Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The start of a new chapter

Emily starts preschool tomorrow. I need to type that again. Emily starts preschool tomorrow!

Can I be honest? The school process has been very stressful for me. There have been some days when I would just burst into tears for no apparent reason.

Part of the stress is, of course, sending my 3 year old child out into the world on her own. My nonverbal, non-ambulatory 3 year old child. Yikes!

The other part of the stress is, the meetings with the school. If I ever swallow something I am not supposed to, I will just think back to those meetings to induce vomiting. OK, that was a little graphic. I am kidding. Mostly.

The school meeting is supposed to be a team of people sitting around talking about what is best for your child. In a perfect world, that is how it would work. In the real world, it is more like buying a car. They are trying to give me as little as possible, while I am trying to get all the bells and whistles. For an introvert who tends to be more passive-aggressive than assertive - this is no small task!

We had the meeting to talk about evaluations. Emily came with me and charmed everyone there (no surprise). After that, we met for evaluations with the PT, OT and AT Specialist (AT=assistive technology). Everything was very rushed, so I never got their reports until the day of the IEP meeting. Not very helpful! So we spent most of the meeting going over the evaluations and barely got to the IEP. Everyone had other places they needed to be, so the meeting was over and we hadn't really talked about anything that I thought we would talk about.

One thing I forgot to mention is that I had put Emily on a waiting list for a preschool type program at the big children's hospital near us. It is a WONDERFUL program that takes place 2 days a week. It is an intensive program that involves Speech, PT and OT in a preschool classroom kind of setting. The therapists work with the kids during every aspect of the class, while an educator goes over the usual preschool stuff. Before the IEP meeting I got a call that they had space for Emily on Tue & Thurs afternoon. We are anxious to get her into this program if we can swing the cost (we have to apply before we find that out). At school, we were debating between am and pm preschool. Well, this ended the debate. Emily was going to be in am preschool so she could attend this program 2 afternoons.

About a week after the IEP meeting, that barely was an IEP meeting, I got a call about the children's hospital program. They really wanted Emily to be in their am program because they thought she would get more out of it since she would be a lot more alert. I wholeheartedly agreed with that. I have no doubt that Emily would get more out 2 days there, than 4 days at school! So I told them I would talk to the school and get back to them. The rep at the school was fine with the idea. I asked if we could set up another meeting to talk about specifics for the change and to discuss the IEP (which I still had not seen!). I spoke with him on Thurs and we set up the meeting for Mon. I told him I would come by the school the next day to pick up the IEP so I could be prepared for our meeting. At this point, I was done asking for things and started telling them what I needed.

When I picked up the IEP, I was shocked! The document was practically blank, there was only one goal and some of the info that was listed, didn't make any sense. I was not really shocked, I was ticked off! I felt like they were trying to take advantage of a clueless mom who happens to be too nice. At that point, I felt like all bets were off. I then had the entire weekend to feel sick to my stomach about having to confront the school about this document (does anyone else hate confrontation the way that I do?).

I went through the whole document section by section and wrote down notes and questions. I even showed the document to a woman who helps parents learn to be good advocates for their children. She used to work in special education, so she has been a great resource. She also was shocked by the document and gave me some great pointers.

When I got to the meeting, they handed me another updated IEP, which actually answered a few of my questions. We first discussed the new schedule and how that would work. The man that usually runs the meetings had to sit to the side and take notes because the woman who normally does that was out. That gave me the opportunity to take over the meeting and do my thing. Once we finished talking about the schedule, I just jumped right in and starting firing my questions. I didn't get everything I wanted, but by the end of the meeting, I felt so much better. I felt like I had a better understanding of where the team was going.

To be honest, I still don't feel like this school is the best place for Emily. Her teacher has ZERO experience with kids like Emily. She has never worked with a kid in a wheelchair or with a g-tube. She has never heard of most of the equipment that is needed for Emily. That doesn't give me a lot of confidence. I do know that she is working hard to educate herself and I really feel like her heart is in the right place. I just wish that Emily could be with someone that has experience. I visited a great private school and loved it. The problem is, we cannot afford it.

