If your child struggles in school, someone might suggest educational therapy. But what is educational therapy? And how can it help kids with learning and attention issues?
Here’s what you need to know.
What Is Educational Therapy?
Educational therapy is a general term for when an educator works one-on-one with your child, typically outside of school. This can cover a lot. It could mean a reading specialist who works with kids with ADHD. Or a counselor who helps kids learn study and organization skills.
If educational therapy sounds very broad, that’s because it is. There isn’t a strict definition of educational therapy. And there is no state licensing for educational therapists. This makes it different from more specialized areas like occupational therapy.
Educational therapy isn’t the same as tutoring. Traditional tutors focus on academics. Educational therapists use a broader approach. And educational therapists may have more experience working with kids with learning and attention issues.
For example, if your child has dyscalculia and math anxiety, a tutor might practice math problems over and over. An educational therapist, on the other hand, might see that your child struggles with number sense. She might teach your child strategies for recognizing basic number facts, or suggest accommodations. She might also teach your child coping skills for anxiety.
Educational therapists help build your child’s academic skills and self-confidence. The work they do can be quite varied. And they come from a wide range of professional backgrounds. They may be:
Educational therapists tend to specialize in one or more areas. It’s common, for instance, to have therapists who focus on multisensory reading instruction. Some also work with students of a certain age, like grade-schoolers. Sometimes, they work with kids who have a specific issue, like ADHD.
How Educational Therapy Can Help Kids With Learning and Attention Issues?
Since your child goes to school, it may not be clear to you why you’d need to work with an educational therapist, too. After all, schools are supposed to teach kids academics. And kids with IEP or 504 plans often have special education services to help them in school.
The answer is that the instruction at school may not be enough for your child. There also may be a lack of understanding of your child’s issues. Or the school may not be helping your child with a specific skill, like studying or writing papers.
In these cases, you may want to supplement with outside services. A traditional tutor may not understand your child’s learning and attention issues. A professional like a doctor or a psychologist isn’t trained to meet academic needs. An educational therapist can fill the gap.
Educational therapists teach skills and strategies that help kids manage their issues and improve their schoolwork. They can help kids with almost any learning or attention issue.
The specific strategies and treatments used by an educational therapist will vary. It depends on your child’s issues. Here are just a few examples of what therapists may do:
An educational therapist can also act as a case manager. The therapist can help coordinate with tutors, specialists and teachers.
Educational therapists can also review services the school is providing through an IEP or a 504 plan. They can help ensure that what’s happening outside of school complements in-school services.
A qualified educational therapist will:
Alexis Clark is a freelance editor for Understood and an adjunct professor at Columbia Journalism School.
Ellen Braaten, Ph.D., is the director of LEAP and co-director of the Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds, both at Massachusetts General Hospital.860
Many parents choose to use a special education advocate to support them in getting what their children need in special education. Nonlawyer advocates do not have a license to practice law, and they are not attorneys. They provide their services according to the laws of their state. Advocates are often professionals with training in special education and advocacy. They may or may not charge fees for their services. (COPAA uses the terms "special education advocate" and "advocate" to refer to individuals who advocate for parents and families, but are not attorneys.)
Select a trained, experienced advocate.
Unlike attorneys, no certification authority exists to certify advocates at this time. However, many special education advocates have years of experience and training. When you interview an advocate, you should ask about their education and training. You should also ask whether the advocate stays current in the field by getting updated training and education through workshops, conferences, and continuing education programs. Do not hesitate to ask for references from the advocate. You are the one making the hiring decision.
Select an advocate with special education experience.
Experienced advocates can often help you obtain the educational services your child needs. Advocates may have specific skills and knowledge about evaluations, various disabilities, IEPs and other educational negotiations, behavioral supports and discipline, document management, fact investigations, and other areas. They may have alternative dispute resolution skills, such as mediation and facilitation skills. Advocates should be familiar with the local service providers, evaluators, local school districts and the options they offer, and local customs. They should know and understand IDEA and other laws/regulations affecting the education of students with disabilities. Ask your advocate about his or her experience and specific skills. You need to be an informed consumer and ask the questions that are important to you.
Select an advocate who understands your child.
You should expect an advocate to spend time visiting with your child. Each child is a unique human being and has individual educational needs. Your advocate should be able to explain to you how your child's disability will affect him or her at school. Advocates are not diagnosticians and they are not education evaluators. But, a working knowledge of your child's disability, or a willingness to become educated about your child's disability, is a quality a good advocate should have.
Advocates and attorneys.
Nonlawyer advocates are not attorneys or members of the bar. Some advocates and paralegals are supervised by attorneys. Some work in forms or with public interest organizations. Others work independently in their own offices. You can ask an advocate if they work with an attorney. But, it is not necessary that a lawyer oversee an advocate, or that an advocate even have a relationship with an attorney. Many experienced advocates work completely on their own or with other advocates who are not licensed attorneys. You should decide what you want in an advocate and what kind of assistance you need.
Select an advocate who understands his or her professional limits.
Professional advocates may give you legal information and help you negotiate and resolve disputes. But, they are not lawyers, and cannot give you the same type of legal advice as attorneys or act as your lawyer. An experienced, well-trained advocate should help you recognize when you should seek an attorney's services. Should your next step be a due process hearing, you should check your state laws regarding assistance from an advocate. In some states, nonlawyer advocates can represent parents in administrative due process hearings. In others, they cannot, and may only assist the parents. An advocate cannot represent you in state or federal court. If you are contemplating due process, you and your advocate should discuss your case. You should think about whether you need to hire an attorney based on your individual situation and needs and the laws of your state. Ultimately, it is your responsibility to make this decision and you should make the decision you believe is most appropriate.
Other questions you might ask.
Here are some questions you might ask as you decide whether to hire an advocate.
Parents play a vital role in every special education matter. Advocates can give you advice and opinions based upon their training and experience, but you--the parent--must make all of the final decisions about your child. After meeting with the advocate ask yourself if you:
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The Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, Inc. offer these suggestions as a public service to parents of children with disabilities. They are not intended as legal advice or a legal opinion. The COPAA Guidelines incorporate some information based in part on information published by the Illinois Attorney General's office.