Not The Words I Wanted To Hear

Cordy has been in a full-day, special-needs pre-K class (wow, that’s a mouthful!) for nearly an entire school year now. With only two full months to go before the end of the year, thoughts of kindergarten have been looming ahead of us. After winter break, the teacher started sending homework home with Cordy as an attempt to get her used to the kindergarten routine. I had no idea that kindergarten now has homework – whatever happened to practicing your letters and making crafts for your parents?

Cordy has been doing pretty well with her homework, and her teacher has praised how quickly she learns new subjects. So when it was time to attend Cordy’s transition meeting – to re-evaluate her needs and determine what services she’ll need for next year – my greatest worry was that she’d fool them all and not qualify for any services.

The meeting took place last week, and involved Aaron and I plus Cordy’s teacher, her OT, PT, and speech therapists, the school psychologist, and the special education coordinator. We all sat around a large table with papers scattered all over it. Each member of the team had performed a re-evaluation of Cordy’s skills, and we got the results in the meeting.

In terms of occupational therapy (fine motor skills), Cordy can do nearly everything. She has good fine motor control but still needs help regarding things that require strength or focus. They recommended she continue OT only to help with some adaptive skills that she lacks the focus to complete.

For gross motor skills, Cordy is doing well. She suffers from low muscle tone and therefore lacks the strength to do some things other kids her age can do, and she’s more than a little clumsy. She’ll also continue to receive physical therapy for next year.

Her speech therapist said she’s making tremendous progress in speech, with a lot of her scripting gone or so well refined that it’s hard to distinguish if she’s using a script or is answering a question on-the-fly. She has a large vocabulary, too. At this point, based on testing Cordy no longer needs to receive speech therapy. Hooray for graduating from one therapy!

Then Cordy’s teacher gave us her report on Cordy. She pointed out the academically Cordy is more than ready for kindergarten. She understands math concepts that are advanced for her age, and she’s at kindergarten-level ability for reading.

But socially, things aren’t so clear-cut. Her teacher is concerned that Cordy will not be able to handle herself in a mainstream classroom. She has little patience to wait until her needs are met, she doesn’t react well to changes in routine, and she would likely feel overwhelmed in a classroom with 20+ kids. She’s also a perfectionist who will shut down if she can’t do something perfectly on the first try. You also need to know just how far to push her when she does shut down – a little bit will be effective, but push too hard and you end up with a meltdown. A kindergarten teacher would not have the ability or the time to give her the one-on-one time and encouragement she needs.

Her teacher then recommended that Cordy not be placed in a mainstream kindergarten classroom next year, but instead in a special-needs classroom with the ability to spend a little time in a mainstream classroom each day. She said it would allow Cordy to have a one-on-one aide with her in that case, and the amount of time she spends in the mainstream classroom could be increased based on how well Cordy performs.

It was also at this point when the school psychologist chimed in to give us her assessment of Cordy. She referred to several tests that showed that cognitively, Cordy is gifted in many areas. Her ability to work with and understand non-verbal concepts is practically hovering on genius. But she lags behind on social-emotional concepts. The psychologist summarized that Cordy fits perfectly in the category of a child on the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum, possibly Asperger’s. She believes that with a gradual introduction to mainstream classrooms, Cordy will learn how to handle herself in the classroom and be a success.

I have to admit: I was heartbroken at the news.

Cordelia has made incredible progress since starting special-needs preschool and even in the past year she’s surprised me with her new levels of focus and understanding of the world around her. I started this journey through therapy with the hope and belief that Cordy would figure it all out and start kindergarten in a class of “typical” children. I even was prepared for the possibility she would continue therapy by being pulled out of class for her therapies as needed. But never, never did I consider that she might start kindergarten in a special-needs classroom, only occasionally visiting the mainstream class to get a taste at a “typical” education.

