Braxton has been enrolled in Early Childhood Intervention (ECI) services since he was discharged from NICU. ECI has helped us to coordinate therapy and necessary interventions for Braxton. Unfortunately, ECI only works with children until the age of 3. Once a child turns 3, their local school district takes over and serves children through their Preschool Program for Children with Disabilities (PPCD) program. I had no idea a 3 year old could be enrolled in public school!
As you can imagine, this new chapter in our journey has left us with a lot of learning to do and many questions. For the first time in a couple years, I don’t know what to expect. It’s actually a little frightening. But, as usual, we are learning and adapting and Braxton is showing us the way. The transition in to school is different for every person, for every district, for every school. Here is just a little bit about our journey so far.
Braxton and Dad at our Transition Meeting
Back in March with met with the Special Education coordinator for our district and our ECI case manager for our “Transition Meeting.” The Transition meeting is usually scheduled about 3-4 months before your child’s 3rd birthday. At this meeting, we were able to discuss the process of transitioning from ECI into the PPCD system. The coordinator explained the processes for the district and explained all of the different Special Education programs our district offers. There are programs for children who only need a help with Speech, programs for Deaf/Hard of hearing children, programs for children with multiple disabilities, and a few others. She wasn’t able to really tell us what placement Braxton would have until he had his initial evaluation. We were able to ask questions about the process and find out a little bit more about our next steps. A lot of our questions could not fully be answered until after Braxton’s evaluations. The transition meeting was only to describe the process. They also sent me home with packets to fill out about Braxton’s skills and needs to bring to our parent interview.
Parent Interview & Child Observation
At the end of April, we went back to the Special Education Office in our District for Braxton’s evaluations. Evaluations must take place within 30-days of the transition meeting. The evaluation can look different for everyone, but it is usually a series of play based assessments and parent interviews. Evaluators will “test” your child by playing with them and engaging them in activities to see where their skills are in each area. They will also speak with parents to get a better understanding of the child’s skills and needs. For our evaluation, the team asked me to be the play facilitator.
Our team included the Special Education Coordinator, Licensed School Psychologist, Physical Therapist, Occupational Therapist, Speech Therapist, Assistive Technology Specialist, Auditory Impairment Specialist, Visual Impairment Specialist, and Orientation & Mobility Specialist. I played with Braxton while each member of our team watched and took notes about how Braxton played, what skills he had, how he interacted with me, how he reacted to the new environment and new toys.
For us, the entire session was videotaped so the evaluators could go back and watch for things they might have missed. As Braxton and I played, the team asked questions about Braxton’s medical history, current therapy programs and goals, and upcoming medical visits. They asked to show them certain tasks to see if Braxton could complete them. Things like manipulating a pop-up toy; pushing a button, flipping a switch, turning a knob, sliding a button to make a toy pop up and pushing it down to do it all over again. These tasks show Braxton’s fine motor skills and are important in an educational setting. We did things to show Braxton’s gross motor skills by having him crawl and walk and move around the room. I set up Braxton’s iPad to show them how he is able to use it to make choices. Braxton, much like any child being asked to do things, decided not to cooperate for some tasks. For instance, he refused to show them he could walk on his own. He didn’t even want to walk holding our hand. Thankfully, I had videos on my phone of him doing these things and was able to show them to the evaluators. For children who do not do well in unfamiliar environments (and those who are stubborn 2-yr olds!), video evidence is excellent in helping the team see all of the things your child can do. It helps with the planning and setting of goals. The team then convened to meet and discuss their preliminary thoughts about placement, support, and additional information they needed privately. They came back to discuss some of their observations, concerns and additional questions. A few of the evaluators requested that we come back for a secondary evaluation so that they could test a few specific things they did not see in our play based assessment. I was also given a few assessments to take home that delved further in to Braxton’s social and emotional state for evaluation.
The Visual Impairment Specialist, Orientation & Mobility Specialist, and Occupational Therapist each asked for us to return for a secondary evaluation. Two weeks later, we returned at their request. The Vision Teacher wanted to see more of Braxton’s visual tracking abilities and what his functional vision looked like. Sitting in a classroom, Braxton would need visual support due to his eye abnormality and the Vision Specialist wanted to get a better idea of exactly what he would need. The O&M specialist wanted to see if there were any concerns about moving in different environments and safety issues due to his vision impairment. Sometimes kids with visual impairments have O&M issues such as stopping when tile meets carpet thinking the two surfaces are uneven, phantom steps when climbing stairs, and difficulty stabilizing gait on uneven surfaces (such as rock playground, backyard, etc). The Occupational Therapist wanted to see more of Braxton’s fine motor skills like his ability to turn pages in a book, use of a pincer grasp, use of selective pointing, and other skills we have been working on. This evaluation was much shorter and everyone got what they needed.
