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Getting an Evaluation for a Special Learner

by Megan Allison

You have concerns that your child might be struggling to learn or communicate. Sometimes the signs present themselves early in a child’s development and oftentimes a student compensates for their struggles through the younger elementary years. Even among professionals the screenings for disorders and challenges may begin early or only happen after a parent’s request. In recent years, autism has received widespread attention; it is common for pediatricians to begin screening for Autism Spectrum Disorder at 18 months. However, what do you do when you suspect dyslexia, speech difficulties, ADD, or another learning challenge? In young children these are classified as developmental delays and identifying these early can equip you to assist your special learner.

Identify Signs of Delay

Identify the signs of a delay with the help of a number of great online resources.  See a list of typical dyslexia signs here: homeschoolingwithdyslexia.com. If you suspect dyslexia, Lexercise offers a free dyslexia test. Other families I have talked with recommend Susan Barton’s program. She manages Bright Solutions for Dyslexia. I found Dianne Craft’s website helpful in understanding how children learn differently. Her website has great videos describing right brain learners and how to teach to their unique learning pathway. If you are looking for speech, language or hearing delays visit asha.org.

Three Avenues for Evaluating Children

Some parents find it beneficial to have their special learner evaluated, and it’s helpful to know your options:

1) Public Evaluations

In the state of Arizona Child Find requires Public Education Agencies to locate, identify, and evaluate children with disabilities birth through age 21. Visit the Child Find website to have your child screened. Generally, evaluations are done periodically in group settings. If the school year has already begun, deliver a written request for evaluation to the school district’s office of your residence. It is important to include any documentation you have that will help the office determine the need for an assessment. Remember you have spent time with your child and should write down what you see him or her struggling with academically. In a school setting the teacher would normally document the difficulties. It can take up to 45 days after the request has been delivered before an evaluation is scheduled.

District Determination: A Team Effort

Once your child has been evaluated, the district determines if your child has needs that qualify for services. The school district is interested in determining whether your child can access their education. Their assessment is built around those parameters and it takes a team, including you, the parent, to determine if your child struggles with learning. When I say the district is focused on your child’s ability to access their education, it is important to understand that parents may have different expectations. For example, my son struggled with speech which is considered expressive language delay; however, he could hear (receptive language), follow directions, and point to what he wanted. Therefore, he could access most of his education even though I wanted him to speak in full sentences like his three-year-old peers.

It is also crucial to understand that the school does not diagnose your child because only medical doctors determine diagnoses. A medical professional’s opinion may be useful to the team in determining the academic needs of your child; however, again, the doctor’s criterion and goals may be far different than what the school decides.

If the evaluation team concludes that your child qualifies for services such as occupational therapy or speech therapy, then an IEP (Individualized Education Program) or a service plan is put in place depending on what the parents choose. An IEP is for students fully enrolled in public school and a service plan is for private or homeschooled students. Regardless of the child’s age, you can homeschool while your child receives services through the school district.

Services for Homeschoolers

Furthermore, it is important to know that services are limited for homeschoolers as the district determines funding on a yearly basis. This is known as proportionate share and is the share that goes to both private school children and homeschool children receiving services in each district on a yearly basis. Families might best utilize this path as a starting point especially if you know very little about your child’s struggles. This was the very spot I found myself in when my son was little and unable to speak, and I knew nothing about helping him speak.

This is typically the least expensive route; however, it was my experience that therapies are delivered in group settings. It was the least effective avenue for reaching the goals I had for my son. Although a child has an IEP (individualized program), group therapy is not targeted to each individual student.

Additional Resources

Three helpful organizations that come alongside you on this journey are HSLDA (Home School Legal Defense Association), SPED Homeschool  and Raising Special Kids. If you are a member of HSLDA, their educational consultants can go through the evaluation results with you and help you develop an IEP for you to implement at home. SPED Homeschool is an organization led by homeschool mom Peggy Ployhar, and excellent resources are provided for parents of special learners. Raising Special Kids is 501c3 in Arizona that was formed to support families of special learners from birth to age 26. It’s families of special learners helping other special learning families. Their website is full or resources, online parent training, periodic magazine, and you can connect with an experienced family for encouragement and support for the journey.

2) Find a Specialist

Another evaluation option is to visit your pediatrician’s office and ask for a referral to a specialist. A referral speeds up the process in scheduling an appointment with a specialist. You’ll need to describe your concerns to your doctor. Write them down ahead of time so you will not forget to share everything. If you’re familiar with delays and are seeing them in your child be sure to note these so you can discuss your concerns at your appointment. It can take up to six months to be seen by a specialist.

This is a more costly route; however, therapy is delivered to the individual child and was most effective for our family. The expectations were higher and my son quickly reached goals. I also had a more direct hand in communication between therapists and working on goals at home. We found faster results with our son going through a private practice.

AFHE members suggest getting evaluated at

While some specific therapies may need to be outsourced, especially in the beginning, observe the specialist, research and educate yourself so you can deliver therapies at home. This, ultimately, saves your family money and guarantees that you are a vital part of your child’s success. Many of the brain balance activities, speech therapy homework, and dyslexic challenges that my son has we worked on at home. I was shown some of the therapies to work on at home. Some I utilized resources from the internet. Finally, others I implemented after reading books about my son’s challenges.

