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“Related Services”, as defined by special education law, are sometimes provided to students who are eligible for special education services. Psychological services are a possible “related service”. Psychological services, in this context, might include counseling sessions, consultation, test interpretation, etc. These services are provided to students at no cost to parents. There are some important differences between psychological services provided through special education programs and psychological services provided by private psychologists. Perhaps, the most critical distinction is the difference in purpose for these services.

A student is eligible for psychological services through special education when they need that service in order to receive a meaningful benefit from their special education program. As such, these services largely focus on educational performance and emotional/behavioral barriers to learning. The primary goal of these special education services is to allow the student to show adequate educational progress. Psychological services provided by private psychologists might also focus on educational performance and learning. However, the goals established for children receiving services from private psychologists usually focus on maximizing the child’s potential. Court rulings and regulations have required that a child must receive “some benefit” from his or her education, but schools don’t have to maximize your child’s potential. That’s what’s meant when you hear that the schools have to provide “a Chevrolet not a Cadillac” education. This “Chevrolet” expectation also applies to special education psychological services. This does not mean that school psychologists do not do their best to help children. However, special education psychological services may not be provided to address all parent concerns or child problems.

This issue is evident in the provision of services in the schools for conditions such as autism or disruptive behavior disorders. Substantial research suggests that autistic children benefit significantly from very expensive treatments using Applied Behavior Analysis. However, courts have ruled that schools are not required to provide Applied Behavior Analysis, and may select whatever methods they believe are sufficient for the student’s education. Research shows that children with disruptive behavior disorders often respond well to parent training and other intense therapies which involve the entire family. However, schools usually employ behavioral management techniques to manage the disruptive behavior sufficiently for education to occur. This approach satisfies the obligation of the school to provide an appropriate education, but those management techniques do not provide the durable change associated with more comprehensive psychological treatment.

Despite these limitations, special education related services can be an effective and viable option for some parent concerns. Because such services are provided at no cost and focus on your child’s critical educational performance, it is an important consideration. Deciding who you should trust to help your child can be a difficult decision. Dr. Nomura enjoys guiding children and families through the change process. His private practice is a personal passion, and he provides services at affordable rates.