|At a private preschool over the summer. She was the only kiddo with SN.|
From birth to three years of age, Ellie participated (actually still participates) in Early Childhood Intervention [ECI]. In Texas, Ellie received developmental therapy services weekly from a licensed social worker. This therapist provided sensory integration, PT, OT, and speech. For a very (and I mean VERY) short period of time, Ellie received monthly speech therapy services through ECI from a licensed speech pathologist. I argued for more services because PT/OT/ST cannot all be effectively implemented in one 45-minute weekly session, but that is entirely another blog post all together! Anyway, ECI is only effective until the child is 3 years-old. The day after her 3rd birthday, she is booted out the door.
Ellie turns 3 years-old on September 16th. She will start school on Monday September 17th. In ECI, we have started to prepare Ellie for entering the school system. The BIG KID school as I like to call it. The elementary school. In Texas, she will attend the Preschool Preparedness for Children with Disabilities [PPCD]. I am sure it is called something different in other states, but it is PPCD in the Lone Star State. As I mentioned earlier, when a child with special needs turns 3 yo, she no longer receive services from ECI, but rather from the school district. This is where people start to toss about the scary acronym of IEP--Individualized Education Plan.
As per WikiPedia, An Individualized Education Plan or IEP is designed to meet the special educational needs of one child, who may have a disability, as defined by federal regulations. The IEP is intended to help children reach educational goals more easily than they otherwise would. In all cases the IEP must be tailored to the individual student's needs as identified by the IEP evaluation process, and must especially help teachers and related service providers (such as paraprofessional educators) understand the student's disability and how the disability affects the learning process.
I have heard great things and I have heard horror stories. I have heard about battles between the parents and the school district. I have been scouring blogs for information and educating myself about Wrights' Law.
I do not intend to go into our school with guns blazing, but rather with coffee and donuts. I do not think the special education teachers and therapists go into their field of work with the goal of having it out for my child. I do believe that they are trying to provide a realistic education plan that will best serve my little girl. However, I also believe that I know my child best. I know how she learns best and I know what motivates her. I also know what her struggles are and areas that greatly concern me. We are all a TEAM and as a team, I do expect to be allowed and encouraged to make recommendations and to have my concerns and ideas heard. As a team, I also intend to listen to them with an open mind.
One issue that greatly concerns me is that many school districts, including Ellie's, does not use signing [ASL] as a form of communication, but rather Picture Exchange Communication [PECs]. While Ellie Bear somewhat grasps the concept of PECs and even uses pictures to request the iPad or Mr. Potato Head, she mostly communicates with signs--or should I say gross approximations of signs. I do wonder how this falls under the special education laws?
We have not met to discuss Ellie's IEP yet. It is in 2 weeks. I am literally peeing my pants with anxiety. Yes, there will be a blog post about the IEP. Yes, you can bet on me having several panic attacks. Who would like to watch my daughter while I sweat it out at the school? Who would like to hold my hand while I sit next to the education team?
Where are we in this process right now?
Last month there was a screening to determine Ellie's eligibility in participating in the PPCD program. Yes, I recognize it is a bit laughable because a diagnosis of Down syndrome which encompasses intellectual disability and speech impairment automatically qualifies her for services. Therefore, the screening was more of a formality and it included a team of two special educators. The testing room was a large playroom. With a slide. A tall slide. Ellie stormed into the room, waved "hi", removed her shoes, and made a beeline for the slide. She spent the next hour eating a black crayon, briefly working on a puzzle & shape sorter, putting everything in her mouth, running, sliding, running, sliding, running, putting the baby down the slide, running, and sliding. She was silent nearly the entire visit except for the one time she said "car" and attempted to say "guitar". She did show off a smidgeon of her fine motor skills which was beautiful. Ellie really proved to the screening team that she does indeed have Sensory Processing Disorder with severe motor and vestibular seeking behaviors and extensive oral cravings & mouthing. I think that the team was rather fatigued just watching her.
At the end of the screening, I was informed (very nicely) that it would be likely that they would recommend placement in a special classroom within the PPCD program. She would not be at her home school with kids from her neighborhood. With kids that are both typical and with special needs. They believed that her "extra" needs, meaning her excessive mouthing, her incessant climbing, her poor attention span, her sensory processing disorder, and lack of communication meant she needed more one-on-one teaching which she would receive in this special classroom. I was a little shocked, but not devastated. The thing is, I know my daughter has motor and oral seeking behaviors. I know that they [the behaviors] create real safety concerns and that they impede her learning. I know all this and I want what is ultimately best for her. I spoke with her developmental pediatrician afterwards and she agreed that a more one-on-one type setting would be most beneficial for Ellie even if it meant a noninclusive environment at this early age. For the past 2.5 years, I believed my daughter would be attending the school down the street from our house and at the end of the screening, I was left wondering exactly what school she would be going to.