I’m sure I sound bitter, and I am a little. Actually, it’s less bitter and more scared. Having her remain in a MRDD classroom worries me. Will she be able to live up to her full academic potential if she’s not getting the entire curriculum of a typical class? And if she doesn’t get the full curriculum, how will she ever be able to transition into a mainstream class without that foundation to build on? Will we ever get to hear that she’s ready for a mainstream class? In her current classroom, she’s one of the highest functioning kids in the class and a lot of what they do is simple for her – will she really be challenged in a similar situation next year?

Beyond all of this worry is a feeling of failure on my part, too. Kindergarten was my line in the sand – I expected the official start of her formal education to follow that of her peers, with perhaps a little more support around her if needed. The what-if’s drive me batty – what if I had spent more time practicing social skills with her at home? What if Ohio’s health insurance system didn’t suck so much and deny her any coverage for necessary therapies, and what if we had worked harder and sacrificed more to pay for those therapies out of pocket?

No actual decision has been made at this point. As it stands, the team’s recommendations are only that: recommendations. As her parents, we have the right to ignore them and enroll her in a mainstream classroom. We know her abilities and we know what she’s capable of in many situations. But at the same time, these are the professionals who deal with this all the time. They see her at school each day, they know her well in that environment. Which of us really knows best as to what is right for Cordy?

I know that Cordelia is a smart little girl who tries very hard, has a good heart, and is out-of-sync with the workings of our world. Where that puts her in our education system, though, is a mystery to me. At the beginning of her formal education, this fork in the road looks awfully wide to me, and I can’t see the twists and turns each path could take to make the right choice. I’m willing to do anything for her to ensure she gets exactly what she needs to continue developing into the brilliant and cheery woman I know she can become, but at this point I don’t feel certain on which course of action to take.

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  1. Oh sweets! That had to be a heartbreak for you. It is impossible as a parent not to wonder what we could have done differently. We all do that to ourselves.

    I don’t have any advice to offer as the best path, but I do have a kid with ADHD and have been part of many of those meetings. If you trust your team, I say follow their advice. You could always ask for a reevaluation mid-year, right?

    Clearly, you are acting as the best advocate you can be for Cordy.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Hang in there. I’m a preschool SLP and a loyal reader of your blog for a couple of years. Cordie has amazing strengths! Not the least of which is a knowledgable mom who is her best advocate – don’t second guess yourself or your decisions. Working more on social skills a little here or there, spending more $$ during a really tight time, that’s just unnescessary mom guilt. Remember hindsight is always 20/20 and although you’re grieving that she isn’t done by your timetable, you’re human and wonderful!!

  3. "Baca-Sarah" says:

    I know it’s hard, but think of all the positives – I believe the word “genius” popped up in there?
    I’ve got a book (not well-written, but informative and reassuring) that you may want to read (if you haven’t already). I don’t remember the name of it right now, it’s on the bookshelf at home – if we visit C-Bus the day before Easter, maybe we could arrange a drop-off.

  4. Kids that age have an amazing ability to catch up. Evan started his Kindergarten year very behind his peers and he has done amazing! I was worried about the amount of time he is out of the classroom with therapy and the time he spends with the roaming special ed teacher but he is doing quite well and keeping up. You could consider trying to get her a one on one para that would be with her in the main classroom, that is what we had done with Evan to help him keep on track plus for safety reasons since he needs a lot of extra physical help.

  5. Hi. I think your concerns are valid. Is there a possibility for Cordy to be in a mainstream class with a full-time aide. That’s how my daughter’s school (in Ohio) does it.

    If it were me, I’d want to know what other kids are like in the MRDD class and is Cordelia going to be challenged enough there?

    I am of the opinion that she would do much better and learn the expectations much faster in the mainstream class all-day with one-on-one aide.

    Food for thought and something to discuss with the team.

  6. One more thing: keep in mind that the law states that Cordelia must be in the Least Restrictive Environment. Advocate hard for what you want. A girl as bright as Cordy should not, IMO, be in a special needs class.

