April 22, 2009

Hannah's Early Education

Warning: I'm too sleepy to check for errors. Forgive me for whatever lapses there are in the text! I'll fix them one day real soon. Maybe.

I've been prompted to write a little bit about Hannah's early years by Brandie at Living for the Love, along with several local (and not so local) friends who are transitioning into preschool or Kindergarten.

We lived in Charlotte, NC when Hannah was little. When she was about 2 months old (and finally home from the hospital) we started to look into Early Intervention. I had done some reading about it, and already had an idea about what I thought EI should look like, and how it could/should be implemented.

We started off interviewing with the local county services. We learned that there was no center-based Early Intervention--no colorful classroom filled with therapeutic toys and therapists--no Parent/Child groups to teach parents methods to assist their child with development. What the county offered, with a long wait list, was 30 minutes of an Assistant Physical Therapist, coming to our home. They also offered an "Educator" who would come and "play" with Hannah. And they would bill our insurance company for providing these "services"--and we'd have to pay our regular co-pays.

So, we looked into private therapy. We figured that for the same co-pay, we could choose who would help Hannah--not who was "assigned" to her. We were fortunate to have a very well trained (Neurodevelopmental certified) therapy clinic in town. Hannah started PT with the owner of this group (for those of you in Charlotte, this is, of course, Child and Family Development). When Hannah turned 1, we added Occupational therapy and Speech therapy. (Can you believe that a decade ago, our very first Speech therapist already knew about Oral Motor therapy? I didn't realize how unusual this was at that time.)

She stayed in these therapies until she was 3+. We were feeling the financial strain of paying for 3-5 therapies a week...and I was getting tired making the drive. We looked forward to the school system taking over some of the therapy load.

My older children attended a very groovy, creative private preschool for ages 3-4. (see photo above, age 4, enjoying the shaving cream table at our beloved Open Door School) I wanted Hannah to have the same experience. She needed time to be a regular kid. I had NO intention of putting her in a self-contained classroom. I was not so closed-minded to shut out the possibility that Hannah might benefit from some exposure to such a classroom, but the school system refused to let me see the classroom in action. If I can't see where my child is going, I'm not going to agree to it. It's a stupid rule to not allow parents to observe the prospective classroom, and while the idea behind it is to protect the confidentiality of the students, a simple signature on a waiver form ought to be able to do the same thing. There is no way I am ever going to allow a vulnerable child of mine to go into an unknown setting.

Our first IEP meeting was interesting. It was apparent that the Preschool Special Education teacher assumed that we would follow the standard protocol of letting the "experts" do their thing. All of Hannah's goals were written as if she would be in a classroom setting (and of course, the setting is the LAST thing determined on an IEP). I let them do their thing, but when we got to determining placement, I said that their setting was too restrictive. They did not have an inclusive preschool class for Hannah, and Hannah's regular educational setting was my home, with typically developing siblings. I knew that the school system provided itinerant services to children who attend daycare. Teachers and therapists were even sent to in-home daycares. But the School System refused to provide itinerant services to our home. So, if Hannah was in "daycare" at my next door neighbor's house, she'd get services there, but since she was in "daycare" at my own house, she could not. Don't you love "policy"??

After much hassle, and several more IEP meetings, they relented and Hannah was the first student in the system to receive in-home services (not the same as Home Bound services). Here's the key to this--if anyone wants to push the buttons: For the Preschool setting, there is NO hierarchy of placement settings. Home happens to fall further down the list of placement options, but it is not more or less restrictive than other settings. For elementary grades, home is considered to be much more restrictive than even a self-contained classroom. Every preschool child should get services provided in their Regular Educational Environment. (That's my version of a "yelling" font. One day I'm going to invent it, along with the "sarcasm" font I so desperately need.)

Hannah received 2x 45 minutes with the Special Ed teacher, 45 minutes of OT, 45 minutes of PT and 60 minutes of Speech. There were 6 weeks left in the school year. We ironed out that, in the fall, services would remain the same. They wanted to come into Hannah's private preschool, but I wanted that time to be Hannah's "regular kid" time--where nobody was bugging her about using a pincer grasp with her crayons, or trying to get her to produce 3-word phrases. So Hannah attended her preschool two days a week, and spent the remaining three days shuttling between therapists.

It didn't take us long to figure out that this was WAY TO MUCH therapy for Hannah. She was getting oppositional with most of her therapists (read: all of her school therapists, none of her private ones). By the end of the school year we withdrew her from the public school system.

At age four, Hannah received OT and ST privately, and attended her preschool three days a week.

At age five, Hannah started formal homeschooling (if you could call it that!). We have always had a very relaxed approach to homeschooling. Hannah was an early sight reader (Love and Learning to start, then growing beyond that). I really couldn't tell you exactly what we did in terms of curriculum, but mostly we played games, read books, counted things, and explored the world.

As fas as IEPs go, I found that I was invigorated by the challenge of standing up to a powerful system, advocating for my daughter, getting what I thought I wanted. I know IEP meetings can be stressful and quite difficult for parents who are new to the system. Over the years I've probably been to at least 30 IEP meetings with different families. It is something I enjoy. Many IEPs are uneventful. But I don't mind a little conflict if it happens to occur. It doesn't bother me not signing an IEP. I don't mind going to Due Process. Even if we don't get everything we want, it's always good to have done our best for the child.


Beverly said...

Hannah is so lucky to have you!

Crittle said...

Thannnnk you! Thank you, thank you, thank you!

This was a great read for me, especially the "not being afraid to leave it unsigned" part. I just did that and now I have no idea what to do next.

I'm planning to write about our most recent IFSP experience, but I honestly am not looking forward to dragging those feelings back up. Off to procrastinate...

Lori said...

She certainly paved the way for so many others! I was told that when we ended Birth to Three that therapists would come into my home but "wouldn't like it." We opted for private from that point forward, but like you I am always fighting for parents to get what their child needs in their IEPs. It is great that you have shared this, it will be so helpful for others trying to figure out what to do and how to go about doing it!

Cheryl said...

Thank you for sharing this!!! I am taking Ruby to private therapy and plan on homeschooling her like I have done with my other children.What you have done with Hannah for school sounds like how I homeschool my children.I bought Teach Your Baby to Read which I think is similar to Love and Learning.You mentioned Talk Tools on my blog.Do you own any of the dvd's and if you do which do you think are the best to purchase?I noticed in one of your posts before you mentioned taking some classes.Thanks!

Heidi said...

I'm glad you found my blog and that I in turn found yours. It's so nice to hear your story - especially the challenges you faced and over came in the beginning years with Hannah.

I live in Calgary, Alberta (Canada) and am so fortunate to be able to attend a program called PREP with Joel. We go once a week to an early learning class where Joel interacts with 5 other children his age. They sing songs, do a craft, have snack time and then gym time. We are given the opportunity to meet privately with an Occupational and Speech Therapist on site. I love it! When Joel turns 3 he will go to PREP 3 days a week and is encouraged to go to a community preschool the other 2 days of the week (which might be a bit much for him!).

Thanks for referring me to the pioneer woman's blog - I will check it out!