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:
Private testing by a developmental pediatrician, child psychologist, or child psychiatrist may not be covered by insurance; out-of-pocket costs begin at about $3000.
As a taxpayer, you may be eligible for no-cost testing through the local school district. You can work with your child’s Catholic school to begin the process or submit the referral form yourself.
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.
Once the evaluation process is completed and the results have been reviewed, it is possible your team may recommend an individualized educational plan (IEP) or 504 as a guideline for classroom accommodations. By law, the IEP or 504 must be followed in a public school setting. This law does not extend to private or parochial schools.
When you bring an IEP or 504 to your Catholic school office, the administration is only required to make accommodations to the best of their ability. In other words, because private schools do not receive federal funding for special needs students, they must work within the parameters of the current school setting. Once you walk through the doors of your child’s private or parochial institution, the IEP or 504 becomes a list of suggestions for the best-case scenario. Your child’s school will do what they are able to do. Be aware that it may not be everything.
Make sure your chosen school is a good fit
As a rule, I am a firm believer in Catholic education. But as a graduate of Catholic schools, a former Catholic school educator, and the parent of a former Catholic school student, I can say with confidence that not every school is equipped to work with every child. Make sure the lines of communication are clear between you, your child’s teacher, and the school’s administration. It’s not a failure on the part of either party if your child is not a good fit for this particular institution. Some schools are better equipped than others to support students with various disabilities; it benefits both your family and the school in question when you make sure your child’s placement is an appropriate fit.
While the evaluation process can be a long, emotional journey, it’s one that’s always worth it in the end. And fortunately, you don’t have to sacrifice your family’s call to pursue an education in a Catholic school classroom. The evaluation process isn’t just possible, it’s valuable - especially when done in partnership with your child’s Catholic school.
Ginny Kochis is a Catholic wife and homeschooling mom to three Twice-Exceptional kids. Ginny believes that God gives curious, creative, intense children the exact mother they need to thrive. She offers practical support and prayerful encouragement to Catholic moms raising differently-wired kids at Not So Formulaic.