Guide to Learning Specialists
Children do best in school when they have a team of committed adults supporting them. This is true for all children but it is especially true for children who have psychiatric or learning disorders. Get to know the many professionals who are available to help your child.
Types of Specialists
The most common form of depression, major depressive disorder (MDD), is characterized by chronic feelings of sadness or worthlessness, irritability, physical lethargy, insomnia and sometimes thoughts of suicide. This guide outlines how major depressive disorder is identified, diagnosed and treated in children.
Tutor: A tutor is knowledgeable in a particular subject area in school. Tutors offer individualized attention to students who benefit from more education and practice in a subject or need help getting caught up on material.
Homework Helper: Homework helpers provide structure and support to children who have trouble working on their own. They are particularly beneficial for children who struggle with executive functioning skills like organization, planning, and controlling impulsivity.
School Counselor: School counselors are educators with a master’s degree in school counseling. They work with students on their academic, personal, and college and career development needs. The American School Counselor Association has more information.
School Psychologist: School psychologists are trained in psychology and education and receive a Specialist in School Psychology (SSP) degree. They can identify learning and behavior problems, evaluate students for special education services, and support social, emotional, and behavioral health. The National Association of School Psychologists has more information.
Special Education Itinerant Teacher (SEIT): A SEIT is a teaching specialist who helps children with behavioral, social/emotional, speech, language, or developmental issues integrate successfully into the classroom. A SEIT works with children one-on-one in the classroom or at home, and has a master’s degree in special education, psychology, social work, or counseling.
Paraprofessional (Para): Paraprofessionals are trained to assist teachers and special educators, but they do not have a professional license. Paras frequently work with students who have special education needs in a variety of positions including classroom aide, tutor, and inclusion assistant.
Student Affairs/ Disability Services: Every college and place of higher learning is required to offer accommodations to qualifying students. Students can meet with a representative from the school who coordinates accommodations at the Student Affairs or Disability Services office at their school.
Social Worker: A licensed social worker has a master’s degree, which involves 2 years of post-graduate training, and can perform psychotherapy and other interventions but can’t prescribe medications. MSW is the common designation for masters in social work; LCSW means “licensed clinical social worker,” and requires a clinician to have significant supervised clinical experience after graduate school. The National Association of Social Workers provides tools for locating help.
Learning Specialist/Educational Therapist: These professionals, who often hold a master’s degree, are trained to evaluate and aid children with learning disabilities. They work with you, your child, and your child’s school to develop strategies to compensate for any learning deficits. They often work with children one-on-one to develop skills the child finds particularly challenging. The Association of Educational Therapists (AET) can steer you towards qualified therapists.
Neuropsychologist: Neuropsychologists are psychologists who specialize in the functioning of the brain and how it relates to behavior and cognitive ability. Most have completed post-doctoral training in neuropsychology. They may have either a PhD or a PsyD. Pediatric neuropsychologists have done post-doctoral training in testing and evaluation. They perform neuropsychological assessments, which measure a child’s strengths and weaknesses over a broad range of cognitive tasks, and they provide parents with a report that highlights those cognitive strengths and weakness, and forms the basis for developing a treatment plan. The report also serves as evidence for requesting school accommodations, and as a baseline for measuring whether interventions are effective. Neuropsychologists also work one-on-one with children struggling in school, to help them devise learning strategies to build on their strengths and compensate for their weaknesses. Neuropsychologists who have passed national proficiency exams are certified by the American Board of Professional Psychologists-Neuropsychology or “ABPP-N.”
Speech-Language-Hearing Pathologist: Audiologists and speech-language pathologists conduct testing to evaluate language delays and communication problems, and help address deficits symptomatic of certain learning and developmental disorders. These specialists can also identify non-psychiatric causes of troubling behaviors and delays. The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) provides information on that sort of testing and aid, and listings of specialists across the country.
Special Education Attorney: An attorney who specializes in special education law. Special educational attorneys can be hired or consulted if you are having trouble accessing educational services for your child. They can help you throughout the IEP process and represent you at a hearing when there is a conflict about what your child is entitled to and how the school should provide it.