Consultants for children with disabilities should have the right combination of training and experience.
When it comes to choosing an educational consultant for your child’s college admissions journey, it is essential to find a person who is experienced, knowledgeable and adheres to ethical standards. If you are the parent of a child with a disability, there are additional considerations to selecting the right consultant. Here are six questions you should ask a prospective consultant:
- Describe the training you have received that qualifies you to work with children with disabilities. Graduate training or commensurate professional development on disabilities including reading and interpreting neuropsychological evaluations and other educational testing is essential. This allows the consultant not only to work effectively with your child, but also make recommendations for high school courses and standardized testing plans and accommodations, and develop a list of colleges that offer the services essential to student success. The consultant should understand individual college policies regarding required documentation (which tests are needed, how recent). Ask the consultant to specify their training and continued professional development.
- What is your knowledge of special education rights, advocacy and laws such as IDEA and ADA? Consultants may need to assist in preparing an appeal for a denial of accommodations on the SAT or ACT. If a school is in violation of providing services under an IEP or 504 plan, the consultant needs a grounding in special education rights to advise the family on what action to take such as when to bring in a special education advocate. The consultant must educate the family on the differences between IDEA (Individuals With Disabilities Education Act), which ends upon high school graduation, and ADA (Americans With Disabilities Act) which is the law that covers students once they enter college. Every state has a parent training program for special education, which consultants can participate in, and many professional conferences cover this topic, so ask where and how they have gained this knowledge.
- Can you make referrals to neuropsychological evaluators, learning professionals, mental health professionals and advocates? Throughout the school years, new needs may arise for children with disabilities. The consultant should have a database of specialists to whom the family can be referred for a wide variety of academic, advocacy, and health issues. Required resources may also be part of students’ criteria for their college search—a student in recovery from eating disorder may need a specialized eating disorder practice in the college community. Others may need psychiatrists in the college community with certain specializations. A consultant should research these resources when creating the college list to be sure the college community will meet the student’s specific needs.
Make sure the consultant is familiar with your child’s unique needs and has worked with similar children in the past.
- My child has physical disabilities and/or a chronic health condition—can you accommodate our special needs? Annie Tulkin of Accessible College, partners with educational consultants who may understand learning disabilities, but are not as well versed in physical disabilities including mobility, dexterity and stamina issues, hearing and visual impairments, and chronic health conditions. She helps families understand the complexities of the transition to college. An example is a student who may have had a paraprofessional for assistance in high school, and would need to hire a personal care attendant (PCA) in college to navigate campus, assist in the classroom, and for personal care. “These students have special considerations such as limits to what Medicaid will pay,” said Tulkin. “The cost of a PCA and insurance issues may limit such students’ college options—they may have to live at home and commute to afford the cost of the paraprofessional when insurance reaches its limit.” These considerations must be factored into the students’ college planning. Additionally, families may need support in considering continuity of care (doctors/therapists) and medication management.
- How long have you been doing this work? Have you had cases similar to my child’s and what approach did you take? What involvements have you had in the disability community (volunteer or board positions, memberships in disability organizations, speaking engagements on disabilities)? As with physical disabilities, not all consultants will be experienced in working with a profile similar to your child. Some may have knowledge of ADHD, dyslexia, language-based LD, while others will specialize in working with students who have Autism Spectrum Disorder. Some consultants are well versed in anxiety, depression and eating disorders or substance use disorder. Be sure to have them describe their understanding of the issues your child experiences. Ask for references.
- How do you gain knowledge of college disability service offerings and how will you match my child’s needs to colleges? Consultants should make site visits to colleges and meet with the disability services staff, and otherwise vet disability service offerings to ensure they are in line with the student’s needs. College policies and service offerings change frequently so it is critical that their information be current, and that they have resources such as disability-related book titles to share with parents, and access to databases that offer current disability support details.
Final tip: When visiting a website for a consultant you are considering for your child with disabilities, note if there are resources and information related to disabilities—blog posts, service descriptions relevant to your child’s needs, and an indication of experience and training relevant to disabilities in the consultant’s biographical information.
Learning disabilities consultant Elizabeth Hamblet has further suggestions on what to look for when choosing a consultant.