Psyched Thoughts: 10 Common School Psychology Terms Clinicians Use

To those who are unfamiliar with the industry, it can often seem like school psychologists and other professionals speak a language all their own when it comes to special education, support strategies, and concepts for helping kids.

Before we get started…

If you’re a school psychologist or other professional that has stumbled upon this blog, it might also serve as a reminder to translate these processes whenever you can. An explanation of a term, or a gentle invitation for parents to ask questions at any time of the process, can make a world of difference to create inclusive, positive outcomes.

For parents and teachers, if someone does use a term you haven’t heard of, it is okay to pause the conversation and ask for clarification.

It is also crucial to tell the school psychologist or assessment team if they unintentionally use a term that is invalidating or hurtful to you or your child. For instance, the term learning difference is often preferred over learning disability. This isn’t merely semantics. In fact, helping kids overcome obstacles in the classroom and in life is what we’re about, and our words go a long way toward creating mindsets and influencing attitudes – including for the learner themselves!

10 common terms you may encounter from school psychologists

The following are some phrases that you may have encountered before, or can expect to hear during referrals or assessments – a journey we outline in detail here.

1: Specific Learning Disability. As defined by IDEA, and used during the IEP process (to be defined below), a specific learning disability impacts how a child’s brain takes in and processes information. This, in turn, affects how they engage with specific subjects like reading, writing, mathematics, or verbal communications.

2: IEP, or individualized education plan. This is a legal document that outlines the specific supports and goals a child receiving a special education service will have. This isn’t exactly the same as a 504 plan, which we’ll discuss more below.

With an IEP, a student will receive individualized special education, often in a different learning environment, whereas the 504 plan usually provides accommodations while still staying within the general learning environment.

IEPs are driven by evaluations, which you can get for free from your child’s school. But often, parents or guardians will want a second opinion or a different evaluation performed outside the district, which is where an independent educational evaluation comes into play. Psyched Services can help parents complete IEEs.

3: IDEA. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a federal law that first passed in 1975 before being reauthorized by President George H.W. Bush in 1990 under its current name. The requirement for each child needing special education services to have an IEP is set out under IDEA.

IDEA also provides parents and guardians, as well as teachers, certain procedural protections under the law, including the right to challenge decisions made they consider not in a students’ best interest, notification in writing prior to any changes in the IEP as well as informed consent, the right to request an IEE at no cost to the parent, and parents being able to participate in full, as partners, in IEP meetings and educational plan decisions.

4: Least restrictive environment (LRE). Essentially, the least restrictive environment principle means that students receiving a special education plan should be able to be in the same classrooms as their peers who are not receiving such a plan.

5: 504 plan. While a 504 plan, named for Section 504 of the federal Rehabilitation Act, is not all that different from an IEP, they’re technically not part of special education services. 504 plans usually provide assistance through accommodations, like allowing calculators for math tests where they’re otherwise not permitted, or letting a student take planned short breaks from classroom activities.

6: ERMHS. This term is mainly used in California, referring to educationally related mental health services that may be part of a student’s IEP, and include in-school support or counseling, social work services or out-of-school support with a therapist. The practices and terminology surrounding ERMHS can vary by state, district and even school. Some require a mental health assessment to be completed before the IEP team considers adding the services, while others simply add it as the team deems it necessary to meet the child’s educational needs.

7: Triennial evaluations. You may hear this in discussions by the IEP team, a term meaning that a student needs to be reevaluated at least once every three years. In school psychologist lingo, these are also called “tris”. This is to determine that the IEP is serving the student’s needs appropriately and, if not, to afford the opportunity for adjustments to be made.

Sometimes, the IEP team may deem additional testing unnecessary as part of the tri, opting instead to simply to review the student’s records. This may be in the best interest of the child to avoid unnecessary testing, provided the IEP team has all the information they need to develop an appropriate plan accordingly.

8. Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA). Much like it sounds, these help the IEP team identify behaviors that interfere with a student’s learning experiences, and implement interventions or responses to them. The FBA closely examines the “why” behind a student’s engaging in harmful or interfering behaviors, by observing/recording them, assessing their impact, and analyzing their effects.

9. Behavior intervention services, offered through consultation or direct services provided to the child from a specialist , are the steps taken to address those problematic behaviors that get in the way of learning. A few of many examples can include the use of positive reinforcements, identifying natural outcomes and consequences for behavioral decisions, and redirecting a student when they are engaging in problematic behaviors.

10: Evidence-based interventions (EBI) and evidence-based practices (EBP). Special educators recommend these practices when research has demonstrated their effectiveness in classroom and other settings – and more importantly, that the student themselves responds to upon their implementation. EBIs and EBPs are backed by an extensive amount of peer-reviewed research, which the school psychologist or neuropsychologist can discuss with parents and teachers in depth depending on which solutions are chosen.

As a reminder, this isn’t an exhaustive list of such terms, but an introduction to help parents or guardians, teachers, classroom assistants and others become more familiar and comfortable with common terms and acronyms.

At Psyched Services, we know you need the peace of mind that comes from knowing your child is set up for success. In order for your child to thrive, they need support and guidance from experts who care.

We do things differently. We take the time to make sure you understand what's going on with your child, what support they need to overcome their challenges, and what steps you, as their parent, can take to help them succeed. Schedule your call with us today so you can worry less and start envisioning a better future for your family.

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