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15 Questions to Ask When Looking For a Special Needs Tutor

15 Questions to Ask When Looking For a Special Needs Tutor

There are a lot of things to consider when looking for a tutor for your child with special needs. A mom of six, including two with special needs, shares the 15 questions you should ask when looking for a special needs tutor.

If your child is struggling in math, spelling, or reading, you might be considering a tutor. If so, there are a lot of options to consider: Home or tutoring center? What can you afford? How often can you meet? When you add in a child with additional special needs things can quickly seem overwhelming. 

Fortunately, when I spoke with Carol Lovallo, an educational development supervisor from Huntington Learning Center, she was friendly and knowledgable about what Huntington's experts have to offer.

Here are a 15 things you may want to consider when seeking out the right tutor for your child with special needs:

1. What disabilities do your tutors have experience with?
As all of us parents are painfully aware, no disability is created equal. A tutor who has experience with dyslexia may not know what to do with learning issues caused by autism, ADHD, or OCD. Instead of starting with, “My child has _________,” or “Do you have experience with __________,” I have found it more helpful (and enlightening) to simply ask, “What disabilities and special needs have you had experience with?” Lovallo touted Huntington Learning Center’s special ADHD program, where the centers offer individualized help to children with diagnosed ADHD by teachers who have had specific training.

2. Do you have any special qualifications, certifications, or credentials?
Dr. Emily Levy, the founder and director of EBL Coaching, says parents should be asking about what specialized and research-based techniques are being used. As just one example, her company specializes in the Orton-Gillingham method for students who struggle with reading.

3. How long have you been tutoring?
Which apparently means “how old are you?” in our house. My children have made their preferences known loud and clear and we do our best to accommodate. My oldest son and daughter prefer someone “not old like mommy,” and do very well with young, energetic, qualified college students. One of my middle boys, however, responds best to a woman more my own mother’s age with more experience and a calm, quiet demeanor (to balance him bouncing off the wall, perhaps?). 

4. How do you handle disruptive behavior, acting out, and attention issues? What’s your discipline strategy? Look, I love my kid, but when he starts rapidly clicking his pen for the ninetieth time after being asked to make change for a dollar, I can lose my cool. In calmer moments I’m redirecting, using mini M&Ms as positive reinforcement, or offering extra screen time for a successful finish to our homework session. It's comforting to know the tutor's or tutoring center's strategies.

RELATED: Special Education Resources

5. What’s your expertise in the content area my child is studying?
Now that you know the tutoring center specializes in ADHD, make sure they’re also knowledgeable in Spanish, calculus, or whatever subject(s) your child is struggling with.

6. Do you have special needs references I can speak to?
“Special needs” is the key phrase here, because while Joe’s mom might rave about this place, Joe might be a B student who needed some basic math test prep. How does Maria’s mom, whose daughter has an autism spectrum disorder and is upset easily by certain noises, feel about their approach? Even better, do they have any clients with your child’s specific disability that would be willing to speak with you?

7. Do you tutor at my home or only on site?
You should be able to find what you need fairly easily. Huntington Learning Center offers on-site tutoring with locations nationwide along with a search function on the website that will bring up a map of the Huntington Learning Centers nearby. EBL Coaching has tutors at several locations around the New York City area, as well as tutors who travel to students’ homes.

8. What will the environment be like?
If tutoring won't be taking place in your home it's important to understand the surroundings where your child will be learning. Since my son has sensory processing disorder it's important that there aren't loud electric pencil sharpeners being used while he's around. During his lessons distractions and loud noises from sources such as gum, bubble wrap, or balloons need to be avoided.

9. Will you be tutoring my child alone or in a group?
Think about what approach might be best for your child. Is he motivated by a group and enjoys being around other children? Or does she struggle with social issues and is easily distracted? Huntington Learning Center tutors younger students in a one-to-one setting, and starts to increase this ratio when possible to four-to-one for older students to promote independence in the classroom (four-to-one meaning four individual student programs with a teacher helping each within the group when needed).

10. How much do you charge per session? Is there a sliding scale? Are other fees involved?
Make sure your budget includes the extras, such as possible fees for materials or assessments. Huntington Learning Center says to expect an evaluation fee, and that cost is dependent on the program tailored for each student.

11. How long is each tutoring session? What hours are sessions available?
If your child struggles with attention issues, you might want to seek out a place that offers shorter, more frequent sessions. But if you’re trying to squeeze meetings into an already-packed schedule of extracurricular activities and therapists, perhaps fewer, longer sessions are what you’re looking for.

RELATED: 10 Things to Consider in Your Special Needs School Search

12. What’s your policy for cancellations and make-up sessions?
Don’t forget to check the policy both ways. What happens if your child is sick? How much notice is required to be able to reschedule without a penalty? What happens if the tutor can’t make it? At a larger center, perhaps a substitute is available, but ask: Will they be brought up to speed on your child before you arrive? As an example, Huntington Learning Center has many teachers that rotate through any given group so they are not dependent on one person to keep their program running. If students call out they can make up the class.

13. How do you evaluate progress? And what happens if my child doesn’t make progress?
While you as a parent need to be clear on what progress you're looking for your child to make, it should also be made clear how the center or tutor evaluates progress. Is it through test scores and report cards, or anecdotes gathered from your child's teachers? 

Huntington Learning Center uses more than one approach to form a baseline against which progress is measured, including interviews with parents and teachers as well as research-based tests. Lovallo says Huntington Learning Center actually uses hundreds of different curricula so that there is always another way for a student to learn the material.

At EBL Coaching, Dr. Levy says that each student is constantly measured against his or her original baseline. She assures me that if a student isn’t making progress or responding that the plan is tweaked immediately.

14. How will you communicate with me, and how often? How can I contact you with concerns?
Huntington Learning Center regularly meets with parents to discuss progress and any issues that need attention. EBL sends a formal report and communicates directly with parents at the end of each month. When I initially reached out to EBL Coaching I was called back promptly within an hour by Dr. Levy, who enthusiastically answered my questions.

15. Will you work with and communicate with my child’s teachers?
With six kids, in my house a unified front is sometimes the only way we get through dinner, time-outs, and especially school work. Huntington Learning Center says that tutors should be in touch with teachers as often as parents—they try to meet with or reach out to teachers at least once a month to make sure progress is being carried over to the classroom.

Getting What You Need

This might seem obvious, but make sure that you explain your goals and ask for concrete steps on how they will be met. At the end of our conversation, Lovallo from Huntington Learning Center remarked, “You need to understand who is going to be working with your child. When you’re looking for a tutor, you want to make sure the person is qualified, and at our center [Huntington] what is important about us is that we are a research-based, professional institution.”

This particularly hit home for me. Huntington Learning Centers are well-known, academically-based institutions celebrating nearly 40 years with locations nationwide. Many excellent tutors and centers focus primarily on academics and their ability to raise your child’s test score and report card grades. However, this might not always be the main focus for a parent with a child with special needs. My oldest child is seven grade levels behind in math, exempt from NYS testing, and has an IQ hovering in the mid-70s. I just want him to be able to tell time and make change as he gets older. Make sure you and any potential tutor have the same vision for what your goals are and what progress you are seeking ahead of time.

RELATED: How Music Lessons Helped My Child With Autism and Sensory Processing Disorder

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