Monday, October 18, 2010

One, Two, Three Years, You're Out?

Back in the summer, we had Bun's speech evaluated by our county's Early Intervention to see if the delay we suspected would be confirmed.

It was, which came as something considerably less than a shock. We sort of clued in to his delay when we noticed he wasn't saying anything. At all.

His largely silent day was lightly peppered with "Bun Language," which mimicked the cadence and intonation of regular speech, but which was unintelligible about 95% of the time. And that was for me, the person who spent all day with him. I knew if I couldn't figure out what he was trying to communicate, then it was pretty hopeless for the casual observer.

We've had early talkers and we've had shyer, later talkers, but we knew that the no-talker was in need of some help.

We'd been through speech therapy before with Fiver, but he wasn't diagnosed until he was over three years old, which meant that he didn't qualify for Early Intervention services. We were steered toward private therapy, and it was a good fit for him, given all of his other issues.

Bun is under three, so we thought we'd start with the county's services first, since we were unfamiliar with them and they had the attractive benefit of being free. Well, as free as you can get as a tax paying citizen anyway. We pay a lot of taxes, and it is nice to see where some of them go.

The evaluation team was great, and within a week or two of meeting the criteria for a delay, Bun was receiving speech therapy once a week in our house. I have to admit that having the therapist come to the house feels like such a luxury after spending years dragging all the kids through the waiting rooms at private therapy for Fiver.

Bun has been responding very well to his therapy, and the change in him is amazing, but he only qualifies for the in-home therapy until he is three. That's only about three more months, and then he is transferred to our county's intermediate unit for a continuation of services.

It is at this point that I'm starting question our plan, and I wonder if I should put him in the same private therapy that we used with Fiver.

We had the initial meeting with the intermediate unit (IU) a couple weeks ago, and it was very pleasant. They like to meet well before the child's third birthday so that there is no gap in services, which makes sense to me.

The coordinators were completely charmed by Bun, and they were very pleased with his social behavior and interaction. We had a lovely conversation, but I still left with some nagging thoughts about the next leg of his journey with the county.

Bun will no longer qualify for in-home therapy, which I understood from the beginning, but as pleasant as the women in the meeting were, they couldn't really answer my questions about where Bun would go.

They couldn't tell me anything "officially" since Bun has not yet been evaluated by an IU team, but they were "pretty sure" that he would not go to an IU classroom, which are reserved for more severely delayed/disabled children.

They just kept saying he would "go out," but they couldn't tell me where. He would just "go out" to a "preschool class setting." Hmm.

One of the coordinators must have seen my expression change, because she started explaining The Philosophy to me.

According to her, the prevailing educational philosophy, to which the IU adheres, is that from birth to three years of age, the home is the best place for a child to learn, but after three, home is just not cutting the mustard. Kids need to get out of their homes and go to school to learn better.

I question that philosophy. I heartily question that philosophy.

These women had just been telling me how bright and happy my child is. They were marvelling over his progress with the in-home therapist. They were commenting on how much social interaction he must get in such a bustling household, and how much he benefits from the different ages of his siblings.

But come February 1st, that environment is no longer considered the best. He will need to leave our busy, social home, with two loving parents who are completely cooperative with his therapist's suggestions and with four siblings who love to be included in the therapy plan (even if only because they are Nosy Parkers).

He will need to go out to a classroom where he will be instructed according to a philosophy with which his parents may not always agree, and where the teachers, however enthusiastic and engaging, are not there solely for his benefit. Teachers are paid to teach. We are here solely for Bun's benefit.

Again, the coordinators must have seen a change in my expression because they started asking some questions. (Note to self: do not think about poker as a hobby.) Questions like, "Well, has he ever been to preschool? Have any of your other children been to preschool?"

Uh, no. He has never been to preschool. He is two. Preschool for his age is called daycare, and why send him to daycare if I'm home?

I got the feeling that they were trying to suss out whether I was some crazy, anti-establishment homeschooling wing nut. They wanted to see where I stood on The Philosophy.

So here's my deal: I am not some crazy, anti-establishment homeschooling wing nut. In fact, I greatly respect homeschoolers and the vast majority of homeschoolers I know are the furthest thing from crazy wing nuts. They are just trying to do the right thing for their children.

So are the parents who send their children out to school, of which I am one.

We all have the right and the responsibility to determine the best place for our children to learn.

I am not anti-preschool. I know I've mentioned before how much I love preschool, and both Francie and Fiver went. Sally had no desire to go, so I didn't force her to go. It wasn't what was best for her. Anyone who knows Sally can tell you that there is no reason to fear for her social or mental development.

I am not trying to slight the IU. They do excellent work with kids, and I am grateful for all the help Bun has gotten so far. We are so happy to see him blossom and come into his own. But I have to always be ready to do what is best for him -- to follow my own philosophy if I know in my heart that it is better for him.

