Back to School: What Is a Special Education Consultant?

How can you make sure your child gets the help he or she needs?

Posted Aug 19, 2014

It is hard to believe the summer is almost over. Whenever you turn on the TV, the back-to-school advertisements remind us that it’s true. Yet, there is no advertisement for a Special Education Consultant. You see hours of getting the right school supplies and new clothing, and if you live in an area without school buses, arranging for transportation to and from school. At times all this planning and arranging can be overwhelming, but the feeling lessens when your child enters school on the first day, and continues to decrease after the first few weeks.  

This is not the case if you have a child with a developmental, physical or emotional disability.   In some states evaluations for an Individual Educational Plan (IEP) precede the first day of school, while in other states it is after your child has started or on the yearly anniversary. I remember my son being evaluated prior to entering the 1st grade.  He was seen by the school psychologist, and I also hired a private neuropsychologist, who was a Special Education Consultant to develop his IEP. 

Yet you may be a parent of a child who entered school, and within the first month is struggling to achieve academic and/or social success in their classes. Or you were notified by your child’s teacher or the school principal that they believe your child needs academic assistance in order to succeed in school. In either situation, an IEP is needed to obtain the proper assistance.

Remember you are your child’s best advocate.  Every moment spent without necessary services does affect your child education. There is Help and Hope. There is a Way! 

What is an IEP (Individual Educational Plan)?

In the late 70's I was a special needs teacher, then was hired by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Department of Education as a Special Needs Internal Auditor. My job was to evaluate special needs programs and to ensure that each school system was adhering to the state and federal laws relating to special education. As part of this job, I was on the special committee that wrote the Federal Law 94-142, which was called at the date, The Education for all Handicapped Children Act (sometimes referred to using the acronyms EAHCA or EHA, or Public Law (PL) 94-142). This law was enacted by the United States Congress in 1975.  The name was later changed to The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) 

This Federal Law provides children with any form of disability a specially designed program to meet the student's unique needs in the least restrictive environment with access to the general curriculum. Other legal protections include the right to necessary related services, such as psychological counseling, behavior management programs, and parent training. This specialized customized program is called an Individual Educational Plan (IEP) or 504 Plan, and can be developed by a special education consultant.   

The Difference between an IEP and a 504 Plan

The primary difference between an IEP and a 504 is that in a 504, a child has a medical diagnosis that entitles him or her to certain services. An example of this is a child who is blind and is doing well academically, however he or she needs a seeing-eye-dog to help them around the school. An IEP is a plan needed when a child tests lower than the average range for their academic level and/or age.

You as a parent trying to navigate the school meetings of IEP’s and 504’s have the right to have and hire additional supports who can assist you other than those provided by the school system.   Professionals you can hire include a Special Education Consultant and/or a Special Needs Advocate. 


What is a Special Education Consultant vs Special Needs Advocate?

The main difference between a Special Education Consultant and a Special Needs Advocate is training, experience, ability for forensic testimony and the ability to diagnose. Most Special Education Consultants have mental health advanced degrees along with specialized training in developmental assessments and special education. In addition, a Special Education Consultant has a working knowledge of both the Federal and State laws relating to special education.

With this knowledge, a Special Education Consultant can work with the child, the family and medical community to see what additional assessments are needed to ensure a customized program for your child. The Special Education Consultant will support you through the entire process.

I’m neuropsychologist, board certified health psychologist, and am trained in developmental assessments. I was also a special needs educator for seven years. My doctoral dissertation was on the topic of Autism. I taught on learning disabilities at Tufts University at the graduate level. And as mentioned above, I helped to write the Federal Law 94-142.

A Special Needs Advocate does not require a special education degree or mental health requirements. A Special Needs Advocate should know the Federal Law and state laws and know the school system, and also take the time to know your child. They too will help you through the process and their goal is for your child to have a customized program to help your child succeed.  Both are trained to help your child with a special education plan for students with disabilities.


What is the difference between a School Psychologist and Special Education Consultant?

The key difference is that a school psychologist is an employee of the school system. A school psychologist in most states has a masters or doctoral degree in education or psychology, and holds a special certification that indicates a specialty in this area. As part of my special education background, I am also certified as a school psychologist in Massachusetts. 

 Ask about the credentials of your school psychologist and compare it to the education and experience of a Special Education Consultant. As part of the school environment, the school psychologist is probably the last to join your child’s IEP team. Many parents rely on the advice of a school psychologist alone and by that time, it may be too late.

When parents obtain second opinions by private Special Education Consultants, they often may receive different recommendations and/or diagnosis than those provided by your school system.  Remember, YOU as a parent have the right to question the school's recommendations, and you are your child’s best advocate. Every moment spent without necessary services does affect your child education. There is Help and Hope. There is a Way!