Admission, Review and Dismissal (ARD) Meeting
So, the rest of the country calls this an Individualized Education Program (IEP) Meeting, but Texas calls it an Admission, Review and Dismissal (ARD) Meeting. They do this because at this meeting, you are either admitting a student, reviewing a service plan, or dismissing a student from services. The ARD must be scheduled before the child’s 3rd birthday. Since Braxton’s birthday is in the summer, his entire process had to start a little bit early so that it would all be completed before the end of the school year. For students with birthdays in the middle of the year, they can actually start the day after their 3rd birthday, so right in the middle of the school year!
For Braxton’s ARD, only part of the evaluation team was present. We had the Licensed School Psychologist/Early Childhood Specialist, Speech Therapist, Vision Impairment Specialist, Auditory Impairment Specialist, Orientation & Mobility Specialist, and our ECI coordinator. ECI is usually present to make sure the transition is completed and so they can close out the file with ECI. Each team member presented the results of their evaluations and gave their recommendations. I had a chance to ask questions about the reports and the recommendations being made. We discussed the therapies being recommended, how they would be implemented and the frequency with which they would be offered. We also discussed Braxton’s official placement in a class and school. Finally, we went over the goals each team member had in mind.
Overall, the meeting went well. I had a few questions about the report which was provided to me the day before the meeting. Last night, I went through the report with a highlighter and wrote down several questions about the recommendations, goals, and my concerns. The team listened carefully to my concerns and answered all of my questions. Initially, they recommended that Braxton be in the morning session, but I requested Braxton be in the afternoon class so that we could have his private therapies in the morning before school. Afternoon spots are always a little bit harder to come by, so I wanted to accommodate their schedule as well. I’m glad everyone was receptive to my questions and was pleased with the outcomes.
So, what did we decide and how did it all turn out? Well, we are going to enroll Braxton in school for the 2014-2015 school year. I am sad to pull him out of his daycare, but I think this can be a successful program for him.
The ARD Committee recommended their PALS class that is offered at the same school Braxton’s sister attends. The PALS class is intended for students who need help with pre-school academics, language, and social skills. For our school district, this class is only 3 hours each day and Braxton will attend in the afternoon from 11 am to 2pm.
Braxton was recommended for all therapies offered in school. He will have school based Physical Therapy and Occupational Therapy. School therapy differs from private therapy in that the goal of school therapy is to help the child be successful and promote learning. The school PT and OT will come in and work with the class as a group and help the teacher with seating, placement, equipment and incorporating goals in to the class curriculum. They will only be working with Braxton 60 -75 minutes per 9-weeks. I was told these are minimums and that the school therapists typically spent much more time than this in the classroom. The school PT goal was that Braxton would be walking with an assistive device 75% on his own by this time next year. This is the only goal that I disagreed with. Unfortunately, the PT was not there, but my concern was put in writing and we will reconvene to address it. I told the team that by this time next year, I wanted Braxton walking completely on his own. The PT had recommended an assistive device for long distances such as walking to the lunch room, library, outside, etc, and while I can understand the need, I don’t want to encourage the use of a walker when Braxton is so close to walking independently.
Braxton also qualified for Speech on a more intensive basis. Speech will provided at 60 minutes each week, so he will have speech support almost daily. His speech therapist will also work with the Assistive Technology specialist to implement a communication device system at school. They are aware of what we have been using at home and so far have been supportive of continuing to use that system.
He will continue with Vision and Hearing therapy on a consult basis only. This means the AI and VI teachers will come in to the class to ensure the teacher has the tools she needs to help Braxton learn in class. The VI teacher recommended that Braxton use a visual schedule, picture cards, and use of a black background to help with visually complex items. I also asked about the use of an FM system with Braxton’s hearing aids. An FM system allows a receiver to be attached to Braxton’s hearing aids and the teacher would wear a microphone. This would make it as though the teacher is speaking directly to Braxton and he would hear her the same way we hear music in headphones. This is typically used in later grades, but I think it would be helpful for Braxton because he does get easily distracted and needs voices to be in short range to pay attention to them. The team said they would trial an FM system, but wanted to see how he performed without one first.
The whole team agreed that “Total Communication” is best for Braxton. Total Communication is the use of many different methods of communication to work with Braxton. So, we will be using sign language, picture cards, AAC, voice, and gestures. This will help promote language and encourages the use of many systems so Braxton can decide which is best for him to communicate with his teachers.
It has been a long, arduous process, but I am, so far, pleased with the outcome and look forward to the fall session. We will be meeting again before school starts because we are waiting on a couple physician reports from our summer follow-ups and will need to take those reports in to consideration before school starts. And to think, this is only the BEGINNING of our Special Education Journey.