I have never thought of myself as a crazy wing nut, although I am sure that my lifestyle is seen by some as a rebellion against the status quo of modern society. But I'll tell you this: you'll have a mighty hard time convincing me that plucking my little guy out of my home this winter is a better educational move. No matter what the prevailing philosophy says.

If that makes me a wing nut, then so be it.

PS: A comment before the comments - I hope you did glean from the above that I am not harshing on all preschool. Of course there will be some instances where a child would flourish more in a school setting, especially if that child comes from a home that is less than cooperative about following through with prescribed therapies. From talking with various therapists through the years, and from what I know of my sister's job as a social worker, there are a great many homes where the children are not receiving what they need in terms of developmentally appropriate attention. This home is not one of them.

15 comments:

  1. Anonymous5:48 AM

    You know what to do and do not owe anyone an explanation. You and Rob are great parents and know what is best for each child. He'll do great I'm sure. :-)
    Mary

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  2. Wondering if your school district has a special needs preschool in one of the elementary schools. My second son attended one and it was a good experience. I understand your feelings about him leaving home, however, especially at three -- my son was five. I'm sure you're glad you have other choices.

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  3. indeed, trust your instinct. It's such a weirdo situation to be in- especially since they aren't fully understanding your question or what insight you need. When I taugh kindergarten, children of all types crossed through my door and the majority of the time, whatever previous experiences they had had were perfect for that child. Some were coming from daycares, preschools, homeschooling etc. Some had received "services" some hand not. I tell you- the ones who who were the most confident were the ones with a supportive home life no matter what sub category that fell into :)

    Good luck!

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  4. I agree with the other commenters. YOU alone know what is best for your child and where he will flourish. There are probably instances where a preschool setting is the best thing for a child but if he has a loving, supportive home with parents willing to do the work...I definitely think home can be just as effective and even more effective in some cases because they will be getting one on one attention, not one on five or ten or twenty. Blessings as you figure it all out!

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  5. Oh Aimee, I feel your frustration! Our third child, Eamon, has a lisp and mixes up a few sounds, but because he was young and intelligent (with language) he never could qualify for anything. I just met with the public school system (he's in a private preschool) to get them to take him on, but they also said that he was too smart to require assistance. What the heck? Because someone is intelligent with language doesn't mean their speech is up to par. I almost cried at that meeting, and I said, "Right now he's a cute 4 year old with a lisp, but I don't want him to be a thirteen year old struggling with it." And they told me to wait a year and then get him reevaluated again. So frustrating!!! I really wish people would listen to moms, because, ahem, we do know best for oue children.

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  6. We dealt with the same problem when my oldest turned three. The impression I got was that the preschool program was a good buffer for the kids to transition them into regular school (since a lot of kids that go through early intervention may have issues adjusting to a structured classroom). My plan was to homeschool, so I saw absolutely no reason for this, and thankfully our insurance did cover private therapy for awhile.
    But even if you want to give him the intro to how school works, couldn't that wait until he's four? Three just seems so young. I had several therapists tell me that what we did with our daughter at home would make much more of an impact than anything they could do with her. SO, all that to say, I agree with you :)

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  7. Thanks for all of the supportive comments, my friends.

    I really don't have a deep seated problem with Bun going into a preschool setting, but I just think three is too early. Not to mention the fact that it would require him being plucked out of his successful home environment just because some people somewhere at some point decided that it was good for 3 year olds to do that.

    He's not even old enough to qualify for a regular 3 yo class, and the earliest we would have ever considered preschool for him would be next fall.

    If the IU waited until he was four, I'd feel a lot better better about it.

    But, I operate on the Trust Your Gut principal, so we'll just have to see. Maybe I'll love the preschool program and decide to send him, or maybe I'll just do private therapy. Who knows what the old gut will decide? ;)

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  8. Aimee, can you ask for plain ol' one on one therapy in an office setting? I think in most states they offer that in lieu of the preschool setting which is considered the least restrictive environment after 3. I would guess that they want to do it in a preschool setting because it's essentially cheaper as group therapy and the state is paying (although you've already paid the state, right?). If he has to go to preschool to cover services, could it be once or twice a week?

    Colleen, I'm a speech pathologist and though I primarily work with adults, my son has needed various therapies. It is amazing to me how much worse kids have to score now a days on tests to qualify for therapy- even compared to just 10 years ago, and it's really dramatic if you compare it to qualifying scores 20 years ago. It's purely a funding thing. Therapists wish they can trust parenting instincts, but unfortunately, funding just doesn't take that into consideration. And therapists don't like working for the state because they are paid poorly and the paperwork is a nightmare.

