ecosystem include, but are not limited to School Psychologists, Educational Psychologists, Neuropsychologists, Clinic Psychologists, Pediatric Psychiatrists, Developmental and Behavioral Pediatricians. 

You might find the following experts in a list of recommendations as well: 

  • Educational Specialists help to develop and implement instructional plans for learners, schools and their support system by specializing in multisensory, evidence-based assessments and curriculum. 
  • Educational Therapists are 1:1 educators who have additional training in therapeutic techniques who implement interventions and consults with learners’ teams. 
  • Learning Specialists/Reading Specialists are very similar to the above and typically work directly in a school environment. 
  • Executive Functioning Coaches address the many layers of complexity within Executive Functioning challenged learners and should (although do not always) have training in neurodiversity. 
  • Marriage and Family Therapists (MFTs)/Counselors treat a diverse range of clients and aim to start with tapping into the reasons behind one’s feelings, emotions and/or actions, then develop a plan to improve their lives as a result. 
  • Mentors, simply put, are experienced and trusted advisors who work closely with your learner to guide their actions, understandings, goals/aspirations and so forth.
  • Assistive Technology Specialists help clients who have learning or physical differences, like vision or mobility challenges, select and use assistive technology devices or programs to increase their accessibility. 
  • Speech and Language Pathologists (SLPs) work to prevent, assess, diagnose, and treat speech, language, social communication, cognitive-communication, and swallowing disorders in children and adults.
  • Occupational Therapists (OTs) are part of the healthcare field and support individuals of all ages to develop and strengthen their movement, motor and coordination skills of everyday tasks in a multitude of ways.
  • Behaviorists are trained professionals who assess, analyze and work directly with learners, families and school personnel to establish positive behavioral patterns. 

How do you prioritize? 

Oof, that’s a lot of professionals to sift through, we get it! Typically, deciding when and what services to schedule for your learner is not something to go at alone. Engaging your learner’s primary educator, school team, psychologist, or consulting service will provide you with the help you need to weigh all options as to what specialists to engage with and in what sequence. A general rule of thumb is to start from the ground up, laying a strong foundation of sensory-cognitive functions for your learner to stand upon as they develop and start to apply/generalize their skillset. If you are unsure of where the gaps might be in their learner profile, you must start there. Then, tackling one or two goals targeting their underlying fundamental skills is key.

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