Monday, March 12, 2012

change {the school}

I want to start this by saying THANK YOU to three special CI mommas, my sister-in-law (who is also a TOD), and a pretty awesome AVT who truly helped me through this difficult decision. Your support, advice, and guidance meant the world!

I could go into many details, but bottom line,

...not everything you are told or learn or see is the right thing for your child. Everyone has a different hearing journey and this was not the first time I've had to remind myself, this is Aiden's journey. We tried. We wanted it to work (because it was supposed to). But it wasn't, and the time for change was now.

The oral preschool Aiden attended is a good school for many kids, but it wasn't the right fit for Aiden. He left at 8am and didn't get home until 4pm. By the time he got home, he was worn out; him and I had no time to work together due to me starting my part time jobs right about the same time - taxi driver (aka soccer mom), tutor, cook, among many others.

So even though we were told time and time again, that an auditory oral environment with teachers of the deaf teaching the class would lead Aiden to be mainstreamed by kindergarten, we pulled him.

because it's definitely not the only option of reaching our goals for him.

My advice:

OBSERVE. Just because they say it's the right placement and what your child needs, doesn't mean they'll thrive. I observed MANY times through a two-way mirror, and it was there that I sat and cried as I watched my lil' darling barely talk, not interact much, not do much at all except attend. It hurt my gut.

RESEARCH ALL OPTIONS. In the meantime, I visited (and observed) many preschool classes trying to find the best fit for Aiden. I knew he needed more of a free-choice/centers, get up and move type environment in order to build his social and expressive language. He is a sensory seeker and it takes a lot of input (physical movement) to get output. But he also needed an environment that was at least somewhat acoustically appropriate to start with. He needed a place where I could tell they were ready to embrace his hearing loss and learn all about it, about him (believe me, you can tell who wants to take on the task and who doesn't). Options are a good thing. I didn't rule anything out. Oh, and be OPEN MINDED. Just because they've never taught a child with a CI doesn't mean they can't.

COMMUNICATE. I voiced my concerns with his then teacher and SLP. But the best thing I did was make an appointment with our district's special education DIRECTOR. Not the intervention specialist, not the psychologist we typically dealt with, the director. We had an hour plus conversation about Aiden, his needs, and what his least restrictive environment (LRE) looked like. We agreed he was not currently placed in his LRE and what my options were to fix this. We talked about how we could prepare him NOW to be ready for kindergarten in their district with very little needs outside of an FM. We defined what it would take to make him successful now, not later. I asked her if she'd help me get the district to pay for this LRE (if it so happened to be a (private pay) mainstream preschool).  She said absolutely, then asked if I would come work for her (and later followed up with an email asking if I would help them become a district who didn't have to send their kids with hearing loss out).

I have to say, this meeting was huge. We connected. We chatted. We talked about Aiden's future. TOGETHER. No politics, no IEP in our face, no my side/your side. Just two people with a similar interest. After this meeting, I gained a whole new respect for our school district's special education program. I learned they don't have to be the enemy, they can indeed (and should always be) an integral part of the team. Sometimes it means taking that first step/effort to make it happen.

In the end, we didn't move him to one of these "private pay preschools" that we considered his LRE. No, we broke another rule we learned early on and moved him to our district's special education preschool. Yep. I said it. The special education preschool. I didn't want to speak it aloud, as the just "sound of it" seemed like a huge step back. Yet it's not. It is honestly above and beyond; a place that will meet and exceed his current needs. It's not the same one I toured last year (and I was very open and honest with the director about why I would never put my child in that particular preschool), but a different one that I promised the director I would tour along with other preschools. There were a couple private pay preschools that I would've loved to send Aiden to, IF there weren't 20 kids in the class. Too many too soon. This placement is a perfect transition from 4 in a class to over 16 in a class. Maybe next year.

