What I Learned From A Kindergarten SpEd Re-Eval

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J birthday 034

Carousel birthday Cake, a la Mommy

About a month ago, Julianna’s school finished her “re-evaluation.” This is required every three years under the IDEA, presumably to ensure that kids who are receiving expensive special ed services still need them.

Julianna entered the mid-kindergarten eval with a diagnosis of “young child with developmental delay,” a dx that does not carry into the elementary/secondary years (for obvious reasons). So, beginning mid-fall and lasting until Christmas or thereabouts, she underwent a battery of assessments for language, behavior, speech, motor, and academic skills. Even an IQ test, about which we were intensely curious. Hearing the number 60 was a bit of a reality check; it’s one thing to recognize that your child is and will always be delayed; it’s another to see it quantified. Somewhere deep inside, you keep hoping your kid will pull out a 69 and almost squeeze into the “normal” range.

In any case, the end result of this re-eval was–wait for it–an IEP meeting in which we went over the report and incorporated the results into a new plan. Ten people in the room, copies for everyone–nauseating amounts of paper, because the god Privacy forbids electronic dissemination. We moved quickly, with many interruptions caused by the three children in the room (one of whom was trying to eat every toy block in sight), so it wasn’t until the formal report came that I sat down to really read and process it in depth.

carousel craft

Apple, straws, peanut butter & animal crackers = a great, edible carousel birthday party craft.

When your child goes off to school, you automatically lose a certain intimacy. No matter what you do, you can never quite pry out of them what their day is like now. Their routines are unremarkable to them, so they don’t see anything to share. You ask “What did you learn in science today?” and you hear: “We didn’t have science.” You know they must have, they just didn’t recognize it as such, but without a beginning point there’s no way to pry the layers back and understand exactly what’s going on in the hours he or she is away from you.

If it’s that hard with a verbal child, imagine the dearth of information when your child doesn’t communicate by speech at all, or at least, only at the most surface level. So this report was really enlightening. It didn’t tell me about the school days or the routines, but every so often a nugget would pop out that I recognized so clearly, I could picture the entire scene:

“It was often unclear whether she was simply repeating the presented words rather than making an attempt to respond to the items.” Check.

“When asked to write numerals in sequence, Julianna wrote the number 1. When asked to write other numbers, she wrote the number 1 again.” Ouch.

“Julianna would sometimes point to several pictures on the page and was reminded that she could only point to one. This test was given over 2 sessions as she would start pointing randomly.” And giggling with a sly Miss Charming look on her face, no doubt.

“Julianna appears to enjoy socializing” (you think?) “and will wave hi and bye to many adults and peers.” Yup.

“She is a risk-taker.” Uh, yeah.

Concurrent with this is the formal discernment by the Catholic school administration as to whether they can realistically serve Julianna there. I am so torn on the subject. I want her in an environment where faith formation is “in the air,” and I want to have one PTA, one fundraiser, one school calendar to deal with.

And yet…she really needs speech intervention every day, and I will have to transport her myself (barring carpools, but you can’t count on that.) The public school has been wonderful–I love all the people. Her speech therapist calls her “chickadee,” and it makes me all warm and gooey inside. Her para and her teacher are particularly wonderful, and all the necessary infrastructure is right there. Her classmates are incredibly sweet to her. It has been a wholly positive experience, and even considering moving her feels disloyal.

It’s a good position to be in, so don’t take these reflections as complaint. But this is a part of the special needs parenting process, so I share it for the benefit of…well, whoever needs it.

I am being paged for a game of Spot-It. Bowing out for the day.

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Miss Pooey Goes To Kindergarten

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The first Friday of kindergarten, Julianna brought home a progress report. In typical kindergarten fashion, it was a list of attributes the kids need to have to be successful students–following directions, self-control, and so on. There are no grades in kindergarten, only +, √, and -. I got quite a shock when I saw her page filled with “-” and a smattering of √s. Not a + on the page anywhere.

Now, I’m sure you will not be surprised to learn that I have been a straight-A student my whole life, a meticulous rule follower. Alex is the same way. So to see a report like this was quite a shock to my system.

