Close
Language?
English
Español
Deciding on evaluation

Are My Child’s Struggles Serious Enough for an Evaluation?

By Bob Cunningham

My daughter is in third grade and is struggling in school. How can I know if her difficulties are serious enough to have her evaluated for special education services?

Bob Cunningham

Advisor-in-Residence, Understood

You’re not alone in wondering about this. Many parents struggle with the same question. Unfortunately, there’s really no way to define “serious enough” when you’re talking about learning challenges. But if you’re worried enough to ask the question, there’s probably a good reason to look into the evaluation process.

I wouldn’t say this if you were just curious about your daughter’s abilities. Evaluations take quite a bit of time and effort, and they can be stressful for some kids.

The first step is to discuss your concerns with the school or an independent professional you trust. That person might be your daughter’s doctor or a child psychologist.

Here are some questions that can help to guide your thinking about an evaluation:

1. What has led you to ask this question now? Is this a reaction to something specific that happened recently? Did your child’s teacher suggest that you get an evaluation? Or has your child brought up concerns about school? Thinking about this ahead of time can help you describe your concerns to the school or to your child’s doctor.

2. How long have you been concerned? Have you been worried for a while, or are your concerns very recent? All kids struggle in school from time to time. Usually, those difficulties don’t last more than a month or two. Extra help and support from a teacher or parent can get things back on track.

Sometimes, however, a child will continue to struggle long beyond that. If that’s the case with your daughter, it’s important to speak with her teacher about what can be done to help. One possibility is an intervention approach like response to intervention (RTI). Another is informal supports in the classroom. Your child might also be able to get help from a professional at school, such as a math or reading specialist.

The important thing is that you closely monitor what’s being done to see if it’s actually helping. If not, discussing an evaluation could be a good next step.

3. How are your child’s challenges getting in the way at school? Be as precise as possible when answering this question for yourself. Is she having difficulty with a specific academic skill, like reading or math? Are things like planning, organization or following directions hard for her? Is she struggling socially? Is she having trouble concentrating in class?

4. Are the challenges affecting your child in multiple settings? Have you noticed the same kinds of difficulties at home and at school? Have you heard about the same kinds of challenges from multiple teachers? Does your child seem to struggle in the same areas from year to year, even with different teachers and classmates?

These questions can help you think about other factors that might be causing the challenges. Maybe your daughter is having difficulty with the teacher or with another student. On the other hand, if her challenges exist in more than one setting, an evaluation for learning and attention issues is a good idea.

One thing to keep in mind is that you always have the right to request an evaluation from your school. You can also pursue a private evaluation by an outside professional. But it’s usually helpful to share the results with your school so you can work together to help your child.

No matter what you decide, just by asking about the possibility of an evaluation, you’re already being a good advocate for your child.


Are you interested in pursuing an evaluation? Explore what else you can do before requesting an evaluation. Or follow these steps to request a free school evaluation. Here are more things you can do:

About the Author

Portrait of Bob Cunningham

Bob Cunningham serves as advisor-in-residence on learning and attention issues for Understood.

Did you find this helpful?

Have your own question?

Get and give answers in the Understood Community. It’s a safe place to connect with parents and experts. Get started in our groups.

What’s New on Understood