A comprehensive multidisciplinary evaluation assesses the physical, mental, emotional, academic, communicative, functional, and social status of an individual suspected of having a disability. This paper will provide an overview of the definition, trends, purpose, process, team composition, assessment instruments, pros and cons, and federal mandates of multidisciplinary evaluations. Federal and state eligibility criteria for special education services mandate that a child undergo a multidisciplinary evaluation if a learning difference is suspected.
Keywords Due Process; Dynamic Assessment; Educational Diagnostician; Hearing Officer; Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE); Individualized Educational Program (IEP); Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004 (IDEA 2004); Interdisciplinary Evaluation; Multidisciplinary Evaluation; Parental Notice; Referral Source; Related Services; Response to Intervention (RTI); Transdisciplinary Evaluation; Zone of Proximal Development
Many individuals are able to able to attend school without any special accommodations. However, some experience learning difficulties that require intensive educational and related services in order to be successful. For these individuals, teachers, parents, therapists, and other school personnel provide assistance and support by modifying the learning environment.
Prior to making major modifications (i.e., smaller class size, therapeutic services) in the educational environment, individuals are referred for a multidisciplinary evaluation. A multidisciplinary evaluation determines if an individual is eligible or remains eligible for special education services. Should the individual be eligible for special education services, the multidisciplinary evaluation determines the types of services and support systems the individual should receive.
A comprehensive multidisciplinary evaluation assesses the physical, mental, emotional, academic, communicative, functional, and social status of an individual suspected of having a disability. The composition of a multidisciplinary evaluation team will vary depending on the needs of the individual being assessed (Haynes & Pindozola, 1998; Meyer, 2007; Paul, 2007; Tomblin, 2000). Team members can include professionals such as:
• Medical personnel (i.e., physicians, nurses, or pharmacists),
• Educational diagnosticians,
• Therapists (i.e., physical, occupational, speech-language pathologists),
• Social workers, and/or
While team composition will vary based on the needs of the individual, core multidisciplinary evaluation teams typically consist of the parent, the individual (if appropriate) and a diagnostician (i.e., educational teacher or psychologist).
Assessing individuals with disabilities is a necessary and fundamental activity for teachers (regular and special education), therapists (occupational, physical, speech) caregivers/parents, and other stakeholders (medical, social services). Federal and state eligibility criteria for special education services mandate that a child undergo a multidisciplinary evaluation if a learning difference is suspected.
Definition of Multidisciplinary Evaluation
The term multidisciplinary is often used to describe a team composed of different disciplines. However, interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary are other terms used to describe teams composed of different disciplines. The primary difference between the three types of multidisciplinary teams is how the team functions and conducts assessment.
A multidisciplinary evaluation can be defined as an evaluation conducted by individuals from different disciplines with each individual conducting an independent evaluation in his or her content area. For instance, the multidisciplinary team for a child with cerebral palsy would include teachers, therapists, parents, and other personnel. Each team member provides an independent evaluation and recommendations for the individual. In other words, each team member assesses the child in discipline specific individual parts versus viewing the child as a whole. For example, the physical therapist only assesses the motor aspects and does not address how the motor deficits may affect academic performance.
As a result of the independent assessment, the multidisciplinary evaluation leads to independent goal setting and treatment by each team member. The multidisciplinary evaluation team may communicate with each other but often are autonomous and lack common goal setting which can impede the decision making process and cause conflict over priorities (Bailey & Wolery, 1989; Paul, 2007; Tomblin, 20).
The process of multidisciplinary evaluation requires team members from a variety of disciplines who have expertise in child development. Each discipline is responsible for independently evaluating the individual to determine strengths and needs. As stated earlier, evaluation teams can be multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary, or transdisciplinary. While each team is composed of different disciplines, it is important to restate that the difference in each type of team is how the team members interact with one another.
Trends in Team Evaluation
As stated, the multidisciplinary team collects information independently, develops recommendations based on the independent evaluations, and reports findings to the team and family. While multidisciplinary evaluation is the most frequently used type of evaluation for individuals with disabilities, new concepts of team evaluation continue to develop. As stated earlier, interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary teams are emerging as the teams of choice in identifying individuals with disabilities (Bailey & Wolery, 1989; Paul, 2007; Tomblin, 2000).
The interdisciplinary team is composed of team members who collaborate, relay, or share information across disciplines (Bailey & Wolery, 1989; Paul, 2007). Evaluation teams that adopt the interdisciplinary concept emphasize the integration of activities through sharing goal setting. Instructional and/or academic goals are jointly developed and communicated. Thus, evaluation data is synthesized to identify strengths and needs of the individual as a whole.
Another team concept is the transdisciplinary evaluation team. This type of evaluation team is highly collaborative and role boundaries are often indistinct across professional boundaries (Bailey & Wolery, 1989; Paul, 2007; Tomblin, 2000). The transdisciplinary team is composed of team members from different disciplines, however services are provided by one or two team members who are trained by individuals with expertise in specific areas of child development (Bailey & Wolery, 1989; Paul, 2007).
The hallmark of the transdisciplinary team is "role release." Role release means that team members perform activities across disciplines (Bailey & Wolery, 1989; Paul, 2007). For example, a speech-language pathologist may collect the motor development history or the physical therapist may record communication attempts.
Transdisciplinary evaluation is considered the best practice for service delivery; however, it is difficult to obtain due to professional territorial issues (Bailey & Wolery, 1989; Paul, 2007). Territorial issues are related to how much information to give an individual outside of the area of expertise. An interdisciplinary team requires preparation and education on team processes. In other words, for this type of team to be effective the team members must agree on priorities, leadership, and ways to resolve conflicts.
Overall, evaluation teams composed of various disciplines must provide a comprehensive evaluation to individuals with disabilities. Each type of the evaluation team discussed assesses the developmental areas of communication, motor, behavior, cognition, emotional, and social skills. Regardless of how the team functions, each team member in the evaluation process should be accountable for the achievement of identified goals.
In the field of special education, it should be recognized that an effective multidisciplinary team is a group of professionals who understand the principles of team work. While the focus of this paper is not to define the development of a team, it is important that the reader understand that in the true spirit of Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004 (IDEA 2004) professionals must work as teams to advance the educational performance of individuals with disabilities. Therefore, this paper will provide a brief summary of team development.
Initially, the team must establish its identity and purpose for being a team. Next, the team must understand the role of each team member and establish common goals in order to be effective. Team members must be committed to the task of evaluation and establish open communication lines. As team membership changes, new team members should be educated as to the roles, purpose, and communication channels used by the team. The cohesive team will find that understanding the member roles, being committed to the team, and having open communication lines allow the team to achieve the...
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