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.