1. What is an educational consultant?

A professional IEC (Independent Educational Consultant) helps individuals find appropriate educational opportunities and/or alternatives. IECs vary by specialty, such as those who help students find “right fit” colleges or post-graduate programs, those who work with gifted youth, or those who help individuals with learning or emotional difficulties. An ethical IEC will let you know what their specialties are, and whether or not they can help you. Not all IECs belong to IECA or to other member organizations. Not all IECs have college or graduate level degrees. Do not be afraid to be a good consumer and ask! A reputable IEC will answer your questions.

2. If someone is learning disabled, does that mean they can’t learn?

No! The definition of a learning disability is that one has be otherwise capable of learning, but there is something (or a few things) hindering that person’s progress. You have to be capable of learning to be “learning disabled.” In fact, some learning disabled people are considered “twice exceptional”—gifted in some areas, while significantly disabled in others.

3. My child has a hard time concentrating and staying focused in school—what should I do?

First, ask if there are any personal issues that your child might be having. Did he or she have a fight with a good friend? Are her/his parents going through a divorce? Was there a death in the family? Emotions will affect concentration—as does poor health. But if he or she is healthy and has always had trouble focusing or has always exhibited learning difficulties (such as a weak memory or a poor sense of elapsed time), you might consider an assessment to find out if there are any attention, emotional, and/or learning issues that might be impacting school performance.

4. Can you cure learning disabilities?

No, because learning disabilities are not a disease! You can, however, learn different strategies, learn to use other tools, learn to use your strengths – in other words, you can learn compensatory strategies, skills, and habits that will allow you to reach your potential.

5. My child never had problems until that concussion last year – can a head injury cause learning disabilities?

The short answer is “yes” from the perspective that some neural damage may have occurred that impacts learning. The child may have slower processing speed, short-term memory loss, and/or retrieval issues, for example. Behaviors may also be affected, including attention or impulsivity. Long range impact varies widely. This is why it is important to maintain the appropriate medical professional(s) as part of your child’s planning team when exploring options, at least until the condition stabilizes!

6. How do I know which college is appropriate for my son/daughter?

Likely, there is not just one college that is appropriate. There are over 3,000 four-year colleges in the United States alone. One needs to consider not only grades and SAT scores, but interests, location, size, and costs as well. This is a daunting process for most families. Pre-selecting and then touring schools are important parts of the total process prior to application as well. And it’s important not to worry about where other students are applying—you want to find the best fit for your son/daughter, not necessarily the one that “everyone” else is applying to.

7. Is private and/or boarding school appropriate for my son/daughter?

There is no easy “yes” or “no” answer! Private schools are not for everyone. Some provide opportunities that might not be available within your local public school district. Some focus on rigorous academics whereas others address specific talents or special learning needs.

As for day vs. boarding, it depends on what you and/or your child wants, as well as upon what is available to you. Many parents do not want to be too far from their child so they can attend all after school activities, whereas others are more concerned that their child is in the best place for them to learn, especially if their skills are more specialized. Some want their child home every evening, others want their child to develop independence, while still others travel for work and want their child in a safe environment. You must decide what is most important your family.

8. My child has failing grades/is skipping school/is exhibiting risky behavior/is using drugs/has emotional problems/has suffered trauma – what should I do?

There are many possible approaches for social and/or emotional issues that usually begin with local therapeutic or intensive outpatient services. When situations change, get worse, and/or do not get better, parents may have to make difficult choices. There are many alternatives including residential placements and wilderness programs that work with individuals of all ages and needs.

Parents can become overwhelmed searching websites with dubious promises, or by responses from angry consumers who were sold services that were ineffective or even inappropriate. This is where a professional IEC can help. Members of IECA visit and evaluate programs on a routine basis in order to assess which programs are appropriate for what type of student long before we make recommendations to our clients. We see your child as an individual. Sending a child to a therapeutic wilderness, residential treatment, rehabilitation, and/or boarding school is difficult for parents to consider, but is sometimes necessary for the health and safety of the child. By utilizing such programs, many students get back on track more effectively than if they had not received such support.