Did you know AFHE has a number of recommended resources for Special Needs Education?
afhe.org/resources/special-needs

3) Consider the Division of Developmental Disabilities

Finally, your child may qualify for services through the Division of Developmental Disabilities. Families of children who have a child with an intellectual (cognitive) disability, autism, epilepsy, or cerebral palsy should consider reaching out to DDD to determine if the child is eligible. I recently spoke to one mother whose child receives habilitation services such as physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy as well as respite and habilitation care on a regular basis. As her child has aged goals have included life skill training. Because she has other typically developing children at home, she expressed that the respite and habilitation care has allowed her child with special needs to have activities outside the home while she spends time with her other children.

Continue Learning Every Day

On a final note, as you wait for your evaluation appointment date, as you execute therapies and throughout your child’s education, he or she does not need to postpone any learning. Lessons continue by hearing the English language read aloud. Education not only happens through print but also through auditory medium. This was life changing for me to know we didn’t need to pause or delay learning because he couldn’t read on his own yet.

I highly recommend incorporating audiobooks into your regular school day. All special learners benefit from this as it increases their vocabulary, allows them to hear the natural rhythms of sentence structure, pick up rhyming words as well as learning about the world around them. Sometimes we use solely audiobooks and at other times pair them with the printed text. It can be helpful for early readers and struggling readers to both hear and see the sentences in a book. There are a number of free and affordable audiobook resources, including:

Looking for encouragement as you teach your special learner? Read Teaching Special Learners: A Good Work

Disclaimer: The author strives to give up to date information regarding special education, but parents should verify details as they seek evaluation(s). Laws and regulations change frequently. This blog post is for guidance and informational purposes only and does imply an endorsement of the websites or professionals mentioned. Article updated 4.15.20

Megan Allison lives in Glendale. She enjoys raising her three boys to love and serve the Lord. Megan actively serves on the board of her local support group where she encourages families in their homeschool journeys. She is passionate about equipping homeschoolers with the tools for success in their homes and communities. She desires to live out Titus 2:3-5. In her spare time, Megan likes to jog, spend time in nature, and date her husband Tim.

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AFHE Home Blog Early Education Uncategorized

The Work of a Child

by Kathryn Graunke

It was just another spring cleaning event, except this time I was going to finally tackle the toys in the closet. You may not know how funny this is: my kids are mostly adults now. Obviously, I’ve been putting it off for years. I might have needed these things, right? Lincoln Logs and LEGOs are such a hot item for high school projects. I had to ask myself, “Why is this such an emotional event? Kids grow up. All kids outgrow their toys.”

The answer was really about the last 20+ years of homeschooling. These weren’t just toys. They were the memories of our school. You see, we played school. It wasn’t “playing school” in the sense of a kid standing at a chalkboard while another child sits at a desk. It was playing whatever we were learning. It was serious kid play.

Westward Expansion: There was that Daniel Boone cap and wooden knife. Ancient Egypt: A Pharaoh’s headdress. Ancient Rome: They played the game Conquest of the Empire and learned about building cities, geography, and even inflation. I found a Robin Hood hat, a Playmobile Viking ship, castles and knights, math games, and my personal favorite: Civil War costumes made by the boys. One was Grant, and the other was Lee.

My husband likes to say that they had a charmed childhood. Learning, playing, being creative, and having fun was all wrapped up in one!

Homeschooling has greatly expanded and changed in the last twenty years. I see posts online all the time from the moms who are just beginning this journey with their little ones. “What curriculum should I buy? How do I keep grades? Should we do an online, accredited school?” These are all valid questions, especially considering the number of options that are out there. I didn’t have those options.

I started homeschooling before there was this thing called internet in our home.  We checked out books from the library on every imaginable subject. We delved deeply into new history and science unit study topics every year. We spent weeks with the Wright brothers and an entire semester with Lewis and Clark. We built a model car and spent a month learning about combustion and gears. And I think we renewed that DK book on World War II planes and weapons more times than we were allowed! School was fun.

Eventually, the play-based school gave way to high school textbooks and serious study. Biology, Chemistry, Algebra, SAT prep, choosing a college major. Organized sports, competitive academics, and dual enrollment kept us busy all the time. It was a very natural progression. They had developed a genuine love of learning.

Looking back, I guess I never had time to clean that closet. That’s ok. It was a beautiful reminder of a profound idea: the work of a child is play.

With over 20 years of homeschooling experience, Kathryn has launched three of her four children into college and beyond. Experienced with various homeschooling methods, project-based competitions, gifted education, academic scholarships, and dual enrollment, Kathryn enjoys mentoring both parents and students in homeschooling through high school. She has a bachelor’s degree in math education and is a passionate STEM education advocate. She has coordinated and taught various STEM classes, including state and national award-winning teams. With her youngest in high school, Kathryn’s current job titles are veteran homeschool mom, dedicated robotics mom, enthusiastic swim mom, and proud grandma.