Big changes at school

One thing about having a child with special needs is that it means that birthdays come with an additional “treat.” The annual IEP meeting.

IEP stands for Individual Education Plan. It’s an outline specific goals that the school is going to help your child to accomplish in a school year and what services the school is going to offer to help make sure those goals are met.

IEP’s can be a great thing, but the creation of them is something that is often something parents dread as they so often find themselves having to fight to get their child the services they need. They require a meeting with a room full of people to complete. We literally fill a board room table with the teachers, district representatives, district nurse, speech, physical and occupational therapists.. and then little us at the end of the table. You have about an hour to go through all the formal documents required by law.. and to get goals written.

Patrick, though, was blessed with an amazing special education teacher and she did an amazing job for us this year. She started talking to me and to Patrick’s therapists about a month before the IEP meeting. She invited me into the classroom to sit down with her and go over goals. She even let me type up my thoughts. Then she took my concerns and discussed them with the corresponding therapists. She called it “the most collaborative IEP” she has ever written.

And I just thought.. well isn’t that the way it’s supposed to go?

But we were really happy with the result. First of all, over the summer and the first month of school, Patrick met or exceeded almost all of last year’s goals. The ones that weren’t met, we were able to rewrite so that they were more appropriate for him. So instead of writing that Patrick was going to use three word phrases and not caring what the words were, they wrote a goal for him to use both a subject and a verb. We made a goal for him to learn to use scissors and markers and to draw a line. We wrote goals for him to learn to jump. And a great big, very carefully-worded goal about Patrick learning to take care of a little shopping cart with his backpack in it so he can go where he wants at school.

As far as IEP’s go, it was a work of art.

But that was just the tip of the iceberg. Because of Patrick’s recent explosion of language, his teacher had started to worry about whether or not he was getting enough peer interaction in the special needs classroom. Last year, his classmates were at or just above his level mostly. But this year, he is a different kid and ready for some friends his age.

And so, we made a plan to transition Patrick into the regular preschool classroom at his school.

What a big leap of faith that was for me! Instead of one-to-one adult supervision, he’d be in a class with 20 kids and just 3 teachers/assistants most of the time. And those kids can all eat and all talk. There is more risk of allergens and more exposure to germs.. and who would change his diaper? And they’d go to recess in the winter.. but he gets cold fast in the winter and should he go?

And not to be petty, but it was this same class whose parents kept stealing the handicapped parking spots last year, leading to an argument that almost came to blows with a special needs parent. (I am pleased to report that this has NOT been a problem at all this year.)

But, over the next couple of months, he visited their class and I got a chance to visit the class and visit the teacher and especially see how happy Patrick was there.

And then, right after Christmas break, we made the switch. Patrick has LOVED his new class. I drop him off in the morning and walk him in to help him take off his coat and backpack and the fleece “scarf” I made to wrap around the keep his tubes warm. Then I help him find his backpack and sometimes help him and the other kids wash their hands.

Patrick’s spot on the rug is towards the back both for ease with his tubes and to keep him from bugging the other kids. (He likes to find their bellies and hold their hands.) He loves to talk about sitting on the rug.

His language just keeps getting better and better the more he attends. He comes home jabbering about his school day. It’s still in bits and pieces. But I’m catching on. Like the day he told me “Bear Hunt” and banged his legs, I knew they’d played “I’m going on a bear hunt.”

Best of all, I love that he is making friends. He talks a lot about the funny things Thred (Fred) did.. Or how he got in trouble for stealing Aiden’s spot on the rug and trying to tickle his back. And every morning when Patrick walks into class, I hear an excited “Hi Patrick” from one or another of the little girls.

We are seeing progress in other areas, too. Patrick loves crafts now. He sits and scribbles in a notebook and when something resembles a letter he comes excitedly shouting “Make K! K, kuh!” He’s cutting with scissors. He’s holding his pencil the right way. And.. it looks like he is left-handed after all. At least for now.

He’s hearing words and correcting his mistakes. I’ve been sad to see some things go. Yes is no longer “Ay”. Two is two, not “boo.” But it’s a marvelous tradeoff for hearing and understanding his thoughts.

Yes, big and good changes at school for Patrick.

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