and here's why we chose his new school:
  • Ten kids total with one master teacher and two aides. 
  • GREAT language models - Aiden does not have the best language nor the worst - right where I  want him in any educational setting. I can't tell which kids are on an IEP and which are the typical peers (right now there are four typical peers in his class, next year there will be 8). 
  • Aiden is not the only boy in the class anymore (he was the only boy in his old class with three girls) - he now has 6 boys to play with. Not that playing with girls is bad, believe me, I encourage it, but girls can take over - I am one and I have one. {smile}. 
  • Two and a half hours a day, five days a week (and 5 minutes from my house) vs five full days a week (and 30+ minutes from my house) This allows every afternoon to US alone. We play. We have fun. We speak. We laugh. We learn. i love it.
  • 45 minutes of speech a week (which I am having them focus mainly on articulation and pragmatic skills/language). I was going to ask for more, but sought out some advice and decided with such short days, 45 minutes a week of articulation work is enough. If we see him falling behind, we'll make changes.
  • Push-in OT to work on things such as crossing mid-line, cutting, and firming up his fine motor skills.
  • Vocabulary words that are above and beyond that go along with each weekly theme. This past week they read all kinds of pig stories - ask him what the pig's nose is called and he'll tell you "snout". The week before that they were imagination, think, and discover. They always have at least 4 new vocabulary words a week.
  • They have free choice time for a solid 40 minutes. They can build, play at the "vet center" or "grocery center" (this changes every couple weeks too to a new themed center), read books, puzzles, sensory table, etc. And during this time, the teacher and aides are facilitating language. This is huge to work on Aiden's pragmatic skills and it keeps him moving.
  • They create journals (seriously mini-experience books), they learn 3-4 new songs a month (and the words are sent home!), parents are given the book titles they'll be reading and vocabulary they'll be learning - before hand.  
We will see how this goes. So far, he loves it. I love it.

In the first week:
  • He has told me on a couple days two to three things he's done at school! This is HUGE. Whenever I would ask before, he'd just say his teacher's name. 
  • He's talking a lot more and his spontaneous speech/sentence length has me grinning ear to ear. His OT was floored how well he was talking. 
  • He doesn't bat an eye when I drop him off and is excited to go every morning.
I could attribute this to many things, (shorter days, being around such great language models, not as tired, more physical activity to get that input and motors running).

Two other big things that have come out of nowhere this week:

  • he's eating MUCH better (he'd barely eat before and now he's having seconds), and
  • he's sleeping in his own bed - without a fuss - and we almost went a whole week without him waking in the middle of the night. 
Coincidence? Maybe. or maybe he's just that much less stressed with his new daily routine. I know I am.


The Coleman Crew said...

Tammy, you are such a great mother. I went through the same thing with Tristan and his preschool. Although Tristan does not have hearing problems, he does have speech problems (thanks to the pacy). It took me stepping out and doing what I thought was best for my son. That meant pulling him out of a private preschool that was over $900 a month and believed to be one of the best. I put him in private speech therapy at Cook Childrens and he stays home with my mom or his dad and he is doing awesome. His speech pathologist said she can't believe how well he is doing with his verbal skills. His class had over 20 kids and was just too much. For Tristan the best was one on one with us at home. I am glad that I made that decision and I know you are glad you made yours! :)

Kel said...

Tammy, that is just fabulous. I know there is a "stigma" going to a special need preschool, but you know what's best for your kid - and it sounds like this really is THE best! You should be proud, and I'm SO glad you made the move. I can't wait to hear the amazing progress Aiden will make there!

Herding Grasshoppers said...

Way to go, Super-Mom! Good for you for finding what fits best for Aiden. So glad he's excited about going, and making progress already, AND that you get more time with him at home :D


Jennifer said...

I a so happy for you and Aiden. This decision seems like just the right place for him. I could really cry reading this because I can just feel your happiness. It's all about knowing your child. I am struggling right now with what to do with Calleigh. What other think and what I think are not the same.

Christian and Lily's Mommy said...

Yeah! I am so happy it's working out for Aiden!

Melanie said...

"It hurt my gut."

And there you have it.

tammy said...

Jennifer - you will know and you will do. You've done it all these years with Cormac and you will do the same for Calleigh. Don't doubt your mommy gut. I was not at peace with Aiden's old school for quite awhile, and I think he felt my stress too. The right thing is not always what others say should be, the right thing is what you say should be. We know our children better than ANYone!

Melinda said...

Sounds like you made the best move for both you & aiden! Im glad he is doing so well & look forward to hearing about his progress! thankyou for this post too, im going through a few difficult decisions with my lil one right now & now realize that she is diff & her needs compared to another child with hearing loss will be diff also. thankyou :)

dlefler said...

Wow, Tammy - the new preschool sounds FANTASTIC for Aiden! We have to listen to our gut, because we know what is (and is not) working for our kids. I love the fact that he is excited about school and talking about his day - rock on, Aiden!

Laura's medical journey said...

glad hes doing so well at school now i went to a junior school with teacvhers of the deaf and a high school with a deaf base so it was easy to go through it all at school i hope he carries on getting better and better with his speech and lanugage x

Moni said...

Love this post Tammy and I am soooooooooo happy you find the right place for Aiden, we are having exactly the same problems with Andrea it's so difficult to find teachers who care about their job here... vocabulary activity journal, songs that's fantastic.. we've been told that at 3 the only thing kids can do at school is colouring !really would like to find a school like this here that's exactly how things should go. Can I share this post on my facebook profile? Monica

tammy said...

@monica - absolutely. ; )