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Catholic Schools and Accommodations: What Can I Expect For My Child?, by Ginny Kochis

When my eldest was ready for kindergarten, we enrolled her in a Catholic school. I’d grown up in our local diocesan school system; both my parents had worked for diocesan schools. Prior to having children, my husband and I both worked at the local Catholic high school. Putting our five-year-old in the same system seemed like the next logical step.

What we didn’t know at the time, though, was that our daughter is a high-functioning autistic. She’s an aspie, though the DSMV no longer uses that designation. An early reader and gifted artist, she’s creative, witty, and highly intelligent.

In a kindergarten classroom with 27 neurotypical children, that combination was a wildfire waiting for a spark.

The short version of our story is that in a twice-exceptional child, emotional regulation takes a long time to develop. Her asynchronous development meant she was several grades ahead of her peers academically, but socially and emotionally? Our poor kiddo was an absolute wreck.

By November of that year, we’d had so many conferences and phone calls and meetings with the teacher it felt like my husband and I were in school more often than our daughter was. At the suggestion of her school, we started the evaluation process the following January.

Here’s what we learned about special needs students and evaluations in a Catholic school.

Pursue an evaluation when there’s a gap between performance and ability

This is especially true for children who are twice-exceptional: gifted with learning and/or developmental differences. Whether you’re dealing with behavioral or academic difficulties (or both), an evaluation will shed light on the cause of your child’s curricular or social access. The diagnosis you receive will not be a life sentence. Rather, it functions as a developmental or educational tool for your child to receive the services he needs.

A school-based standardized test won’t provide the whole picture. You’ll need to seek outside help.

While a school-based standardized test gives some insight into your child’s abilities, it’s not going to provide you or the school with a well-rounded picture of your child’s strengths and areas of need. The most common standardized tests administered in Catholic school classrooms measure basic cognitive skills typically applied within that classroom. Your best bet for a real answer is a full psycho-social evaluation with an IQ component, as well.

There are a number of evaluation options available, some for free or low-cost

A typical full-scale evaluation includes intelligence and social/emotional batteries. Common test names include the Woodcock-Johnson, the KTEA, and the WISC. The social/emotional battery can be administered by an LCSW, a school or child psychologist, a developmental pediatrician, or a psychiatrist. The intelligence battery can be administered by the aforementioned or a special education teacher.

The path you choose for evaluation depends upon the resources available to you:

Leave your rose-colored glasses at home

This is not the time to smooth the edges of your child’s difficulties. Be as honest and straightforward as possible any time you are asked to describe your student’s strengths and weaknesses. The more transparent and forthright your depiction, the more likely it is you’ll get the help you need.

An evaluation may lead to accommodations in the classroom. How well those accommodations are followed is entirely up to the school.