Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Brains In Your Head

“You have brains in your head, you have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.” - Dr. Seuss

Emotions are running high for this 8+ month pregnant momma. Between hormones and serious lack of sleep, I can become a puddle at the drop of a hat. Add in the reality that Ella is just months away from being a kindergartner and you have the recipe for an all out meltdown. I have long been emotional about this day. Kindergarten marks the start of an exciting new chapter. It also means my baby is growing up! Ella will be 5 in June...where has the time gone?! Even more incredible is the accomplishments she has made and the attitudes and perceptions she has changed just by being Ella. I couldn't be prouder and I know her future is bright.

For most parents, enrolling in kindergarten requires some paperwork around this time of year. Ella is a special ed student, so her enrollment is a bit more complicated. Just after she was born we were thrown into the world of Early Intervention and all the therapies, regulations and paperwork that comes with that. It was difficult to navigate at first, but we were fortunate to have some wonderful (and very well educated and informed) mentors. (Here is a blog post from a few years ago about some of these very special women who were a huge part of Ella's life.)

Now we find ourselves in another world, navigating the waters of the school system. Special education is not a "class" or "place" but rather describes a wide range of support and services. This week Jason and I met with our special ed chair person in our local school district to start the transition process. Over the next few months, we will be identifying goals, services, what types of modifications in learning Ella might require and most importantly what type of environment Ella will be learning in.

Right now, she is in an integrated preschool setting. That means her classroom is a makeup of special ed students and typically developing kids. She has a special ed teacher in the classroom for the entire day as well as a child care teacher and an assistant. She gets all of her services at the school...so some days she goes with the PT for 30 minutes, other days she has a small group session with the speech therapist. Most of her time is spent being just a regular 4 year old at preschool. The beauty of her innocence at this age is that she has no idea that she is different or has an IEP (individualized education plan). Our goal is to continue this integrated setting throughout her school years and maintain her positive attitude.

Our first meeting with the district was filled with a lot of anticipation. What should we expect? Will this be the start of a long fight? Will our local educators believe in Ella as much as we do? Our nerves were calmed pretty quickly. The district chairman is very positive and truly wants the best for every student. He never hesitates at a request for service and the word "CAN'T" does not generally exist in his world. We were equally impressed by the schools Special education teacher and the program she is running. She wants every child integrated and it seems she has made this her mission. We feel comfortable with her transition and have nothing but the highest expectations.

I know this is just the beginning. We will have bumps along the way, we will run in to challenges. Any parent of a student in special ed can probably relate. I hope that maybe our experience and my writing can help others understand. I know I can never erase stigmas, but if I (or Ella) can change one negative perception, we have accomplished a great deal for the next child/family to deal with some of these challenges.

I finish this blog on a happy note in Ella's new favorite things. She is talking a lot about Dr. Seuss in school these days (to mark the author's 110th birthday). She got to pick out a bunch of classic Seuss books at Target and has been obsessed with them. "The Cat In The Hat" is her favorite right now...she even sleeps with her books! She has a huge appetite to learn. It is so much fun to spend time reading these books over and over. She is learning the words and even correcting me some times. I love it...I love her...just another moment that makes me tear up! 
Sweet dreams about Dr. Seuss!