National Center for Learning Disabilities

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Chapter 1: Pre-Referral Services

Special Education Law - Advocate Special Education

Finding Help for Your Struggling Child

Who is this for?

This chapter is for parents who know that their child is struggling in school, but are unsure whether or not their child has a learning disability.

Why is this important?

Millions of school age children experience difficulties with learning. Their struggles in school may be due to factors such as inadequate instruction, cultural or language differences or, in some cases, a learning disability. This chapter outlines a number of services and programs that may be available to help these children succeed before they are evaluated for special eduation.

What can parents do?

Parents can find out if the school has any additional services that might be available to help their child. This chapter explores just a few services available from provisions of IDEA and NCLB. Parents can also ask key questions about the quality of instruction and any additional support that their child is receiving.

IDEA Words and Terms to Know

  • Intervention

    A change in instructing the student in the area of learning difficulty to try to improve learning and achieve adequate progress.
  • Pre-referral interventions

    Interventions delivered in the student's regular classroom that attempt to improve learning prior to a referral for formal special education evaluation.
  • Specific learning disability (SLD)

    IDEA defines SLD as "A disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, which disorder may manifest itself in the imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or do mathematical calculations."


Traditionally, when students have not been able to keep up with the rest of the class academically, good teachers have tried using alternative ways of teaching before referring them for special education. The same is true for students who present challenging behaviors that interfere with learning. In an attempt to provide this type of early help, many schools, school districts – and even some states – have established procedures for "pre-referral interventions," which are designed to provide additional support to struggling students.

Your child's teacher may have discussed this kind of support with you. But if not, and if you suspect your child is struggling, you should ask to meet with the teacher to discuss your concerns. Frequently, in response to concerns expressed by either a teacher or a parent, the school will likely offer pre-referral interventions as a “first step” toward improving your child's performance. As a parent, it is important that you understand just how pre-referral interventions might work.

Pre-referral services go by many names. Your school district or school may offer support teams, such as teacher assistance teams or child study teams, to help provide consultation to teachers. To help find the right approach to teaching your child – often called an instructional method or intervention — the teacher may consult with other teachers, the reading specialist/teacher, the special education teacher, counselors, psychologists, or other education professionals. They may conduct informal educational and behavioral evaluations or screenings to make decisions about the services and supports your child needs.

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