As a high school special education teacher, I bear witness to the incredible highs and lows in parenthood. We’re here to meet your child’s individual needs, and at times, we’re even a shoulder to cry on. I often wonder about the journey that began before a student arrived in my classroom. From suspicion to evaluation and possible diagnosis… It can be an emotional road, especially if you don’t know where to begin.
What should a parent do if they suspect their child might have a disability? We know that the earlier the intervention, the better the outcome, so time is of the essence. But as much as any parent wants what’s best for their child, it’s difficult to face the possible reality of a developmental delay or other diagnoses.
Fortunately, there are a number of local resources to support parents and their children, and help them navigate their options.
Where do you begin?
Ages 0 – 3
Early Childhood Intervention (ECI) provides services for children for children up to three years old with a medically diagnosed disability or developmental delay in language or speech, social/emotional, self-help, cognition, or physical development. As any parent knows, it’s hard to attach a price to a child’s needs. With this in mind, the evaluation is free of charge and no family is turned away due to an inability to pay; ECI’s fees are based on a sliding scale and insurance often covers part of the services.
If you’re in Collin County, you’ll be served by Lifepath. If you reside in Denton County, you’ll be served by MHMR.
You can directly refer your own child to ECI, but most people first find out about the service through their pediatrician, hospital, or preschool. However, anyone can refer including a grandparent, friend or neighbor. It’s our community’s responsibility to refer any children with a suspected delay or disability.
Once the referral is made, you’ll have an intake or screening time with your ECI provider within 45 days, which is soon followed up with an evaluation. ECI will come to you – wherever the child is most comfortable.
A meeting will then be held to determine what services your child meets the criteria to receive. These can vary widely based on the individual need of the child and the family. After 6-12 months, there’s a review to make sure everything is progressing as it should and the child receives services until they are progressing at a developmentally appropriate progression or until the age of three.
ECI support ends at age 3, however, if your child is already served by ECI, they’ll walk you through the transition process into Frisco ISD. If your child is 33 months or older, I would recommend that you go ahead and reach out to FISD now. While the district cannot provide services until the 3rd birthday, it’s a lengthy process to get started so starting early is a good idea.
Your child can receive the free benefits of Preschool Programs for Children with Disabilities (PPCD) if they have a one of thirteen disabilities and demonstrates a need for specialized instruction.
The need for specialized instruction is one key difference between qualifying for ECI vs. PPCD through the special education program.
When you’re ready to contact the district to inquire about services, you’ll want to go the FISD Child Find website where you’ll find a link to the Request for Referral.
You’ll be sent a 7-8 page packet requesting basic information including strengths, concerns, and checklists so that the district can get a baseline.
Shortly after you’ve turned in the packet, the district will call and set up an intake meeting. You’ll want to bring any medical paperwork or outside evaluations you’ve already had done in order to present a full picture of your child.
The intake will typically consist of 2-3 members from the school district plus yourself and the child. The district will invite members based off of the answers in your packet including possibly a speech pathologist, diagnostician, PPCD teacher, school psychologist, or an AI/VI representative.
Once parents have chosen to access services from FISD, an evaluation may be planned with the consent of the parent. The evaluation will most likely involve a Play-Based Assessment (PBA) with an option for a standardized assessment.
Once the evaluation is done and a report is provided to the family, an Admission, Review, and Dismissal meeting (ARD) will be held.
At this ARD meeting, the committee will determine if your child qualifies for special education services and develop an individualized education plan to meet the unique needs of our child. It can be everything from simply scheduling regular appointments with the speech therapist at the school nearest you up, or it could be 5 day/week enrollment in the Early Childhood School.
It’s truly individualized and dependent upon the needs of your child with the goal of providing the least restrictive environment possible. This plan will then be reevaluated every school year (or sooner if needed) to make sure the needs are being met and that the child is continuing to show progress.
The district has the child’s best interest at heart and will try their best to move quickly. After all, we’re all on the same team. The child’s team.
As you begin the process, it may feel overwhelming and organization of your thoughts will be important. Make sure that you create a binder to keep track of all communication you receive, all evaluations, all paperwork, and always have paper at the ready to take notes.
Once a child completes their preschool years, representatives will be there to ease the transition into Elementary School and beyond. Frisco is well-equipped with fantastic special education resources across the District.
We special education teachers in FISD always want to make sure our parents feel supported and you’ll be provided with a ton of resources. We’re here to answer questions and to be there for you when you feel at a loss as to your next step.
We’re in this together, but at the end of the day, YOU are your child’s best advocate! So speak up, don’t be afraid to ask questions, and let the subject-matter experts support you.
Hear From a Frisco Mom Who Has Been There
Nicole Barron, a Frisco ISD parent and the Editor-in-Chief of Lifestyle Frisco, has been through this process, and offered the following feedback:
“I remember like it was yesterday… The mix of emotions I had when I began to suspect that my daughter might have a developmental delay or social disorder. I had no idea what to do, and honestly, I was in denial a bit and just wanted to give it more time. We did finally make the brave phone call to ECI and had a great experience working with their team. The therapists we worked with were wonderful, and the fact that they came to our home was a lifesaver, as we had a newborn baby in the household at that time.
ECI walked us through the process of transitioning to ECS in Frisco ISD. We experienced the play-based assessment and the full cognitive evaluation. They sent someone to her current private preschool to observe her, and they gathered feedback from her teacher and her current speech therapist. Finally, we landed on a diagnosis which, in our case, made her eligible for enrollment at the Early Childhood School in Frisco ISD.
As hard as it was to embrace the reality of her special needs, we were incredibly grateful for the help and support. And as a taxpayer in Frisco, her 2+ years at ECS were completely free. What a blessing. Frisco is fortunate to have such a great resource for families.
ECS was a great experience; even now, we’re still friendly with the sweet teachers there who walked alongside us in those early years (my daughter is in 5th grade now in a regular Gen/Ed classroom).
ECS looks just like our Frisco Elementary Schools inside and out. The only difference? It’s filled with specialists who understand that no two kiddos are alike, and some may need extra support in an area or two. For the more severe diagnoses? They’re committed to loving and supporting that child exactly where they’re at, whatever the need. They understand that parents are navigating new territory, new terms, new acronyms, and possibly a new future they never imagined. They choose to be a part of this journey with Frisco families. Special Ed teachers choose the hard job because their hearts are in it…”
For more information about the resources referenced in this article:
Early Childhood School – Frisco ISD
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