C's first and last days of 2's preschool - 2008-2009
I can't believe how quickly time has flown and that we are now preparing for Kindergarten at a new school. C's current preschool is this small, supportive, protective little bubble where we have spent the past three years (and will be spending three more, as M starts preschool this Fall!). This year, in particular, has been challenging yet amazing. C has learned so much. Her teachers have been incredible - willing to try anything to support her and her growth. We have had an open dialogue from the beginning, which has really helped. Prior to her first day, I had a conversation with her teachers to say, "We think something is up. We don't want to put a name on it, but we do want you to watch and let us know what you see. We will move forward from there." Three weeks into school, we were already discussing possibilities, and C was evaluated in October, with her diagnosis coming in early November. We are all on the same page (or at least we try to be), and they have allowed their classroom to be a bit of a laboratory for us as we have tried strategies and sensory tools to help C regulate herself during the school day. In theory, this is how it should be for every child, in every school. But as a teacher myself, I know that this is not necessarily the case. We know we have been lucky...which is what is making me so anxious for next year.
C's first day of 3's pre-school and the end-of-year picnic - 2009-2010
C, heading to the first day of 4's preschool (and M wishing she was, too!) - 2010
C will be heading to one of our local Catholic schools in the Fall. It happens to be the one where I went as a child, and where we have lots of friends. The school is an incredibly warm, welcoming environment that emphasizes not only strong academics, but also has a religious component that, as an interfaith family in which the kids are being raised Catholic, we need. Our county school system is in the top 3% nationally, so our decision was also based on the criteria that whatever private school we were looking at needed to compete with those standards, and our new school seems to fit the bill, for the most part. They have support services and resource teachers, and from what I understand, can help us access additional county services should they become necessary (like for speech - I am thinking we many have some articulation issues, which is common for kids with motor issues).
C doesn't currently receive OT in school, as she was only evaluated privately. The wait was long for a county evaluation, and her issues seemed subtle enough that I was wary that she would ever qualify. I taught in our county system for 8+ years before having my girls, and saw the challenges that teachers and parents faced in seeing just the right quirk, saying just the right thing, and writing it just the right way so that a student could receive therapeutic services. The school systems look for that key "educational impact," and with SPD, it's sometimes difficult to pinpoint what that impact is. They also see SPD most often associated with other diagnoses that are actually recognized by the DSM-IV, and we absolutely did not want to pursue another kind of diagnosis just to obtain services. We are very fortunate that we can, at least for now, afford C's therapy, and didn't want to place upon her an inaccurate label that could follow her forever.
So, you ask, what's the big deal? Her new school sounds great, and definitely produces some truly well-rounded children who matriculate to some of the best Catholic, private, and public magnet high schools in our area. The vibe that we have gotten from the staff is that they are prepared to handle whatever comes their way. We also have several friends whose children are also receiving private OT services and speech therapy who have assured us that our new school will be supportive.
But... I have had lots of people around me advise us to keep C's challenges on the down-low, at least for a little while. Some of them have much older kids (who are now adults) who had to navigate the Catholic school system at a time when support for kids who didn't "fit the mold" was at a minimum, at best. They struggled to get their children's most basic needs met, but believed a Catholic school education was something that ALL children deserved, so they fought for it. My mom was one of those people, when I sustained my spinal-cord injury at 13 and the same school that C will be attending was nervous about letting me come back and fully participate because the school wasn't completely accessible (today, it is).
Other friends of ours have kids in our county system who felt like their kids' issues were something that could be addressed privately and wouldn't have a huge impact in the classroom, so they didn't feel the need to share that information with their schools. And finally, I have colleagues who rightly believe that our county system is very equipped to support all students, so why would we take a chance on something that might not be the best fit for a kid like C, or go through the hassle of coordinating her Catholic school schedule with any county support she might eventually qualify for? There's this voice inside me that says:
"I see their perspective. I don't want C to be labeled from Day One. I don't want them to think that they have her all figured out just based on what I tell them. I want them to get to know her for themselves, and then act accordingly. I want her to have access to all the resources she might need."
It makes me want to keep quiet for a bit and see what comes of her first few weeks - just as we did last year. After all, it worked then - why wouldn't it work now?
But then there's this other voice in my head - the one who is a teacher who hated when she knew there was a missing piece of the puzzle with a student, but wasn't given all the information from their family; a person with a very obvious physical disability that she cannot hide (not that she wants to); and a parent who has invested a great deal of energy over the past year trying to figure out her child and putting in place some accommodations that she relies on. That voice is saying something very different:
"Tell them. Let them know what a great kid she is, but that she may need a little extra help. She's wiggly because she is trying to pay attention - not the opposite. Help C get off on the right foot on the very first day by being equipped with all the tools she is learning to use."
If my child was nearsighted, would I send her to school without her glasses? No. If she needed crutches or a wheelchair to get around, would I drop her off at the front door and wish her the best of luck getting inside the building? Of course not. So why is this such a dilemma for me?
To add to our confusion, there is also the option of having C wait another year to start at her new school. She is ready academically, her teachers say, and with continued OT support, she should do just fine. But she is immature, she does occasionally struggle socially, and she has a late birthday. Should we have her do Kindergarten at our public school for a year, and then transition her? Do we send her to another pre-K program? Do we just stick with our plan and figure it out as we go? Ugh.
I don't know which voice to listen to, and am nervous I will make the wrong decision. How do I advocate for my child when I am still trying to understand myself? What should I do once we make our decision? These are the questions that we are trying to answer over the next few weeks. I just want to do the right thing...