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Questions to Ask the Professionals

By: Woodlynde School (1994)

Have you ever wondered about the myriad of professionals involved in assessing your child? Ever wondered what their jobs involve and what kinds of questions to ask when you meet with them? Then here are some answers!

Questions to consider asking any professional:

  1. How will you evaluate my child to determine if he or she has a problem?
  2. How do you put children at ease and help them understand why they are being evaluated?
  3. Will the parents be involved in the evaluation process? If yes, how?
  4. If there is a problem, how will you determine the extent of the problem?
  5. How much time will your basic evaluation take (and how much will it cost)?
  6. After the basic assessment, will further evaluation be necessary, and if so, how much time will be involved (and how much will it cost)?
  7. In cases of financial hardship, are fees negotiable?
  8. Are your services covered by insurance, and if so, with what insurers do you deal?
  9. Will we have a follow-up conference to discuss your findings? How soon after the evaluation does this usually occur?
  10. Will my child be included in the follow-up conference? If so, how?
  11. Will we receive a written report? How long does it usually take to receive the report?
  12. At the conference or in the written report will you offer specific suggestions about how to solve (or alleviate) the problem?
  13. How would you describe your professional style - direct, businesslike, informal, etc.?
  14. Will you act as an advocate for my child, and if so, in what ways?
  15. How much experience have you had in working with children like my child - similar age, similar problems?
  16. In what ways will you communicate/cooperate with school personnel (counselors, advisers, administrators, learning specialists) to help them understand and solve my child's problems?
  17. What role will parents play in this process from start to finish?
  18. Is a normal session 60 minutes?

Before any meeting with a professional you should review all of the information available about your child and take it with you to the consultation or evaluation. Report Cards, teachers' comments, testing results, documentation of any existing medical conditions, writing samples, letters of recommendation - literally any information that might help a professional diagnose the problem. And finally, you might want to keep a journal in which you note your own observations (and perhaps those of others) of your child's behavior, attitude, successes, frustrations, etc. This comprehensive folder of material collected in a systematic way, and untainted by the emotional baggage often attendant in these cases, should improve the prospects for successful remediation.

Audiologists

Audiologists test hearing capability. Children with learning problems often experience (or have experienced) ear infections and may have fluctuations in their fluid levels which change their capacity to hear. Audiologists assess hearing sensitivity and can give central auditory tests which provide a window into the language/listening parts of the brain. Since listening is a critical learning skill, test results can be helpful in planning a program of intervention.

Specific Questions:

  1. What type of tests do you perform?
  2. Do you offer free trials of assistive listening devices?
  3. Do you also test for peripheral hearing losses due to middle ear infections?
  4. Can you explain in layman's terms the following: Attention Deficit Disorder; auditory processing; language processing?

Educational consultants

The educational consultant helps parents and children with school placement. The consultant develops a detailed profile of the student from school reports, testing results, medical information, and from interviews with the parents and the child. Students are asked to share their perceptions about the school experience and to discuss their specific strengths, weaknesses, special interests and needs. This information is used as a basis for recommending appropriate school options including public, independent, day, boarding, special and parochial.

Specific Questions:

  1. Do you work with students who have generalized school problems or do you specialize in a particular area?
  2. Do you work with all age groups or do you specialize?
  3. What are the most important factors in finding the "right" school for my child?
  4. How much time do you spend researching schools and making personal contact with school representatives?
  5. Is there a single rate for placement or do you charge an hourly rate?
  6. What aspects of your professional background have prepared you for your role as an educational consultant?
  7. If you recommend private school, will you also help us understand how financial aid works and help us with the process if we decide to apply for it?
  8. Will you help us until we find the "right" placement, no matter how long it takes?

Learning specialist

Learning Specialists work with students who are experiencing academic difficulty or who have diagnosed learning differences. They identify learning styles, analyze and interpret tests (and sometimes administer them), review other pertinent information, prescribe specific, appropriate, and practical learning strategies, and coordinate a team effort which usually includes teachers, other educational professionals, physicians, and the student and parents. They may also tutor and help in the areas of time management, organization, and study skills.

Specific Questions:

  1. Have you ever been a classroom teacher?
  2. Have you ever worked for any schools in an official capacity as a learning specialist?
  3. If you do testing, what tests do you typically administer? What do they measure?
  4. What approaches do you use to help students improve time management, organizations, study skills, and test taking?
  5. How do you decide which strategies will work best for my child?
  6. If you tutor, how long are sessions, how flexible is your schedule, and what is your policy on cancellations?

Neurologists

Neurologists are medical doctors who have extensive additional training in neurology and surgery after medical school. In the area of learning disabilities, neurologists may diagnose the problem, rule out other possibilities such as Tourette's Syndrome or other organic causes, prescribe medication and any other treatment necessary.

Specific Questions:

  1. How will your testing differ from the standard psycho-educational testing and what kind of problems might it uncover?
  2. What other kinds of information do you use to make your diagnosis?
  3. What percentage of your patients are referred to you because of learning or school problems?
  4. When you identify a problem, what kind of treatment do you usually recommend? How often do you prescribe medication?

Neuropsychologists

A clinical neuropsychologist is a licensed psychologist who receives specific comprehensive post-doctoral training in the practice of neuropsychology. Neuropsychology, broadly defined, is the study of brain-behavior relationships, and child neuropsychologists in clinical practice employ specialized tests to assess whether or not alternations of normal brain function exist in children who have problems with attention, learning or behavior.