Who was she being measured against? What were they trying to communicate? Was she not living up to the standard of a typically-developing kindergartener (in other words, this was par for the course), or was she not living up to what is reasonable to expect for her? Does it matter? After all, if we want her in a regular classroom, we have to expect her to be held to the higher standard–and that’s what we want, right?

Such are the agonies of a parent of a child with special needs.

I didn’t realize it, but I have always taken kindergarten more seriously than preschool. When we needed to go somewhere, I just pulled Julianna out of preschool. We didn’t know all that much about the daily routine–we weren’t able to have a conversation with her about what she did all day, or what they talked about–but that was okay. Preschool was really about intensive therapy.

Kindergarten is a whole new world. This is where she’s actually supposed to be learning academic concepts. This is where she’s actually interacting with typically-developing peers, laying the foundations for whatever life she’s going to live as an adult. Suddenly, the stakes seem so much higher. Suddenly, it bugs me that I don’t know her classmates and she can’t tell me about them–that I don’t know her routines, and she can’t share them.

I went through this with Alex. Sending your child off to school automatically requires the parent to give up some control. The child doesn’t know what you want to know, and you can’t formulate the questions properly to get them to understand. It was very illuminating to go into Alex’s classroom for an hour one morning, and I’m in the baby stage of trying to work out logistics to visit Julianna’s classroom for a peek.

In the meantime, we’re more or less dependent on her teacher, who has been very good about sending us detailed reports. Many of which make us go, “Whaaaa…?” For instance, in the early weeks, when the para was not working directly with her, she would get up and move somewhere else (totally believe that), poke other kids (probably trying to be cute), and pull hair (uh…what?). She was uncooperative in P.E. and adaptive P.E., where there was less structure. Now, Miss Pooey has always been pretty cooperative with non-parental adults, so this caused us some consternation. But we haven’t yet begun enforcing “if…then” consequences with her, because we don’t have the sense that she “gets” it. If we had gotten a report like that on Alex in kindergarten, there would have been repercussions at home: lost movies, etc. But how do we address this with Julianna?

At last I found my entry point. She likes to watch her signing times and “your baby can read” videos from a distance of one inch from the TV screen. We’ve been yelling at her about it for a long time, but I realized suddenly last week that here is an opportunity for immediate consequences. So now, if she goes up to the TV, she loses the privilege. We’ll see if that makes a difference.

I have many other reflections on the experience of sending Julianna to kindergarten, but that’s plenty for one day. This week, she brought home one extra √, and her teacher said the problem behaviors were easing off. So maybe, twenty-five days in to the elementary years, Julianna’s finding her stride. Go get ’em, girly-girl.

7QT 166: Of Julianna, Kitchens and Proselytizing

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We registered Julianna for kindergarten this week. Can you believe it? I’m having trouble. I mean, it seems like she’s been in our life forever, certainly long enough to be starting school…but there are things you tend to associate with a child entering kindergarten. Like, I don’t know…speech!

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I shouldn’t make it sound like she doesn’t talk, because she does. In fact, she comes to me these days and issues a long stream of gibberish that very clearly means something…I just don’t know what. When she started it, we thought it was incredibly funny and cute. Now I’m looking at things differently. “Julianna, I don’t understand what you’re saying,” I tell her. “One word at a time.”

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For two nights, I spent my after-the-kids-are-in-bed time filling out forms. You should know, also, that my handwriting (so my husband says) is illegible. Being sensitive about this, I was writing ve-ry-slow-ly. And I was ready to spit nails by the time I was done. How many times does the school district need me to fill out Julianna’s address? I filled out her address on NINE DIFFERENT FORMS. And TWO of them were about who she lives with. I mean, really, people. It was a rude awakening to the difference between private and public school procedures, let me tell you.

And she has her last shots this morning. I tried to prepare her last night, but it’s hard to know what she “gets.” Alex is off school, so we’re going to the doctor’s office with four children.