So, Emily will start school in our district tomorrow. I will be there for the first two days (at the teacher's request). So I feel like her first real day will be next Monday when I am planning to drop her off and go (crying all the way home, no doubt). I know that Emily will LOVE being with the other kids. Mike and I always wonder how we (two introverts) managed to have a child who is such a social butterfly. She will be in her element!

We are all starting a new chapter tomorrow. It is exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time!


Amy said...

Wow! Sorry about this experience--and thankful you were able to make some progress with the IEP! Praying for Emily, her teachers, and a lot for you! School involvement is a must for us as parents--and it's certainly not always easy!

As a parent who has sent 2 kids to school (and yes, cried a lot of tears even though I was "brave" in front of them)...I found it helpful to have a plan for the first few day of school. A plan for me while they're at school that is! Meet someone for coffee, plan to go shopping, anything you would enjoy that will keep your mind occupied! :)

Look forward to hearing how it goes!!!

Anonymous said...

Oh my, I must admit that it is bittersweet to see her starting school, right now mostly bitter-the sweet will come later. I anxiously anticipate all to come, as Little Em will surely blossom as she/you/Mike adjusts to this new season in her/your life.

Looking forward to hearing more,

ANewKindOfPerfect said...

I'm sorry that the IEP meetings were such a mess, and your school start is so stressful! It is hard to send our non-verbal, non-ambulatory children off to school at 3. They are so helpless and innocent. But, my daughter LOVES it. She has loved school since day one! Luckily she's in a class full of kids just like her, and the teachers and aides have a ton of experience.

I can't wait to hear how Emily does!

Anonymous said...

Hi, I have never blogged befor but I was so moved by your letter I had to drop a few notes. This is from your speech therapist in Lousiville, Mary Beth. As parents, we must stand up for our children and be their advocates. I know that the meeting with the school must have been very un-nerving. But you got your stuff together. You and Mike have become the best advocates for Emily. You will teach the school what they need to know to support your daughter, and they will listen. With God's help Emily will teach and they will learn.

M said...

It is a tough day....glad you taking control of her meetings and advocating for your precious girl! Sounds to me like you are doing great Dawn! You'll do great giving the teacher experience and sending her to Emily 101! Every child is so different so maybe it is great that you are teaching her how to take care of EMily instead of her just saying she "already knows"! What a great opportunity you have to teach her how to care for children with special needs! I'll be thinking of you on the day you leave her for the first time! It's a long day but it does get better....I think? I'm still waiting for that day actually!

Auntie Christine said...

We will be thinking of and praying for Emily (and you both) on her first day. Love you all!

Anonymous said...

I still get a knot in my stomach when I think back to Ethan's 1st IEP meeting and the way it seemed so unfair...the way THEY discussed things before we came to the table, wouldn't give me a copy beforehand and then "they" ended up being ONE person...no LEA rep, no "team" just the preschool teacher who wanted to also function as his speech therapist. Craziness!

Did the 2nd day go better?

(sorry for all the deleted comments...having trouble with blogger login)

Stephanie's Mommy Brain said...

Sounds like you did all the right things - getting the IEP, taking over the meeting and asking for what you need. It is a shame that you have to "fight" to get what you need instead of them offering it.

I'll be praying for your transition on Monday!!

Katy said...

Sounds like you did a good job, mama! I hate to confront people too--I almost always cry as a result.

One thought--and you will probably hate me for even bringing it up, but does the private school offer something for Emily that the public school does not? Like, is it a school for kids with special needs? Because if it is, and you can prove that it's a better fit for Emily, you can actually force the school board to pay for her tuition. It's crazy, but it's true.

Either way, things sound like they're going well. And besides, sometime no experience is a good thing because that means she won't under-estimate Emily because she reminds her of someone else she taught!

Tara said...

But the kids will learn about those with disabilities. That is the good thing about not going to a special ed school.

It's good for "normal" kids to learn about those with extra needs. I want Amelia to be in a classroom with "typical" kids. They will learn about her and she will benefit.

Inclusion is a good thing. But I'm not 100 percent inclusion. There are children for which inclusion wouldnt be a good idea. Those kids are medically fragile.