“School day, school days. Dear old Golden Rule days.”
Happy Fall everyone! This time of year just flies by….we will blink and it will be the holidays! I can’t believe that Graham has been in preschool for a month and a half! I had so much anxiety leading up to this big transition from Early Intervention to public school. I remember our beloved EI coordinator handing me flyers MONTHS before I was really even thinking about Graham starting school for all sorts of seminars being hosted by various organizations. “An IEP for My Child”, “Turning 3 Essentials”, “Basic Rights in Special Education”, “Financial Planning for the Future: A Guide to Special Needs Trusts”. My eyes glazed over as I tucked these pieces of paper into the darkest corner of our filing cabinet. I told myself that I would pull these out when it was time, which is convenient when you think that time is far away. We were months away from starting the IEP process and Graham going to preschool. But deep down I was panicking. This must be a big deal if there are several organizations hosting multiple seminars about it! We would be entering the scary world of IEPs and educational rights, and abandoning the comfort of toddlerhood and Early Intervention – and I was not ready.
Mike and I did drag ourselves to a few seminars and found that they weren’t too scary after all and we were glad that we went. I didn’t necessarily understand every piece of information I received but I did feel more prepared to begin the IEP process. I have to admit that I was terrified to embark on this new journey. I had heard so much about IEPs and so many horror stories of families having to wage war on their school system due to some injustice that they were facing as a result of their child’s school services offerings. What if we were unhappy with proposed services? What if we didn’t like the recommended program? More so, what if we failed Graham? I was a bundle of nerves going into it, but I was armed with information as well as our amazing support system of therapists from Early Intervention.
Luckily all that worrying was for naught. From the very beginning, the process couldn’t have gone smoother. I literally kept pinching myself along the way, waiting to wake up. The coordinator who was assigned to us was extremely professional and well-versed in the process. She stayed on top of everything for us and made sure that it all went according to plan. Meeting with the special education teacher who evaluated Graham was so reassuring. We could tell she really took the time to get to know Graham and listen to our concerns. She even came out to an Early Intervention playgroup that he attended in order to see him with peers and in a different element. The therapists who evaluated Graham were so warm and knowledgeable and also really seemed to care about Graham and wanted to make sure his needs were met. We were also so fortunate to have ALL of our therapists from Early Intervention supporting us throughout the entire process. Each respective therapist attended the evaluation with their counterpart from the school system, in order to answer any questions and make sure they had a good assessment of Graham’s strengths and weaknesses. They also all participated in key meetings throughout the IEP process. I knew they all cared for Graham so much but in this case actions truly spoke louder than words. They made sure our transition was seamless and that Graham was on a path to success as he left EI and moved on to preschool. At our final review meeting, we were so thrilled with the proposed services that Graham would be receiving and that he would be getting the teacher who performed his evaluation. Each individual on the team truly took the time to get to know Graham throughout the process and seemed to have a good understanding of both his strengths and weaknesses. I left the meeting feeling far more optimistic than I ever anticipated.
I was feeling really good about this whole preschool thing until about two weeks before Graham’s first day of school. That is when panic really set in. All of a sudden I was thinking, wait, my child can’t talk! How the heck is he going to communicate with people he doesn’t really know and who don’t know him?! Sure, he can use PECS and signs, but would he have a setback with PECS since it would be in a completely new environment? And, due to his motor planning issues, most of his signs are somewhat simplified and not always similar enough to the actual sign for a stranger to just pick up on their own. What if he was trying to sign to his teacher and she couldn’t understand him? I worried he may get frustrated, or, even worse, withdrawn, due to his lack of communication skills. I didn’t want to be that annoying parent before school even started, but I decided to go ahead and email his new teacher anyway, to see if I might be able to talk to her for a few minutes before his first day. I cringed when I hit “send” on my email, not knowing what kind of response I would get. And boy was I surprised! Pleasantly surprised! She couldn’t have been more understanding and offered to assemble the team to meet with me. I did a few things to prepare for the meeting to make sure it was as successful as possible. First, I made a list of my concerns. I wanted to make sure they were aware of any undesirable behaviors and what might trigger those behaviors. I also made a list of all of Graham’s signs and then created a sign dictionary for them to refer to. I took pictures of myself modeling the signs and included a description with each of them. I also brought his PECS book to review with them and discuss any programs that we were working on with our ABA provider. Lastly, I made sure to review any key pieces of information that would be helpful in dealing with Graham. The meeting was a great success. I was so relieved to be able to meet with them one final time before Graham officially started school and they were so receptive to my concerns and making sure that Graham was as successful as possible in his new environment. We also agreed to meet monthly as a team to discuss Graham’s progress as well as any issues that need to be addressed. That really helps us stay in sync and make sure we are all on the same page and working together to make this as great of a learning experience as possible for Graham.
The first day of preschool, I was a bundle of nerves. I must have checked his backpack a million times before we left the house. When we arrived at the back entrance of the school (where we were told to meet at orientation), I had butterflies in my stomach. What if Graham refused to go with his new teacher? Before I could think too much, she took his hand and told him that they would be lining up and heading to the playground. She gave me a warm smile and a nod to let me know that we should be on our way. As I walked away, wiping tears from my eyes, I worried that Graham would not understand why I was leaving him. But he did as he was told, accepted her hand, and walked toward the playground with more confidence than I could believe. At that moment, I knew everything was going to be okay. And I couldn’t have been more proud of my big guy.