Specific Questions:

  1. How will your testing differ from the standard psycho-educational testing and what kind of problems might it uncover?
  2. What other kinds of information do you use to make your diagnosis?
  3. What percentage of your patients are referred to you because of learning or school problems?
  4. When you identify a problem, what kinds of treatment do you usually recommend? How often do you recommend medication?

Occupational therapists

Occupational therapists help children to be successful in the occupations of their daily lives, both at home and at school. OT's typically address problems with clumsiness and frustration with motor activities such as playing sports or learning to write, following instructions, paying attention, organizing work, adjusting to changes in routine or new situations, over-reaction to touch or sounds, and difficulty making and keeping friends.

Specific Questions:

  1. How do you diagnose or determine that occupational therapy will be helpful for my child?
  2. What percentage of your patients are referred to you because of school related learning problems?
  3. How can occupational therapy help my child develop appropriate social skills?
  4. What is sensory integration and how does it affect learning?
  5. How is occupational therapy different from physical therapy?
  6. Will therapy be individual or group?
  7. Will you work with my child in our home?
  8. What kinds of follow-up exercises/training might we be expected to help with at home?

Psychiatrists

Psychiatrists are medical doctors whose training includes four years of residency. Child/Adolescent Psychiatrists have additional training in the problems of children and family systems. Learning issues/problems are viewed from a developmental perspective and are often found in tandem with psychiatric/psychological problems. The psychiatric history focuses on medical data, the longitudinal developmental data, and the interface factors, school history, psychological reports, teacher notes and parental observation are all important aspects of the evaluation process. Psychiatrists can prescribe medication as part of the treatment plan.

Specific Questions:

  1. Could you describe your general approach to therapy?
  2. Will the family be required to participate in the therapy?
  3. How much experience have you had in working with students who have learning differences and how will therapy help these students?
  4. What is your policy on the matter of confidentiality?
  5. Will you meet with my child's teachers or observe him in his school setting? Is there a charge for these services?
  6. How do you determine whether medication will help my child?
  7. Will you spell out for us as specifically as possible the problems or areas that you are addressing in treatment? Will you define treatment goals?

Psychologists

Psychologists are trained in the evaluation and treatment of emotional problems, including emotional/behavioral issues which sometimes arise in children with learning differences. Psychologists work with individuals and families to help resolve problems which disrupt family life.

Specific Questions:

  1. Could you describe your general approach to therapy? Is your therapy oriented psychoanalytically? Behaviorally? Cognitively? Humanistically?
  2. If you work with our child, will the family be required to participate in the therapy?
  3. Have you been trained in the identification and remediation of learning disabilities?
  4. Do you have a working knowledge of current state and district educational policies?
  5. Are you acquainted with alternative educational models including local independent schools which meet the needs of students with learning differences?
  6. What is your policy on the matter of confidentiality?
  7. Will you meet with my child's teachers or observe him in his school setting? Is there a charge for these services?
  8. If you think my child needs medication, will you direct us to a professional who can prescribe it?
  9. Will you spell out for us as specifically as possible the problems or areas that you will be addressing in treatment? Will you define treatment goals?

Reading specialists

Reading specialists are trained to understand the various components in learning to read including areas of coding, comprehension, and study skills. They are able to assess strengths and weaknesses, diagnose specific reading problems and devise programs of remediation.

Specific Questions:

  1. What aspects of reading do you consider as part of your evaluation: e.g., decoding in isolation, literal comprehension, inferential comprehension?
  2. How do you determine a child's reading level and how will I know what this means in terms of age, grade, and school expectations?
  3. With which reading models are you most comfortable e.g., whole language, Orton Gillingham, basal, etc.?
  4. What types of reading tests do you use? How are they interpreted?
  5. Are you associated in any way with any area public or private schools? If so, what is the nature of the association?
  6. What is a dyslexic and what do you mean when you use this term?
  7. Are you acquainted with alternative educational models including independent schools which meet the needs of students who are considerably below grade level in reading?

Social workers

Licensed, Clinical Social Workers do goal oriented psychotherapy with individuals or families. For a child with learning differences or attentional problems, the social worker would make a general assessment of the referrals for psychological and educational testing, get consultations with other professionals, if necessary, and perform the appropriate interventions.

Specific Questions:

  1. How will you determine or diagnose the nature of my child's problem?
  2. Will you define for us the specific goals for remediation?
  3. How will your therapy differ from that of a psychologist or psychiatrist?
  4. What is your policy on confidentiality?
  5. Do you deal with problems that can be helped by medication and will you refer us to someone who can prescribe medication if that step seems appropriate?
  6. Do you recommend other support groups while the family/individual is going through therapy?

Speech pathologists

To be successful in reading and writing, children need a strong oral language base. When children have poor auditory perceptual skills and poor auditory memory, they are at risk for reading and learning problems in the formal academic setting. Speech pathologists evaluate and help remediate speech and language problems such as articulation, stuttering, voice disorders, delayed speech and fluency problems, aphasia, or partial/total loss of the ability to speak.

Specific Questions:

  1. How will you diagnose my child's problem?
  2. How can parents help in the remediation?

Tutors

Tutors provide learning support to students who are struggling in a subject area. They help with comprehension of specific content and may also work on study skills, test taking and organization.

Specific Questions:

  1. How long have you been a tutor?
  2. Have you been a classroom teacher?
  3. Have you worked with other children from my child's school?
  4. What kind of feedback will we receive about my child's progress?
  5. What experience have you had in preparing students for SATs?

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Adapted from Learning Problems: Where to Find Help - A Directory of Professional Resources Woodlynde School Strafford, Pennsylvania