Updated: Sep 7, 2020
When your child is struggling, it can be overwhelming. You might have just noticed some things aren’t going quite as well as they should or maybe your child’s teacher has indicated that there is a problem pointing to dysgraphia. Either way it’s hard to know where to begin. A good place to start is to identify the members of your team!
Teacher – Your child’s teacher is the person who spends the most time learning with your child and observing how that learning is going. Often the teacher sees the earliest signs of an issue and may have brought it up with you. If you have noticed something might be going on with your child, talk with their teacher about it. The teacher can also help direct you to other school-based resources. Some teachers know more about writing difficulties than others, so you may have to help educate your classroom teacher too.
School psychologist – Federal laws require public schools to have school psychologists who can evaluate students for special education needs. And many private schools have psychologists as well. According to the National Association of School Psychologists, “school psychologists consult with teachers concerning evidence-based instruction, interventions, periodic screening of pre-academic and academic skills as well as social–emotional competencies, and serve as problem solving team leaders.” Your school psychologist may split their time between more than one school but it’s good to identify them as a resource for you.
Private practice psychologist – Your school psychologist might know exactly what’s up and be ready to help come up with a plan. But sometimes identifying a disability is more complicated. In some cases, getting psychological testing done outside of the school will give you a more thorough picture of what’s happening. These more in-depth tests can even be used by the school psychologist and/or special education teacher in developing a plan. The downside is that private testing can be expensive. But as one parent told us, getting connected with a good private psychologist to evaluate her child “honestly probably saved me years of my life.” The private psychologist’s testing made all the difference in trying to understand what her child needed and qualifying her child for an IEP. Later, the special education teacher indicated that having that more detailed report provided strong support when she was working to get certain additional accommodations for the child.
Pediatric Occupational Therapist (OT) - Occupational therapy is a field that focuses on helping people accomplish activities of daily living, all the things we need to do on a daily basis. In the case of kids, pediatric OTs help with the development of fine, sensory, and visual motor skills. This may mean skills like holding a pen or marker, cutting paper. Your child may have access to an OT through school. If you are working with an OT at your child’s school, make sure you understand exactly what they can and can’t work on with your child. A school-based OT may not be able to address non-education-related activities of daily living, like shoe-tying, for example.
Special Education teacher – The same federal laws that require school psychologists for evaluating special education needs also requires schools to provide special education to students who need it. One or more of the school’s special education teachers will be important resources once your child has been evaluated and determined to have dysgraphia (or in school terms: a “specific learning disability of written expression”) and an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) is being developed.
Advocate – IEPs can be overwhelming. Keeping up with them can be time-consuming, confusing, and emotionally draining. Sometimes hiring an IEP or special education advocate can help. An advocate is a person who has in-depth knowledge and understanding of IEPs and special education laws and resources. They work with parents to help get appropriate services for the student. An advocate’s work may range from providing advice and answering questions all the way to attending IEP meetings and serving as representatives for parents. There is no specific certification required to become an advocate so it’s important to do research on your options and to think about what is most useful to you in an advocate. Your child’s school might be able to help you identify one. There are other organizations that might be able to help, such as the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA) or your local Parent Training and Information Center (PTIC). Ask around and other parents might help too.
IEP Team - Once the determination has been made that your child needs an IEP, several different people will serve on the IEP team. These include the parents or guardian of the child, the regular education teacher, special education teacher, A representative of the school (this could be the principal or assistant principal, or someone else), someone who can interpret the evaluation results (such as the school psychologist), and when appropriate, the child. Usually the child would not be involved until they are older. In cases where needed, a translator would also be part of the IEP team. This team meets at least once a year to review the child’s current performance, goals, and how accommodations, modifications, and instruction are meeting the goals.
Other parents - When your child is dealing with dysgraphia, seeking support from other parents who have kids with learning disabilities can help. You may have already identified friends or school acquaintances who have experience navigating a learning disability. Even if it isn’t dysgraphia-specific, other parents whose kids have gone through psychological testing, IEP development, modifications, and accommodations can be useful allies. They may have recommendations for resources like OTs or private testing services, but sometimes just having someone who can relate to what you are going through can be the best possible member of your team. You can introduce yourself, ask questions, and meet others on our new community page for parents!
Once you have identified who is part of the team, those same people can help you map out what to do. Depending on what your child is struggling with and how old they are, you might start with your child’s general education teacher, a school psychologist or an OT. There is no one way to proceed. But the key is to get started as soon as you think your child have difficulties. Don’t be afraid to ask for guidance. If you are not happy with one of your team members, see if you can identify a new champion in that category. Everyone wants your child to succeed and the people on your team are there to help make that happen.
Leave us and other parents a comment below: Who has been the most helpful for you and your child?