Behind every parent with a child going through a school assessment is a story. It’s never a cut-and-dry process—never a simple request with an instant “assessment granted” response. There is always more that transpires along the path to getting a child evaluated.
The Story Behind the Assessment
I remember the first time someone told me something “wasn’t quite right” with my child. A preschool teacher pulled me aside at pick-up one day and mentioned some things she had noticed about my son. Loud noises bothered him. He was breaking crayons. He hugged the other kids too hard. These observations continued. Every night one of the teachers rattled off a laundry list of “offenses” for the day, causing anxiety for my son and me. I used to dread picking him up—it was stressful, and I wanted nothing more than to hug him and get him home where he could break as many crayons as he wanted to and not feel threatened.
I was offended and angry when a woman told me she thought my son could have Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). How dare she suggest something abnormal about my kid. I confided in a couple of friends, sharing my commentary about the nerve she had to approach me as she did. However, my curiosity had been piqued. After a quick google search of SPD and an Amazon Prime Delivery Day later, The Out-of-Sync Child arrived at my home. We found ourselves at our first assessment for SPD soon after–our first school assessment didn’t come for a few more years.
We had assessments for SPD, OT, and ADHD more than once before kindergarten. Watching my son go through an evaluation was always a bit unnerving. I often paced around. If available, I’d watch through the observation windows, wondering. I wondered how he was doing. I wondered if he was okay and how he felt. I wondered if I’d done something wrong. It was agonizing.
The first school assessment he had was a long time coming. I had requested a complete evaluation for a year and a half, and by that time things had gotten pretty rough in the classroom. I remember reviewing a form that was passed to me, simply asking for a signature— seemingly to grant permission for the testing to start. I felt uneasy signing it and asked for a few days to consult with my advocate to go over all of the different areas of testing.
In addition to not fully understanding the different components of the assessment plan, I wasn’t present for any part of the testing that occurred in school. This was a blind spot I disliked. Other parents have said they felt the same way—one even stating they wished all sessions had been recorded. As parents and caregivers,we want to be included; the assessment process had many of us feeling the opposite.
Instinctively, we often head online to gather information, which can quell the need to know more. But it can also be confusing. For example, the Learning Disabilities Association of America (LDA), an organization whose mission is to make learning disabilities universally understood, points out the evaluation process and requirements are not universal at all. Fortunately, LDA has links to each state’s local chapter, which can provide parents and caregivers with resources and support in their region.
Although each state’s procedures may be different, for the most part, the same areas are tested, like intelligence, academics, behavior etc. Below are the Seven Basic Areas for Assessment as found in the SELPA (Special Education Local Plan Area—local to California) Assessment & Prior Written Notice.
- Academic Achievement
- Intellectual Development
- Language/Speech Communication Development
- Perceptual Motor Development
- Post-Secondary Transition
When I received the assessment results, I was confused. I didn’t understand how to put everything together. The pages seemed endless, and by that point my nerves were shot. The only thing I understood and was able to focus on were the words that said my son qualified for support and accommodations, which upon reading caused sadness, anger, relief, and joy to flood over me. I felt sad to know he’d been struggling more than I was aware of, and angry at the school for pushing my concerns aside for so long. I was relieved knowing I had been right about him requiring more support for his needs, which did not come packaged in a one-size-fits-all desk. And I was happy, so happy, knowing he would finally receive his education in a way that best served him.
I started to go over the evaluation with my advocate, who acted as my translator, walking me through the verbiage, definitions, scores, and the different tests used (I later found The Arc Minnesota provides a comprehensive list of definitions). She prepared me for what to expect at the IEP the following day and what accommodations we did and didn’t want.
The Path Forward
Now, several years later, I am confronted with emotions anew—mainly fear and anxiety. My son is thriving, and it’s time for a triennial evaluation, but there’s a bit of a catch-22 involved with starting this complete re-assessment. What if he’s doing too well? I fret thinking about losing his current school placement. I wasn’t the only parent who felt this way either—I found myself in a support group joking with other parents about the desire for our children to have a meltdown—to show they still need their current level of support.
Although I’m anxious waiting for the evaluation results, this time around, I feel more supported and confident that he will continue to learn in the way that best suits him. The past few years have helped me embrace my child’s learning differences. My child is different: he is unique and he thinks and learns differently, and that is worth celebrating. So as we wrap up our triennial evaluation, I bought a cake to do just that.
If you think your child may need an evaluation, (or are waiting on an assessment, and aren’t sure where to begin), I hope the links provided in this article can help you better understand the process, decode the paperwork, request an evaluation, and even direct you to support groups.
About the Author
Kendra Demler is a single mom and parent writer living in the Bay Area. Her personal experiences have given her a talent for candidly retelling the good, the bad, and sometimes cringe-worthy adventures in neurodivergent and high-needs parenting. Raising her son as a solo parent has driven her passion for using her voice to spread awareness, increase acceptance, and provide support and resources for families of neurodivergent children.