    (Sorry, I barely know you and I sound really opinionated here – but your Cordy sounds a lot like my Charlotte and I would have been really upset had they reco’d that for her. As it stands she has thrived in Kindergarten!)

  7. Hearing your heart, it seems like it would be so wonderful to have Cordy start in a mainstream class, and if it proves to be more than she can handle, re-evaluate later. It seems that if you found a Kindergarten teacher who had been teaching for a long time, they would probably work closely with you. My daughter is in K this year and her teacher is very experienced. There is a little boy with a variety of challenges in the class. Mrs. M. identified that my daughter is very patient and compassionate, and so she sits next to this little boy. She would never make fun of him or poke at him–so it works well. Seems like you could find a good teacher to make it work for Cordy!

  8. Goodfountain (And Awesome Mom) – I asked about getting a one-on-one aide in a mainstream classroom, and the team said it wouldn’t be possible. She’d have to be in a special-needs classroom setting to get an aide to come out with her to a mainstream classroom.

    She could possibly have a shared aide in a mainstream classroom, but they’re not sure if that would be possible.

    Gotta hate budget cuts, right?

  9. Christina,
    I feel your heartbreak and I understand that you had Kindergarten as a milestone you’ve been thinking about for a long time, but I would focus your energies on first grade as kindergarden is in such transition in Ohio with going for half day to full day soon. I find that half-day kindergarden is more disruptive than anything with all the electives crammed into such a short window of time. First grade, on the other hand, is more of a settled school experience. That said, I’m sure it would be easier to fight now to have her mainstream for Kindergarden than to have her switch from a special needs K to a mainstream 1st grade. Hang in there. Talk to other parents. You will find the right path for Cordelia to let her gifts shine.

  10. I was going to suggest what another commenter said, which is to have her in typical K with an aide.

    However, Amie said, if your team is good, they’ll have their eye on her and make sure she’s challenged. It could be that by the time a month rolls by, she’s ready to move into typical K more and more. And the best part of that is that she’ll really be acclimated well – perhaps starting off really ahead (even if it’s really just social issues) than perhaps behind.

    My other thought is to look at social skills groups and camps for the summer. But knowing you, you’re probably already on top of that.

    On the bright side, it warms my heart to hear how whip smart she is. Again, not surprising, but always nice to hear. xo.

  11. I don’t have a special needs child, and I can imagine how hard this is for you. But if I were in Cordy’s place, I think I would like to start in the special needs classroom and then move up to the mainstream classroom in the middle of the year, or even next year… instead of starting in the mainstream classroom and moving back.

    Also, how much do you remember of kindergarten? I don’t recall much, except that it was a pleasant experience. Cordy may be like that, too… in a few years, she will remember if it was a pleasant experience or not, not that it was in a special needs classroom or not.

    Lastly, Cordy sounds like me when I was little, though her symptoms are more severe, I think. Like her, I was very smart for my age, but my social skills were not up to par. She will learn to read and do math just fine, with parents like you who are conscientious. She won’t have trouble with the academic stuff, and you are taking steps to help her with the social stuff.

    You are her best advocate, and you know her best. You will make the best decision.

  12. Having been through the hazards of having a child who should have had extra help with socialization but didn’t, I am so happy to hear that she will continue to receive extra help. It is scary that she could fall behind academically in a special needs class, but only time will tell if that will be the case. I know you guys have had financial issues and that you’ve only recently started working again, but never rule out the idea that the school day may not be where she actually learns her academics. Reading and math at home may be what she needs for the first few years while she learns how to socialize at school. Justin’s math had seriously fallen behind at public school and now he’s doing algebra in 5th grade at home.

    I see lots of kids in the homeschooling crowd that are Asperger’s and ADHD and with other similar issues that thrive in the homeschooling or private tutor-type of classrooms. Just another option to consider down the road. Remember that the school road doesn’t have to be just one path! You can change courses at any time!

    Sending you a hug. I know how much that conference must have sucked for you. But it’s amazing at how far Cordy has come!