Shortly after her screening, I became familiar with LRE or Least Restrictive Environment. This means:
As per WikiPedia: Least restrictive environment is identified in the U.S. Individuals with Disabilities Education Act... By law, schools are required to provide a free appropriate public education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment that is appropriate to the individual student's needs.
"Least restrictive environment" (LRE) means that a student who has a disability should have the opportunity to be educated with non-disabled peers, to the greatest extent appropriate. They should have access to the general education curriculum, or any other program that non-disabled peers would be able to access. The student should be provided with supplementary aids and services necessary to achieve educational goals if placed in a setting with non-disabled peers. . .Because the law does not clearly state to what degree the least restrictive environment is, courts have had to interpret the LRE principle.
Yesterday Ellie completed her play-based assessment at the elementary school with a team consisting of a special education teacher, a speech therapist, and a child psychologist. Our ECI developmental therapist was present as well. Our ECI therapist was a life saver. She has known Ellie for 2 years and 11 months and guided Ellie through the assessment. Our therapist really showcased Ellie's strengths, but she also drew attention to her weaknesses. This is really important because now the team can formulate realistic, appropriate, and attainable goals for my daughter's development and education.
In an attempt to provide a peace offering, I brought donuts with me. The team mistakenly believed I brought them (all dozen apparently) for Ellie. Contrary to popular belief, I do not typically stuff my hyperactive toddler Bear full of delectable, deep-fried, sugary confections. Donuts 1. Donuts 2. I also dressed up to show that I am a professional, meaning I didn't wear shorts or flip flops and I wore foundation, a necklace, and earrings.
I should also probably mention that in the past month since her screening, we (Andrew, myself, Dr. F from developmental peds, and our ABA therapist) have really worked with Ellie on decreasing her mindless climbing, increasing her attention span, and decreasing her distractibility. She has come a LONG way in the motor seeking behaviors (climbing, swinging, hanging), but the oral seeking is as bad as ever. Let's just say that the team could not believe they were watching the same sassy little girl. The child that previously behaved like a human pinball/wind-up toy was actually sitting. GASP!
Back to the actual assessment...Ellie did utilize the slide a fair amount in the beginning, but then she calmed down and worked with the therapists on tasks that required her to sit at a table. Anticipating Ellie's propensity to munch on crayons like a major food group, the team had the nuggets of colored wax strategically hidden. However, Ellie ate a marker. No lie. She bit right through the plastic. Jaws of steel, this kiddo! Ellie also showed off various signs paired with vowel sounds. While the team was performing this 2 hour long play-based assessment, I filled out a
Their assessment, along with my answers to their questions, suggested that Ellie has a lot of splintering in the different developmental categories. What this means is that there is no continuum across the one developmental area (social, self help, fine motor, gross motor, cognitive). For instance, she may do activities socially that are very appropriately for a typical 3 year-old, but in other social areas, she is at an 18 month-old level. She can do complex problem solving, but in other areas she cannot "connect the dots" so to speak on more simple tasks. She also has great difficulty generalizing. For example, she understands the command "clean up", but you have to be very specific on how to do it such as "books on the shelf" or "blocks in bucket". While splintering is not extremely uncommon among those with special needs, it is not very typical among those with Down syndrome. Interesting is all I have to say on that matter.
At the end of the assessment, I was informed that the team will recommend at her IEP that the best placement for Ellie would be at her home school in a typical PPCD program! This is an inclusive program in which half of her peers are typically developing children (these are preschoolers that are children of the school's staff) and the other half are children with various special needs.
Thus far, I have learned a great deal from this process. I have learned that all school districts are different. My friend's little boy who does not have Down syndrome in the neighboring district had a 20 hour assessment--4 hours/day x 5 days in which his mother was not present. Whereas Ellie had a whopping 2 hour long assessment. Do I think they gathered enough information during this short assessment? Yes, because Ellie was having a typical morning. She showed off her strengths and her weaknesses beautifully. She was behaving the way she normally behaves at home, at her regular preschool, and at playgroups. It was not a bad day or a good day, but a "normal" day for her. Now, if she was a cranky pants and Little Miss Clingy, then I might say differently!
It will be intriguing to see how her IEP meeting goes. Good thoughts and prayers would be greatly appreciated! I am still a novice and I would love for you to share your experiences and your advice.