Meet Your Child's Disability Specialists: Who's Who on the Support Team

If you have a child with a learning disability, you’ll want her to receive all the learning supports she needs to thrive in any educational setting.

You may have been introduced to one or more specialists who work with children with learning disabilities, and you may have wondered, “How do I know if this is the right professional to help my child?”

In her Resource Guide for Parents, Noodle Expert Jules Csillag outlined the interventions and accommodations available to children with learning disabilities, with special focuses on:

In this second series, she details the educational requirements, credentials, and expertise of the professionals who may be working with your child to help her succeed.

Training and Scope

It’s important to know about a learning specialist’s professional education, training, and expertise because this information will help guide your decisions about who is the best person(s) to work with your child.

You’ll also want to understand the scope of practice for the different team members in order to know which areas each professional will address. All team members ought to explain the types of disabilities that they have experience with, as well as the specific skills they work on — that way, you will know whom to turn to when you have questions or want to collaborate in supporting your child’s growth.

Each type of specialist has a national association that determines the educational requirements and areas of practice for their professionals. In addition, states (and even individual schools and districts) can further define the scope of practice for their providers, as long as their guidelines don’t conflict with the criteria established by the practitioner’s professional association.

Boundaries Between Specialists

Often, there is overlap between the expertise of one type of specialist and another. This is the case for speech-language pathologists and occupational therapists, who are both trained to work on executive functions and organizational skills. The range of services a child receives will be determined by what is at the root — or etiology — of her difficulty, as well as by the related areas in which she may be struggling. For example, if a student has difficulty with organization and handwriting, it is more likely that she will work with an occupational therapist. By contrast, if general organization coupled with difficulty structuring the ideas of written work are her most significant struggles, she may receive supports from a speech-language pathologist.

It’s also worth noting that there are professionals who have dual backgrounds — such as speech-language pathologists or special education teachers who may also be trained as assistive technologists.

Education and Training

Several of the professional fields described in this series require graduate degrees, and specialists must pass rigorous licensing exams. For those learning disability specialists whose fields require licensure, it is illegal to practice without meeting the qualifications established by the relevant governing professional body.

Each licensed specialist must also participate in continuing education and professional development in order to maintain her certifications and stay abreast of advancements in the profession. This requirement applies to speech-language pathologists, occupational therapists, physical therapists, and special education teachers.

For in-depth explorations of the work that specific learning disability specialists do, read these comprehensive articles:

A Final Thought

As you investigate the different supports your child may need and the professionals who will work with her, keep in mind one question that you can ask of each specialist:

“What can I do at home to support and complement the work that you do with my child?”

Ask for exercises, materials, or other resources that you can use outside of school to foster your child’s learning and growth. By building on the work that her learning specialists do, you’ll become an integral part of the team supporting her success.

Further Reading