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When RAnn, over at This, That, and the Other Thing, interviewed me about my Lent book, she asked what activities I had planned this year. I told her with the infant in the house, we were going to have to take it one week at a time. Well, that’s what we’re doing. Perhaps it will help everyone who thinks just because I write books about celebrating seasons with children, that our house is full of well-organized, blissful family catechesis. Um…no. My family is the perfect illustration of why we need books like mine. :/

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I was going to write another Quick Take on that subject, but it occurs to me that maybe I need to write a post on that topic all its own.

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Speaking of all things faith, this is evidently “Evangelization Week” in our neighborhood. Tuesday afternoon it was two young girls asking if we had a church home. Thursday just before noon an older lady rang my doorbell with literature. I groaned inwardly and tried to tell her kindly that we’re well evangelized, and quite familiar with the Bible, but she really, really wanted to give me a flier–four pages, full color. “Did you know the Bible says ‘they will beat their swords into plowshares?’ she said with an earnest smile. “Do you believe that will happen?”

What a question! Caught between a desire to get rid of her and the inability to lie, even by omission, I swallowed a whole lot of thoughts and stuttered something that made no sense but made it perfectly clear that I was a heathen, just as she thought. “Well,” she said, “the Bible said it will happen, so we know it will.”

Yes, I thought. In Heaven.

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No matter how much time passes, I cannot get over the fact that in a house with nearly 3000 square feet, everybody has to inhabit the same room. A few days ago, Christian and I prepared dinner in a twelve-foot-square kitchen with one child pushing the empty bouncy seat in front of the refrigerator door, one child building a marble run in front of the pantry door, and one child trying to drop marbles down it before it was finished. Just imagine that traffic jam.

Have a good weekend!

7 quick takes sm1 7 Quick Takes Friday (vol. 166)

Great Expectations

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Last Friday was Julianna’s kindergarten IEP meeting. The wisdom of my fellow parents-of-kids-with-special-needs told me I needed backup for it. Several people offered to accompany me. If I’d remembered before the meeting, I probably would have availed myself of the offer, but as I said earlier this week, my life is crazy, and I only remember the essentials…you know, diaper changes, feedings…because the need makes itself obvious. 😉

However, I have a good relationship with all the people who work with Julianna in preschool, soI wasn’t worried. it was generally a positive experience. It takes an hour or so to go through current skills strengths, weaknesses and goal-setting, and then we got to the part where we say “how many minutes in the regular classroom, and how many minutes of special instruction?” At that point, I sensed everyone in the room taking a deep breath, and I thought, Uh-oh.

The problem, her classroom teacher pointed out, is that the people at the new school don’t really know Julianna, don’t really know what she’s capable of. So while we, and specifically she (the teacher), know her to be more than capable of a high level of inclusion, the new team wants to play it cautious. After all, we’d rather over-support her and withdraw it quickly than under-support her and have her begin kindergarten with frustration or failure.

It makes perfect sense, and for that reason I took a deep breath and signed off on something utterly contrary to everything I want for my daughter: namely, putting her in a self-contained classroom for all regular instruction, with only her “specials” happening with her typically-developing peers. I did so with a very clear instruction that I wanted it in the plan that re-evaluation would begin immediately, and not late in October or November. And only after taking down three different names for people within the new school whose phone lines I can burn down to make sure it doesn’t get set aside.

I signed, but I have tears in my eyes thinking about it, and a vague sense of nausea. Because I know how hard it is to move a bureaucracy unless you have an advocate within…and my whole support system is at the early childhood center, not at the elementary school. And our goal for the kindergarten year is to see if Julianna can function in the classroom without that support, because only then can we explore the possibility of sending her to Catholic school with her brothers.

I spent all week watching her outdo the expectations for a child with Down’s. They think she needs special P.E. because she’ll need help with stamina navigating a school so big. Knowing my child, I shook my head and smiled. I smiled bigger three days later when she pushed a stroller containing a child almost as big as she is up a huge hill, down the hill, around the corner, 2/3 of a mile from the fire station to our house. Stamina: check.

I watched her name colors and identify letters, and shook my head at 65% special instruction, because she really isn’t much behind other almost-5-year-olds in terms of her knowledge…only in speech.

