Doctors Have a Role in the Special Education Process, Says American Academy of Pediatrics

What’s the role of your child’s doctor when your child is struggling in school?

Doctors are important partners with parents and schools. That’s the topic of a new report by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). The report is a guide for doctors about the role they can play in . It covers laws like IDEA and . Also in the report: Information on and what they can offer kids.

Education law isn’t usually thought of as a concern for doctors. But a child’s health issues can affect her in school. They may be physical issues. They may also include social/emotional, behavior and attention issues.

“Every pediatrician deals with children who have [special education] needs,” says Paul H. Lipkin, MD, FAAP, lead author of the report. That’s why pediatricians need to understand these laws, he says.

According to the AAP, there’s a gap in communication between some schools and doctors. Schools may not understand a child’s health needs or details about her medical issues. And pediatricians may not fully know what schools are doing to address these needs.

The report tries to address this gap by describing what doctors can do. It says a pediatrician can:

  • Identify kids in need of special education.
  • Share relevant information with schools.
  • Meet with IEP teams and parents.
  • Use school information to inform or support diagnosis and treatment.
  • Work with a school-based clinic.
  • Help improve how schools serve kids who need special education.

The AAP has 64,000 members, so the report could have a big impact.

Many parents will find the report interesting and useful, says Paul Yellin, MD, FAAP, an associate professor of pediatrics at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine, and director of the Yellin Center for Mind, Brain, and Education.

“Parents take their child to their family doctor for shots and other routine care,” notes Yellin. “But they won’t think to tell their doctor that the child is struggling in school.”

Parents may want to involve their pediatricians more. This is a three-legged relationship, says Yellin. It should be parent, school and doctor, not just parent and school. Parents don’t need to feel they’re alone with their concerns. Many doctors will be willing to communicate with the school. At the very least, he says, the pediatrician can point the parent in the right direction. That could be to a medical specialist.

Find out more about how to work with your child’s doctor. And see this checklist of questions to ask your doctor. You can also download a copy of the AAP’s report.

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About the author

About the author

Andrew M.I. Lee, JD is an editor and attorney who strives to help people understand complex legal, education, and parenting issues.