    To ensure my son would qualify for therapy, I brought him to evaluations tired, hungry, and cranky. Then I'd act surprised when he bombed those tests. Terrible, yes? But he got the therapy he really needed. I didn't feel bad a bit.

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  9. Domestic Accident: that's a good question. I never specifically asked them "can he continue one on one in an office setting?" because they kept making a point of telling me that he "needs to go out into a classroom setting." If they said it once, they said it fifty times. I have no idea if the IU does office set therapy - I was under the impression that for him to get one on one office therapy we would have to go private.

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  10. Every state is different, but here in Ohio, my understanding is that if your child qualifies for services at age three, he would be qualified to attend a "special needs" preschool in the public school. Keep in mind, most of the children in the class you would never notice as "special needs" because many would most likely present as your son does. In Ohio, they are also required to have a certain number of mentor students attend the preschool that are not receiving any services. However, (and again, this is Ohio) if a parent asks for itinerant services, the school district is allowed (I don't know if required is correct) to perform those services one-on-one with the child. It would not be in your home, and would not be allowed to be completed during the school day if a school employee is performing the therapy, but it would not require your child to attend the preschool classroom as a student. Again, every state, and in some cases county, is different, but I would echo what others have stated...follow your instincts and ASK lots of questions!

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  11. Not sure how things vary from county to county BUT my Liam started speech thru our IU after he turned 3. He goes 1x per week for speech- I have to take him but it is a half hour with a speech therapist & we are given activities to work on at home as well. So, it isn't a classroom but it is outside the home. And it can be a group of 2-3 children but right now, it's just him. For Bun, I'm wondering if they are truly thinking an actual IU preschool class OR if they just mean he will go to speech tx that you have to take him to (still free!).
    Given that they haven't even done their evaluation & that he will progress between now and then, it will be interesting to see what the recommendations are. And you can disagree with a preschool rec & let them know what you are comfortable with. My boys do also go to regular preschool (2 hrs, 3 days per week) but that was a separate decision. I think that because my boys were in full time daycare for a year, a few hours of preschool is no big deal for me or for them. I feel like by the time I take them, I am barely back home before it's time to pick up!
    You have to trust yourself & advocate for Bun's best interests. You aren't obligated to agree & I am sure you know some of that process from going thru the motions with Fiver (after 3, you end up with an IEP, even if it is just for speech).
    I think it's just the hardest thing: well-meaning people want to help your child but if they don't take the time to account for the variety of parents' opinions & philosophies, they end up offending. Until they have done their portion of the eval, nothing is set...so follow along the steps & trust yourself...if something doesn't seem like a good fit for Bun, don't take it. And you can always ask if basic speech therapy is appropriate (as opposed to a classroom). One plug for the group setting- the idea that group interactions benefit development is research-based so there is merit to it...however, you are still the best judge of what Bun is ready for :)

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  12. Wow- I'm so sorry that my comment got so wordy!

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  13. molly, friend of your friend, DKL1:28 PM

    Reading about Bun sounds exactly like our First Born son 8 years ago. I dutifully followed the EI therapists between 2 and 3 and it was a very successful experience at home for First Born. At age 3, we transitioned FB into the preschool as they suggested and were very quickly disappointed and alarmed. The preschool classroom they put him in didn't even have a trained speech therapist in it! What a joke!

    It became clear to us that the mission of the county preschool was to keep tabs on the development (and diagnose disorders if they could) and head off problems prior to kindergarten. They were RIGID on the developmental milestones they wanted FB to hit -- and if he was 3months behind their schedule of development, they wanted to test for disorders. Nice.

    Needless to say, we yanked FB out of their classroom (and into private therapy) when they notified us that they were going to test FB for disorders - without our consent - because they were "mandatory state reporters". (BTW, he doesn't have a disorder and we always knew that) Know that YOU know Bun best, and can ALWAYS take him out of the classroom, if you do decide to put him in and it's not quite right!

    You are a beautiful mother, Aimee!

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  14. You know what is best for your family and your kids.
    I am surprised that their philosophy is that at three kids learn better in a school environment and I wonder if it has anything to do with the fact that it costs less to service a group of kids in a classroom than it does to send a one on one therapist to each child's home.
    I didn't send Madeline to preschool until this year when she was 4 1/2, I just didn't see the necessity of sending a three year old to school. but every family is different.
    You shouldn't feel like you need to defend your choices.

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  15. So...if you don't send him to the IU, you can either choose private therapy or nothing, right? It's not like they're going to turn you in for not taking care of your child. And you've been through private therapy so it's a known quantity. You'll make the best choice for YOUR family.

    I'm right there with you on the preschool thing. In fact, Little Brother hardly went to preschool at all--and he is my "most social" kid. I got dire warnings from Middle Sister's kindergarten teacher on what happens when non-preschooled children hit kindergarten. He was fine.

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