Free Services

Psychological services, including assessment and counseling, are sometimes provided by public schools at no cost to parents. These services are part of the special education program, as required by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This article provides basic information about free psychological evaluations and free psychological therapy for school age children.

You might have concerns for your child which could be addressed entirely through these free services, if your child is eligible to receive them. On the other hand, your child might not be eligible to receive these free services, you might prefer private treatment to the possible risks of special education placement, or you might have concerns which are best remediated through both special education services in the school and simultaneous treatment and consultation by a private psychologist. Finally, for some parent concerns, special education services and accommodations would be wholly inappropriate. This article is not intended to be either legal advice or a psychological service. The appropriate course should be decided with attention to your child's individual needs and situation. Your child's school can provide you with free information about the appropriateness of these services for your child. Typically, a school administrator, such as a counselor or assistant principal, can answer some of your basic questions. If you have difficulty getting a response from your school administrator, you should consider submitting your request for help in writing.

Dr. Nomura provides special education consultation services for parents whose children do not attend CFISD schools. For students not attending CFISD, Dr. Nomura can advise parents about obtaining FIEs and whether an FIE would appropriately address their concerns.

There are some important issues to keep in mind when considering requesting such services...


Free Assessments

Special education evaluations (Full Individual Evaluations [FIE]) are provided at no cost to parents for the purposes of determining (1) whether the student has a disability, as defined by IDEA, and if so (2) whether the student needs specialized instruction as a result of the disability. Some disabilities, such as “emotional disturbance” and Autism, involve psychological functioning. Thus, some FIEs will include comprehensive psychological evaluations. The quality and thoroughness of these evaluations varies tremendously (as do clinical evaluations).

Some school districts employ doctoral-level psychologists. School psychologists may or may not include diagnoses of mental disorders (often called DSM diagnoses or axial diagnoses) in their FIEs. Such diagnoses are not required by law. Most FIEs, which are usually NOT conducted by doctoral level psychologists, will include ONLY eligibility recommendations pertaining to disability categories, as defined by IDEA. This can be very confusing for parents. For example, the IDEA has a specific definition for “Autism” as an educational disability. However, psychologists and psychiatrists use a different clinical definition, called “Autistic Disorder.” The psychologists’ clinical definition is found in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual) and/or ICD (The International Classification of Diseases). Because there are different taxonomic systems (IDEA v. DSM) and because there are often different reasons for evaluation (FIEs determine education needs; clinical evaluations determine presence of mental disorders and inform treatment), the content and findings in FIEs and clinical evaluations can be quite different.

While many FIEs will be inadequate for private psychological/behavioral treatments, FIEs can also have important strengths, especially when conducted by well-trained school psychologists. FIEs are conducted in schools, where psychologists can observe students in natural settings and where problems typically manifest. They can observe students interacting with peers and responding to a variety of demands. School psychologists have access to rich data. While clinical evaluations must sometimes rely on parent report and clinical (artificial or de-contextualized) observations, school-based FIEs can solicit data from students, parents, teachers, administrators, and natural observations. Finally, because school psychologists are typically paid by salary, they are less restricted regarding the instruments and time investment. The hours invested by some school psychologists in FIEs would be prohibitively expensive for many parents if they were required to pay.

There are other important differences between FIEs (free special education evaluations) and private psychological evaluations. If you need more information, you might consult with a psychologist who has experience working in schools or with a student advocacy group. If you think your child may need an FIE, the administrator at your school (counselor or assistant principal) will be able to advise you. It is important for parents to know that schools are not required to provide FIEs to students on parent demand. Important factors are considered when schools respond to parent requests, such as the student’s current educational performance, response to intervention attempts, type of referral concern, etc. Having a diagnosis by an outside provider does not guarantee provision of an FIE or eligibility. The IEP team (committee, including parents, who decide eligibility after an FIE) must consider outside reports, but they are not required to accept them as adequate or appropriate.

Dr. Nomura provides special education consultation services for parents whose children do not attend CFISD schools. For students not attending CFISD, Dr. Nomura can advise parents about obtaining FIEs and whether an FIE would appropriately address their concerns.


Free Counseling

“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.

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Dr. Nomura is a Psychologist and Behavior Analyst in Cypress, Texas. Providing: Therapy, Psychotherapy, Psychological Therapy, Counseling, Assessment, Evaluation, Consultation, Intervention. Located in Cypress, Texas. Also serving: Houston, Katy, Tomball, Klein, Woodlands, Spring, CyFair, Waller