9. I’ve heard about boot camps—is that the same thing as wilderness?

No. Boot camps are not therapeutic, they are punitive and/or are designed to “break down” one’s individuality to meet some ideal (think of military boot camp). A good wilderness program can provide an opportunity for an individual to disconnect from the “noise” they may have created in their lives or in which they find themselves in order to begin a therapeutic journey with highly trained therapeutic professionals and field staff. That said, not all wilderness programs are alike! Like schools, many wilderness programs have specific exclusions, some have a particular focus, and some do not provide therapy with a therapist.

10. What is the difference between neuropsychological, psychological, and psychoeducational testing?

Traditionally, neuropsychological testing was used as part of a medical evaluation that might include a MRI for example to uncover brain-behavior relationships and potential problems. This type of testing was also intended to help locate impairments in different areas of the brain, which could be useful when evaluating head injuries or Parkinson’s disease, for example.

Historically, psychological testing involved a global evaluation of functioning, and later many examiners combined intelligence tests with academic tests to determine eligibility for services. This became known as psychoeducational testing after other test batteries were added to evaluate specific areas of functioning, such as phonological awareness.

Over time, the different approaches melded. Now neuropsychological and psychoeducational testing examine memory, processing, and executive functions while also looking at progress and development in academic areas. To add to this confusion, projective testing may be part of an evaluation to measure emotional functioning, such as possible depression or anxiety. Thus, when you pursue testing, ask the examiner what will be assessed and what potential diagnoses might be applied. Different practitioners have specific training, experience, and expertise.

11. Why hire an IEC? I’ve done some reading on my own and I think I can handle this.

Parents have many options to consider these days–the experiences of their friends, easy access to the Internet (after all, you are reading this on-line!), the experiences of other professionals, etc. The reason a parent might want to work with an IEC is that a good IEC understands what options are available. IECA members travel on a routine basis to visit schools and programs, asking questions pertinent to the types of students served, to supports available, to the level of education of the teaching staff, etc. In addition, IECA members work for our clients—we are paid only by our clients, not by the schools or programs to which we refer. Thus, it is in our best interest to serve your interest. We wade through a maze of information to provide you with the best advice and counsel possible, and we walk with you through the process. Still, some parents prefer to do the work on their own, and that is okay, too. It is like anything else–if you can change the oil in your car but you cannot repair the engine you seek a mechanic. Sometimes, parents seek us out because they have encountered a problem they cannot “fix” on their own.

12. What is the difference between “trauma informed” and “trauma focused”?

Trauma informed refers to the general delivery of services to an individual who is struggling with developmental or event specific trauma. It means that the therapeutic environment should be a safe place so that if the individual experiences a trigger, such as a loud noise that calls up being in a war zone, the individual can find an activity or a person who can help them work through that moment. Trauma focused refers specifically to the delivery and work to be done during therapy sessions—play therapy, CBT, EMDR, etc.

13. What is the difference between a 504 and an IEP?

To keep it simple an IEP provides direct academic or other services, while a 504 does not. An IEP (Individualized Education Plan) spells out specific services your child might need, such as direct services with the Occupational Therapist or Reading Specialist. A 504 Accommodation Plan is a provision of the Americans with Disabilities Act, not an educational law, that says a student is “otherwise” capable but needs support, such as extra time to finish tests or the use of a computer for written work.

14. My child has been approached by coaches of several colleges—that means he/she will get accepted, right?

No. A coach may admire your child’s athletic prowess, but the admissions office has to evaluate many other athletes who may have stronger academic records than your child. If your child does not meet basic admissions criteria for that college or university, you may need to rethink your son’s/daughter’s college options—unless your son/daughter falls into an exception that would still make them a good candidate by that college (for example, the student had an undiagnosed learning disability and did not receive services until sophomore year, after which his/her grades improved significantly).

15. Does my dyslexic child need to complete a foreign language in order to get into college?

No. There are many college options and there is no reason to think that a foreign language is a prerequisite for college admissions; however, there are things to consider. What are the recommendations vs. the requirements to your preferred colleges? Also, what are the graduation requirements for your preferred colleges? If a college does not require a foreign language for admission and will waive a foreign language for dyslexic students, then your son/ daughter does not have to complete a foreign language while in high school in order to get into that college—unless they attend a high school where a foreign language is required for graduation! (Public schools do not have such requirements, although a charter or private school might.)