Back to school time is filled with anticipation–having a great Village can ease new school year worries.
Last school year when Kyle was in 4-year-old kindergarten, our decision about whether or not to send him to full day 5-year-old kindergarten this year was down to the wire. I wrote about the decision process in Paradigm Shifts & Answered Prayers.
In the end–with help from Kyle’s special education teacher–we decided that he would start 5yo kindergarten in the fall. And now here we are, embarking on an exciting new school year.
Education and Down syndrome
In past history (once they gained the privilege to attend school), children with Down syndrome were placed in self-contained special education classrooms. That can work for some children.
For kids like Kyle who have scattered skills (some skills are at the level of his classmates, yet some are delayed), the best place for them is integrated in the classroom with their age-level peers. This environment is best for children to observe appropriate social behaviors and skills. The benefits extend to his classmates who learn tolerance, respect, and friendship with people who have differences.
Kyle’s School Day
The bus picks Kyle up at our house at the same time as his older brother who attends the same school, although Kyle takes a different bus. I requested the “special ed” bus for Kyle because the drivers have more specialized training with kids who have additional needs. Kyle gets overwhelmed with loud noises, so his big brother’s bus would be too stimulating.
When Kyle arrives at school, his teachers are there waiting for all of the kindergarten students. Part of Kyle’s IEP (Individualized Education Plan) is that he has an adult with him for most of the day. They step back from him at times so he can develop more independence, but he is always followed by someone, most often a para-educator (aide).
When I attended Kyle’s IEP meeting last year, the one thing that floored me about elementary school is how much coordination is involved for kids in special education. In 4-year-old kindergarten, the special education teacher was in Kyle’s classroom for the entire day, serving all of the special education students within that one room.
Special Education in Primary School
This year, the special education students are distributed to all the different kindergartens. Each special education teacher follows about seven students. That’s where the coordination comes in.
The regular education teacher meets regularly with the special education teacher to discuss curriculum. Then the special education teacher meets with the para-educators to discuss the plans for their individual students. If Kyle needs modifications to a lesson, the para-educator helps implement the modifications suggested by the special education teacher.
The end result of all of this planning is that Kyle spends his day integrated into a regular ed classroom. He participates in activities and lessons when he can, and if he isn’t at the level of his classmates yet, he will do a modified activity with his para-educator in the same space as his classmates where he can still observe and learn from them.
Instruction Aided by Therapy
The additional members of our Village are Kyle’s therapists at school. Throughout the day, he will be visited in class by a physical therapist (PT), occupational therapist (OT), and speech language pathologist (SLP).
The PT might help with modified activities in physical education, or work with Kyle on his delayed skills (such as running and jumping, neither of which he does yet). The OT is there to help Kyle with fine motor skills like cutting and writing. His classmates might all be starting school writing their names, but Kyle needs some extra help with forming the letters. He can write his name, but doesn’t do it consistently.
The SLP has already worked with Kyle a few times before the school year started. We are very lucky to have an SLP in our school who is enthusiastic about integrating Kyle’s speech device into the program. We met during the past few weeks to set up pages with the places around school, teachers and friends names, and classes.
Kyle’s speech skills are developing nicely, but he gets very frustrated when we don’t know what he wants. When we direct him to use his “talker” the frustration on both sides is significantly lessened. He knows how to tell us what he wants, and he learns the words to accompany his requests.
The part of Kyle’s day I am most nervous about is lunch. Since this is his first time going to full day school, it is the first time he will be eating lunch away from home and mom. Kyle is a picky eater, and sometimes it is hard to figure out if something is bothering him that keeps him from wanting to eat. Often it is just that he wants to play on the ipad while he eats, which will not be an option at school.
I voiced some concerns to my Village when I brought Kyle in for one of his get-to-know-you sessions before school started. Another of the Village members, the special education coordinator for the school, told me that we can keep a few boxes of snacks Kyle likes in the classroom. If he refuses to eat lunch, they will find a way to work the snacks in so he will have something to eat.
Because Kyle doesn’t yet drink out of open cups, we provided a box of straws for him to use with his milk carton. The para-educator will help him through the lunch line, then step back so he can gain independence eating with his classmates in the cafeteria. Most importantly, the special education coordinator assured me that they have basically seen it all, and are prepared for anything Kyle might do.
That positive attitude of acceptance for Kyle also eased some of my worries surrounding his potty training (or lack thereof). A week or two ago when things at home began to calm down after the end of swimming lessons and school registration, I had a sinking feeling that I had failed at potty training. In the beginning of the summer, I had a lot of grand plans about getting Kyle completely potty trained before school started.
Fast forward to the end of summer vacation, and I did exactly nothing in the way of potty training. When I talked to Kyle’s school about my anxiety, everyone assured me they are equipped to handle anything, even changing a 5-year-old’s dirty diapers.
They showed me the facilities, which are set up for children of all abilities. Best of all, Kyle’s classroom is connected to a preschool bathroom, so when he starts showing more readiness, his para-educator will easily be able to take him to the bathroom all throughout the day.
And thus, as Kyle begins his new school year, we have every confidence in his Village. Kyle is ready for kindergarten, and now, so am I.