The Foreign Service Journal, March 2024

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | MARCH 2024 11 LETTERS-PLUS Navigating the Education of Special Needs Children BY KAREN SLITER RESPONSE TO DECEMBER 2023 EDUCATION SUPPLEMENT ARTICLE, “A PARENT’S GUIDE TO PSYCHOEDUCATIONAL ASSESSMENTS” Karen Sliter, a doctor of veterinary medicine (DVM), retired with the rank of Career Minister from the APHIS Foreign Service in 2021. She and her husband, David, have spent 25 years raising four girls on four continents. The family currently lives in Vienna, Austria, where Karen is working for the International Atomic Energy Agency. Thank you for the very informative and helpful article regarding psychoeducational evaluations for children in the December 2023 FSJ. My husband and I have done a number of these evaluations for our daughter, who has a “one of a kind” genetic deletion. Psychoeducational evaluations were central to figuring out her unique learning profile. She is 19 now, so we have perspective on her entire primary and secondary school education. I am sharing our experiences in the hope that they will be helpful to other Foreign Service families as they navigate what can at times seem like a very long, dark tunnel. My key pieces of advice would be as follows. 1. Be very careful who you allow to evaluate your child and interpret the results. The results, conclusions, and recommendations from an inaccurate evaluation can negatively affect your child for years, if not decades. We once followed the advice of our daughter’s school to let them do the psychoeducational evaluation since “they knew our child best.” Well known for its special needs program, the school was considered one of the best in the international community and had done a great job implementing the results of the previous evaluations done elsewhere. However, in this situation, the school’s testing results and their interpretation of those results contradicted previous assessments and pointed toward a radically different educational trajectory. Yet they were certain that they were “right.” In retrospect, there could have been a financial consideration for the school in wanting to do the evaluation themselves; and their recommendations might have had as much to do with what they were prepared to offer as a school as they did with our child’s actual abilities. Had we remained at that school, we would have had no choice but to follow their recommendation, which was to discontinue our child’s formal education and put her in a life skills class. Instead, we immediately took our daughter back to the center that had done her initial evaluation and were advised to ignore the school report and “stay the path.” We never showed the school’s assessment to anyone else, and I still feel somewhat traumatized thinking back on that difficult time. Our daughter is currently completing her senior year of high school, having been successful at three different schools since that school psychoeducational assessment was done. She has a GPA of 3.9 and has been accepted with a scholarship to the college of her choice. 2. As Dr. Nelson points out, go through the results and recommendations very carefully before they are shared with anyone else. Among other errors we have found, one report would have diagnosed our child with a completely erroneous genetic syndrome. Many children with special needs and/or individual education plans (IEPs) have extensive medical files. Errors happen. 3. Find an evaluation center/team that welcomes parents, gives you an active role in the assessment process, and values and incorporates your input. The fact is, we know our children best. We have been at every doctor’s appointment, helped them with their homework, seen their progress, and know where they struggle. We know the impact of our frequent international moves. And in the end, we are the ones to implement the results of any evaluation (working with the schools, of course).