Monday, February 7, 2011

Kindergarten, in a perfect package

I used to have serious anxiety regarding Elena's public schooling. I was a wreck before she started Bright Stars, a public pre-K program; at the time E was only 3 years old, and I felt like that was too much for such a young child. The teacher was well-recommended, but they had never had a physically challenged child like E. It was PHENOMENAL.

The following year, a pre-K program popped up in our home district. I felt like it was important for E to be around peers that might possibly be in her future classes; but, the teacher was new, the school terrain was more challenging. E did GREAT.

I worried about kindergarten, with the ever-widening gross motor gap and the budding self-awareness of E's differences--and things are literally about as perfect as they can get. Despite what amounted to a head-on collision with the Special Needs Coordinator at E's kindergarten IEP, E's public school experience has literally been a dream-come-true.

Elena's impairment is strictly physical. Since the IEP is based on educational need, technically her disability does not mean she has an issue with learning or mastering the current curriculum. In the beginning (first year of pre-K) E had a pretty significant speech impediment/delay, she automatically qualified for special ed services (placement in pre-K, Speech Therapy and Physical Therapy during every school week). The speech delay was the qualifier for her placement. That speech delay resolved itself in nearly 5 months after she started school.

So, our key words for the following year(s) were 1: ACCESS to the curriculum, and 2: SAFE inclusion with her peers, all while fostering independence and social engagement. I was worried about E's ability to socialize with her peer group--prior to school, interaction with other children was minimal due to her physical limitations. She spent most of her time with her family, her doctors, and her therapists. Turns out E's a little social butterfly--her teachers have told me point-blank "do NOT worry about Elena's social skills", with a smile.

Elena has qualified for physical therapy services in school based on the goal of safe access/inclusion to her educational environment. Realistic goals, which she needs or needed help/training, such as: taking off her jacket and hanging up her bookbag; getting in and out of a seated position; PE class; getting to and from the bathroom; carrying school supplies; getting to classes in different rooms in a timely manner; navigating the playground; navigating the lunchroom. In kindergarten, there is one (part-time?) aide, the teacher, and 20 kids. If Elena falls, or is late, or has issues with a given activity, she'd be a major disruption to the normal class. And she used to fall often (post-PERCS, she's moves much better). E's IEP team decided in the beginning of the kindergarten year that it would be the best solution if E were to have her own full-time aide.

I was floored. Seriously? I was worried that the aide might prevent E from typical interaction with her peers--but that was actually just the opposite. Angela used to be a special needs teacher and practices "non-attachment"--which basically means even though she's there for E, she's just about invisible. She is AMAZING. E's access and inclusion is more than I ever hoped for, and that's due to her aide, her PT for pushing the idea of her aide, and her teacher(s) and her STUDENT PEERS.

The other kids are really great. I've been told teasing comes any day now; kindergarten, maybe a little sooner or later. E hasn't come home (yet) crying about what someone said or did to her. As a parent of a special needs kid, I guess that reality is more of a "when" than an "if". But her classmates are extremely wonderful. This whole mix has been incredible.

I know E's physical disability doesn't impair her ability to learn. So, technically, I guess that they could yank all her services at any time. I'm so grateful and thankful for what we've received. Apparently, once you have an IEP, your child qualifies for services for the next two years. Not sure what those services will be--in an ideal world, E would be eventually weaned off all special services as she grows more independent.

Here's what I do know: our public school experience has been amazingly positive. Elena's teachers have welcomed her with open arms, and her peers treat her like everyone else. We have been granted services every year E's been in school so far (3 years), including the Adaptive Physical Education (APE) program. All her educators want to include her as much as possible, and we are all working together to have Elena be as included and independent as possible.

It really takes a village...and mine is seriously awesome.

3 comments:

caryanne said...

WOW. Ben is so much like Elena...his is strictly physical too. So I just pray and hope that we have the great experiences that you have had.

Wonderful to read. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

HI AMY!!

SEE I TOLD YOU NOT TO WORRY!! E IS DOING GREAT LIKE I THOUGHT SHE WOULD..>!!

THATS GREAT TO HEAR THAT THINGS ARE GOING WELL.. PLEASE DO ME THE FAVOUR OF MAKING SURE SHE CONTINUES TO BE TREATED LIKE EVERYONE ELSE!! THAT FEELS SO GOOD!

I HATED BEING TREATED DIFFERENTLY THEN OTHERS.. I SERIOULY HOPE THAT SHE DOES NOT GET TEASED ITS NOT ANY FUN TO DEAL WITH.. HOPEFULLY, IF IT DOES HAPPEN THE SCHOOL WILL DEAL WITH IT IMMEDIALTLY..

MELISSA

GingerB said...

This is such great news about Elena - and really comforting to the parents of kids who are younger and not yet at the school stage. It has been such a relief to find that two years into this, my worst fears have no where near been realized. I recognize we could still see learning disabilities come up when she gets to higher math or whatever, but really it is clear that my daughter's cognitive skills are above average. We also get the benefit of all the peer interaction from having her in full time day care, being treated like a "normal" kid. But I've had so many questions about how to get services if she doesn't really have barriers to learning and your post has given me great insights about how to see her needs in light of educational goals. I hope our school district is as caring as your has been. And oh, Melissa, your comment gives me chills. Hugs to you, my dear.