  13. Jaelithe says:

    I am sorry that you are disappointed, and I can imagine how you must feel that Cordy is getting slapped with that awful set of labels again – Different. Separate. Not capable.

    But, as someone who just tried to put a high-functioning, highly intelligent kid with special needs that aren’t even as serious as Cordy’s in mainstream kindergarten, with high hopes for success, only to wind up with an unsympathetic teacher, a school staff that lacked the knowledge to make even minor accommodations, and totally stressed out and seriously DEPRESSED five-year-old, I believe these teachers and experts are right. They are right. They are doing the right thing. And you are lucky that they are doing the right thing — treating Cordy as a human girl who needs help instead of treating her as an expense the district would like to avoid.

    It’s not CORDY who is the problem. It’s the current public kindergarten system. Frankly, a classroom with 20 or more five and six year olds, a non-age-appropriate curriculum, little time for the unstructured play and rest breaks and physical activity that children this age so desperately need to thrive, and ONE overburdened teacher doesn’t work well for ANY kid, let alone a kid with anxiety, attention, sensory or social issues.

    I know you worry about Cordy being challenged enough in a classroom with kids who might have more serious intellectual challenges than she does. But with a smaller class size, if you find a decent teacher, I hope you might be able to get some individualized lessons for her that accommodate her learning ability. My son was actually really bored by the material in his mainstream kindergarten class, despite being overwhelmed by the environment. And now that he’s in a school for kids with special needs with a smaller class, he’s getting more personalized assignments that are much more intellectually challenging.

    So I guess I’m just saying, this may work out better in the end, and I hope it does.

  14. Hey, I have been thinking of you all day after I read your post this morning! I know that the challenges we have with Emily are far fewer than the challenges you have faced with Cordy, but I have to say that some of the specific concerns with putting her in a mainstream classroom sound so very much like issues we have had with Emily! I obviously have never seen Cordy in a school setting, but on the few occasions we have gotten together and I have seen her play together with Emily, I just can’t imagine her in a special needs kindergarten classroom!

    Have you had the opportunity to observe in one of the special needs kindergarten classes, or is that something you could ask to do? Maybe it would be helpful for your decision-making process if you can see what the options really are, if you haven’t already.

    On the positive side of things, I am so happy to hear that she has made so many great strides and is doing so well! It has to be hard to figure out what environment would be best to keep her heading in that direction without holding her back.

    Oh, and yes, kindergarten now is pretty much what first grade used to be. Letter recognition and crafts are preschool – the primary focus of Emily’s kindergarten class was learning to read, and she did have regular homework (especially things to read to us). It’s all different from when I was in school! 🙂

    Good luck with the decisions you have ahead of you – I know you are doing everything you can to do what’s best for Cordy.

  15. My heart was filled with heartache when I read your post, because I can only imagine how you felt when you heard those words. I wanted to offer some words of encouragement from someone who recently left the education field. I have had many roles in that field, including teacher, teaching assistant, and individual care aide for students with autism. The school wants Cordy to start in a special needs classroom because they feel that’s the best environment for her to begin in that would help her succeed. They don’t want to start her in an environment that, based on what they know about her social intelligence, may overwhelm her. I’m sure if that school were able to offer an individual aide in the regular classroom then that would probably be the route they would have gone, but as you stated, the money probably isn’t there in the budget to do that for every child that could benefit from that. I don’t think that you will have to worry about Cordy being challenged in a special needs classroom as long as her teacher understands that she has an Individualized Education Plan and her education needs to be INDIVIDUALIZED. The good special education teachers understand that special needs doesn’t just mean below average intelligence. Gifted kids have special needs. It just means they need to be prepared to challenge her academically and assist her socially. She has made a lot of progress so far. I’ll bet she’ll finish out the school year in mainstream kindergarten. 🙂

