The Preschool Question

I promised I’d write about Sam’s transition from Early Intervention (EI) to preschool when I knew more. Now I know more…at least, I know a little more. However, it’s a jumbled, confusing mess of information, so I’m going to try to share it here in a straightforward manner—both for anyone interested in understanding the options and for me, to perhaps make some sense of it by spelling it out on virtual “paper.” So here goes…

The Facts

  • Sam ages out of EI literally on his third birthday (in February). At that time we must leave the wonderful little bubble that has been his EI class. At that time, his mama will be a weepy mess, because she loves seeing how much he loves his teachers and his class. But we have no choice—all children age out of EI on their third birthday. What a way to “celebrate,” eh?
  • In November/December, Sam will have a battery of assessments from the school district, designed to help them make a recommendation for his placement.
  • About three weeks before Sam ages out of EI, the school district will make their recommendation for placement.
  • It will be rather surprising if we actually agree with this placement. I’m not trying to be negative, but we’ve been told by many people (some of whom even work for the district) that district placements for kids with developmental disabilities are typically quite low. And we feel Sam’s skills are actually pretty good, so we aren’t comfortable with a placement that we think might hold him back.
  • If we don’t agree with the district’s placement, then the negotiation begins. And I’m told it can be quite a task.

The Options

Here are the general placement options for Sam:

  • Severely handicapped (SH) class: I’ve been told this is where kids with DS are typically placed by the district. We’re not comfortable with that, because we’ve also been told that many kids in the SH classes are nonverbal. Because verbal communication is the area we’d most like Sam to work on, we feel the best way to encourage that is to place him in a class with peers who are speaking. There’s a lot of evidence showing that kids develop speech best by being around peers who speak. And that is indeed logical, yes?
  • Mild/moderate special-day class (SDC) or Learning Handicapped (LH) class: In my initial discussion with the district this week, they weren’t opposed to this type of class. I’ve been told by others in the district that kids with DS don’t get into these classes, but the woman from the district who I spoke to on Monday seemed open to considering it, depending on the assessment results. Theo was in a class like this, and I’m not entirely closed off to it for Sam. This is a class for kids who are basically close to being able to function in a mainstream classroom but who have some area they need to work on. For Theo, it was learning to follow a classroom routine, basically. For Sam, it would be learning more communication skills. Speech difficulties are often an issue for the kids in these classes. They are very small classes with a great student-to-teacher ratio. They are offered through the district, so they would be free to us. The downside to this type of class is that it is special ed, and I’ve been warned by a number of parents who have kids with DS older than Sam that if we accept special ed as the placement early on, it can be extremely difficult to get a child reclassified and put into a mainstream class later. The other downside is that many of the kids in this type of class are still working on speech, so Sam would be around kids who are speaking, but probably not as much as typically developing kids. 
  • Private preschool: This would be a mainstream preschool where Sam would be around typical peers all day, every day. It could be any model of preschool—Montessori or a typical developmental preschool. This was our ideal for him, because we think he’s very capable of meeting the expectations of such a class, and he would have fantastic opportunities to develop more language by being around kids with strong verbal communication skills. It would set him up well for starting in a mainstream kindergarten. However, there is one major con: the almighty dollar. These preschools aren’t cheap, and we thought we could probably swing it barely…but then my career suffered a big blow this week, and it looks like I’ll be losing about 80% of my income per year. Chris makes enough to cover our basic bills, but nothing more. So with me now earning maybe 20% of what I was before…well, this option is pretty much out of the question.
  • State preschool: There’s a chance we might qualify for this as a low-income family, now that I’ve lost a huge portion of my income, but I have a feeling they’d ask for last year’s tax returns to verify income, and last year’s tax returns looked okay. It’s next year’s that will be dreadful…but that doesn’t help us now. Still, it’s something to look into. The downside to this type of preschool is that it’s a large class with some kids who have emotional/psychological problems. All the kids in the class are typically developing, so it’s a mainstream class…but some are in the preschool because they’re also receiving psychological care. And I don’t want to sound as if I have an issue with these kids—believe me when I say my heart hurts for the fact that they have emotional problems to deal with! But I do wonder how that might affect Sam—he is really, really small compared to his peers, and if there’s an aggressive child in the class, I do worry about his safety a bit. I suppose that could happen at any preschool, but it is a bit of a concern for me. 
  • Hybrid: Some people do a hybrid approach with their kids—a few days a week in special ed, and a few days in a mainstream program. Or mornings in special ed and afternoons in a mainstream program. I’m not entirely closed off to that option, but it sounds quite confusing to the child to me. Two different places, two different sets of expectations, etc. However, one of the EI specialists where Sam goes to EI told me that kids seem to adapt to it just fine. And she’s been working with them for 24 years, so I do trust her opinion. It sounds confusing to me, but maybe that’s because I’m a stodgy old adult, set in my ways. The two other downsides to this approach are money (because we’d have to pay for the mainstream program) and Sam’s naps. He currently naps for two to three hours every afternoon, so I don’t know that putting him in a program in the afternoon is a wise idea!

In theory, if we don’t agree with the district’s placement, we can lobby for them to pay for a private preschool. However, this is a very hard battle to win and sometimes requires an attorney. Given the whole drop-in-income issue, I’m not sure an attorney is the route we want to go. I have the name of an attorney who works with such cases, but I’m sure she doesn’t come cheap. 🙂

So…what are we going to do? I honestly don’t know. I guess at this point we’re likely going to have to settle for a district placement and hope to god it’s a good one—or fight to make sure that it is. If it’s a mild/moderate SDC, it might not be bad at all. It might be a place where Sam does well. It honestly depends on the makeup of kids in the class. Theo was lucky enough to be with a good group of kids—there was one child in the class who had behavior issues (and of course Theo emulated him…sigh….), but the other four kids (plus Theo) didn’t have significant behavior issues, so there wasn’t a lot of negative behavior around for Theo to pick up on. Hopefully if we go the SDC route for Sam, he’d be around positive peer models, just like Theo mostly was.

I’ll share more in December/January, when we start to learn more about where the district hopes to place him and whether we’re okay with that. In the meantime, I’m trying to find a way to stop time so I can just keep things status quo: with my sweet little toddler in his sweet little EI class with his wonderful teachers. I can stop time in the next four months, right?!

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