The pediatrician's office often is the first stop for families seeking help with school issues. Navigating the special education system, understanding your rights and collaborating with school officials to come up with a plan can be confusing and intimidating.
Your pediatrician and/or pediatric specialists play a big role in advocating for your child throughout his or her education.
Developmental-behavioral pediatricians, for example, advocate for their patients with developmental and behavioral problems by working closely with schools, preschools, and other agencies involved with developmental care and education. When all parties work together―as a team―in sharing information and expertise, your child will receive optimal health care and educational services.
Here are ways pediatricians can help:
Education. Your pediatrician should be knowledgeable of your local school districts and other local agencies for appropriate referrals, if needed. As your child progresses in school, your pediatrician can also help the school understand your child's changing needs and how their disability may affect their education. For example, your pediatrician may be able to give you the paperwork needed to support accommodations such as extra time on school tests.
Team-based care. Services in the school are decided by a school-based team; they cannot be prescribed by a pediatrician. Pediatricians and pediatric specialists do provide input to school-based evaluation teams who decide if a child meets eligibility criteria for special education services under one of the
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) categories (see box below).
Communication. It is important that there is communication amongst everyone on your child's team. Schools may not fully understand a child's health needs and specifics about his or her disabilities. Pediatricians may not know what is actually being done for the child during the core part of the school day. It is important for your pediatrician to share relevant information with
early intervention or school personnel. This may mean that you will have to sign a release that allows for your doctor(s) to share medical and mental health information―including developmental screening results, hearing and vision screening results, and any current medications and medical treatments―with your child's school and other members of their healthcare team. The school may provide information to your pediatrician that may inform medical care (such as how to address alertness in the classroom or behavior in school), with your permission. This team approach ensures comprehensive care for your child and also helps your pediatrician make informed medical diagnostic and/or treatment plans.
Reconcile differences. Schools evaluate children for legal disabilities under IDEA, while doctors evaluate children for medical conditions. Consequently, their conclusions may not match up. For instance, a school could classify a student under a disability of
autism, whereas a doctor might diagnose the student with a developmental delay. Pediatricians and pediatric specialists can help reconcile differences and should work with school officials to reach a mutual understanding of your child's needs. Valuable information can be shared both ways.
If you have concerns about your child's development, learning, or behavior, talk with both your child's primary pediatrician and their teacher about a plan of action. Keep in mind that not all academic problems require medication and there are many options to help students.
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