  16. I’m sorry you didn’t get the news you were hoping for. But I can tell from this post, and from your blog, that you care about her so much and are a great advocate. I think it’s wonderful that you are able to spend time with her teachers and try to figure out the best thing for her, even if it’s not what you’d hoped for at this time. I think it’s great that she’s progressed so much that partial integration is an option, it’s better than none, right? I hope that you continue to see huge improvements over the next year. (HUGS)

  17. I’m sorry for what you are going through. I have been in that position and I know it consumes all your thoughts. We all just want the best for our kids. From my experience, I think it’s very smart to work with the professionals, but keep in mind, Mommy knows best. I have found that to be very true in my experience and after looking back the past few years, it has helped make the best decisions. Also, keep in mind, they do catch up, especially around 3-4th grade. There is hope.

  18. Anonymous says:

    You and your family are wonderful. Keep pressing on and you will find the light at the end of the tunnel. My daughter went to a parochial school from preschool through 4th grade. Her ADHD and Bipolar Disorder necessitated that we enroll her in public school beginning with 5th grade. She spent the year in the special education room, with limited exposure to mainstream. As difficult a decision as it was, it really, truly ended up being the very best for her. Academically she shined, because she could move along at her own pace, without the distractions of peers she didn’t know how to relate to. With the academics under control, the school and therapists could concentrate on teaching her the needed social skills. For 6th grade she started with spending half-days segregated and the rest main-streamed. By the end of the year she was all-day mainstreamed with only check-ins with the special education teacher. Now, in 7th grade, she is entirely out of the special education segregated room, and her only services are weekly visits with the social worker.

    Starting out with more attention is never a bad thing. Cordie sounds like a wonderful, unique and gifted child. She will find her way, and she is blessed to have you help her with the journey. Blessings, and best of luck!

  19. I don’t have any advice–just sending love and support your way.

  20. actually, the “special needs” room is not so much what you may think. It just really means smaller class sizes, and probably a teacher’s aid in the room, so that kids get more one on one time. My son is in such a room, and he has recieved much support this year, though I hate going to the education meetings for his “plan” hello he is in kindergarden, it irritates me that it is not the fun time is ued to be and more like 1st grade. I think the schools put too much stress on 5 year olds and don’t give them enough exercise and free play but what can we do, schools are test score driven and have to adhere to the “no child left behind”
    Don’t stress over the special needs label, she will gradually get to a “regualr” class but having the extra supports in a special needs room may help. My Eli’s teachers are afraid he will not thrive in a room witt 20 kids and one teacher so his teacher is working on hand picking his 1st grade room. It is nice that they show intrest and don’t let them get lost.

  21. I don’t think I have anything useful to add, only to say that if you trust one of those on her team more than the others, get that person’s gut reaction on his/her own.

  22. jerseygirl89 says:

    I wish the classroom news had been different, but it’s amazing that Cordy has made so much progress and is so gifted. As an ex-public school teacher, I think you should visit the self-contained classroom as well as the mainstream classroom and then make your decision. I think in a lot of these situations it comes down to the teacher. At my old school, all students were mainstreamed and then pulled out for therapies and whatnot. I had blind students, autistic students, you name it. I was committed to making it work, so it did. I had students phase out of special education altogether – nothing is set in stone. That said, your team knows what goes on in their district, so they more about what Cordy’s experience will be like than I do. As far as falling behind, again it comes down to the special education teachers. As long as they are used to accommodating kids on all levels, they will be prepared to push Cordy as far as she can go – with the more individualized attention, she may wind up ahead of her peers.

  23. Cordy sounds a lot like DuckyBoy, only they didn’t know as much of his intellectual strengths going into K. It’s really to make those decisions, for us we knew he would not succeed in a regular classroom.

    Can you ask around at different schools to find out what their special-needs K curriculum consists of? It’s possible there is at least one that tries to keep up with the standard curriculum. Especially if there is a school that’s heard of kids with Aspergers-type ASD.

    Also, having an aide might make a big difference in Cordy’s success in the mainstream classroom — they’re just hedging their bets by keeping her in the special-ed — but she entirely might succeed with the right person dedicated to her during the days