And then, as I worked on a music list before choir practice yesterday afternoon, she settled at my feet with the cards from the “Your Baby Can Read” box. I’ve ceased to wonder why she’s interested in a bunch of cards with no pictures, only words; she just likes shuffling through them. In the middle of scribbling notes to myself, Julianna uttered her usual “pay attention to me” grunt. I turned around to see her making a sign I didn’t recognize: her hands crossing in front of each other repeatedly, as if drawing attention to her ribs. “I don’t know that sign,” I said, but she kept signing insistently. I glanced at the card on her lap. It said “zebra.” “Zebra?” I said halfheartedly.

“Euh!” she said happily, and signed all the more furiously.

I frowned, trying hard to squelch the leap in my chest, and turned to the computer. And I found this link. And my breath caught.

My girl can’t talk, but she can read…at least a little.

My breath caught, because now I know I have reason to fight for what I always said I wanted for her.

Kindergarten Demystified

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One of the most unsettling things for a stay-at-home parent is that once your children go off to school, you no longer know every single thing that happens to them. Suddenly they have all these rituals that have nothing to do with you; you don’t even know what they are. That’s okay with me; I’ve always been happy with the idea that the hard work of teaching falls largely on someone else’s shoulders. Still, the void of knowledge of exactly how Alex passes his days is…well, unsettling.

I thought it would be worse with Julianna, because she can’t tell me what she does at school. But power of speech doesn’t really help. When we ask Alex about school, mostly we get a blank look. His school rituals seem so utterly ordinary to him that he doesn’t even recognize that they’re different. And so, despite avid parental interest, Kindergarten has remained a mystery.

Until now. Because yesterday the little ones and I spent forty minutes in the classroom.

They began with a lunch count census (Cheese pizza, please; nothing, please; milk, please), which Mrs. O. entered into the computer, a process that was interrupted by the principal coming over the intercom for morning announcements. This mostly consisted of a pointed reminder that the uniform code requires white and navy socks, not black, and most especially not patterned!

Now, it’s one thing to see Alex act like a five-year-old. To see a whole classroom full of children do it? Hysterically funny! When the principal said, “If your teachers see you wearing any socks other than white or navy blue, they will tell you to take them off,” what do you think every child in the room did? Yes, as if responding to an irresistible force, every one of them pushed back from their tables and checked their socks! Suddenly the room was full of anxious voices and bids for their teacher’s attention. It was so stinking cute, I can’t even type it without laughing. One little girl was terrified because the heel on her sock was pink.

Announcements wound down and the kids said the pledge of allegiance and a very long prayer I have never heard (me, the Catholic nerd!), but which they rattled off by rote. Then lunch count resumed, and Mrs. O. passed out “z” worksheets. By now, Julianna had found a tub full of books and was happily entertaining herself. Nicholas spied an empty chair at a table and made himself at home there, filching a pencil from the boy on his right and crayons from the girl to his left. I didn’t have to watch either of my little ones, they were behaving so well. So I got to observe another interesting ritual. “All right,” said Mrs. O., “children at the red tables may go to the restroom.”

“It’s blue table day,” protested someone. “We did red yesterday.” And everyone in the class looked at the board. I looked but had no idea what they were looking for.

Mrs. O. also looked at the board, then said in her gentle way, “I’m pretty sure I erased it and rewrote it this morning. Red tables.”

The red table kids got up and headed for the restrooms…except Alex, who was wholly engrossed in drawing a crucifix in his morning journal, presumably in honor of Lent. (I’ve never, ever seen him draw a crucifix before. We throw away dozens of Batman, Superman, Iron Man, and now Toothless pictures in this house.) Suddenly he realized he was sitting alone at a table, and he looked up. “Oh, is it red tables’ turn?” And he looked at the board.

All right, that’s it! I looked more closely and finally noticed that the date was written in red. Upon such small things do a Kindergartener’s world turn! 🙂

Well, there was more, but I’m at risk of boring everyone to tears, so I’ll sign off for the day. It was fun, a different kind of Motherhood Moment.