Special Ed, Lite - pt 1

Thursday, October 16, 2008

As many of you know, Emily has had her share of educational struggles.

We certainly noticed that she wasn't a "typical" baby - the hyper-alert state, the lack of sleep, the constant nursing without weight gain, the chronic constipation of the exclusively breast fed baby....

And then she started to crawl. Full tilt crawl at six months. By mid October of 1998, she was a maniac - terrorizing the cat, pulling things off of shelves, eating magazines. Not long after Christmas that year...she walked. This minuscule hellion, not even 12 pounds of baby, was a running fiend. I had to go to a special store to find walking shoes for her, as even Stride rite didn't make them for feet as small as Emily.

Then she didn't talk. Which was strange to both Terrance and I. I mean, sure - it could have been an issue with the ear infections, but I had cared for lots of babies with chronic ear infections, and they were talking ( or at the very least beginning to) by nine months of age. She was a baby in a highly verbal environment. She was in a good child care. She had books and music.

High energy spazmo baby aside, her lack of most talking struck me now - and then - as the most telling light being shown into my daughters developing brain. But we, like most parents of babies with chronic ear infection, were told to wait. Wait. Wait until we could have her surgery to insert the ventiliation tubes and clear the fluid out of her ears.

As an early childhood person, I understood this. I too had seen toddlers come back after this surgery and have amazing gains in verbal ability. Once the can hear clearly, it becomes much easier to respond and make sure others understand you. All right, I thought. I can wait.

Did it get better after the surgery. Yes...a little. But her speech remained garbled and uttered at a rate that only the people who spent hours with her every day could understand.

Speech therapy that is covered by insurance is nearly impossible to attain. Speech Therapy for a two year old?..Insurance people will laugh you right off the phone. Wait, they told us. It doesn't interfere with her learning. It has to become a barrier before anything can be done.

So at age three, I called the County early intervention people. I wanted her assessed. And they complied. But honestly, with all the children with much greater special needs than Emily's, they could not make space for her. They patted me on the back, and said that she might yet grow out of it. She was not bad enough to warrent speech therapy.

So I tried the insurance company again. More laughter ensued. Speech Therapy? For a three year old? Hell to the nizz-o. It wasn't interfering with her education...and even if it was, it was a "custodial" issue and therefore under the authority of the school district.

I waited another year...and no improvement really in Emily's speech. She moved to Hopkinton Independant School for pre-K, and I called our school district for a re-assessment. By this assessment, she was deemed "impaired enough" for services to be offerred. It WAS affecting her learning, her teachers told the assessors. Other kids told her she talked like a baby, or they simply ignored her since they couldn't understand the stream of muddled words flowing from her mouth. Other things were noted. Her extremely low level of coordination, despite her constant movement. The way she put her mouth and body on things and people. Her refusal to write or draw. The tantrums that would leave her on the floor rolling and screaming. She was in Pre-K but beyond a scribbly "E", there were no letters being formed by her hand, and no interest in anything involving letters or writing.

No problem, I told myself. Some kids just aren't "into" writing. This isn't her strength...which is why we had chosen a private school based on the multiple intelligences theories of Howard Gardner.

Two times a week, Emily would have speech therapy with her therapist Anne. The district's early intervention staff truly believed in involving families and worked with us to find days and times that worked into our work schedules. Anne spoke with us after each session, and gave us "family homework" that we needed to work on with Emily.

Em made good progress with Anne. It was a good match.

But early intervention only goes until the child goes to kindergarten. Then the case is moved to the larger shool district. While they won't tell you this upfront, there is a concerted effort to get the child "released" from under the IEP ( individualized educational plan) during the EI . A child who goes INTO the public school with an IEP in place? That child is going to cost the district money. Oh, and there are no home or off site services after EI. You get services through the public school. End of discussion.

What's that? You are sending your child to a private school out of district. A school which has a ratio of two teachers to 12 children...and offers a full day kindergarten with after school care?

So you don't plan on sending your child to the 3 hour, half day public K - with 25 students and one teacher? That is unfortunate. ... for you. We, the district, aren't sure what to tell you then. We have to give services to the students enrolled in OUR school the priority. Yes, we respect your right to send your child to this fabulous school and spend the equivilent of what Dawn paid in tuition for her entire Senior Year at UVM - but we don't have to do anything to make it EASIER on you or your child.

And so my grudge with the Strafford School was begun....

4 Baleful Regards:

jeanie said...

Oh goodness, Dawn, how harsh. If your child needs help, your child needs help, and they should be in the "needs help" category regardless of what school they are.

That really sucks. I am hoping that our health funds, that seem to look towards your continent for guidance are never allowed to be such bs.

Fraulein N said...

Ugh. That's just gross, how hard "the system" makes it to get help for your kid.

Anonymous said...

I remember someone told me that the county would do as much as possible to make it difficult for us to receive services for Rosie. It's not that they don't want to make sure kids get the help they need, but that they want to weed out kids whose parents are overzealous or who want free services.

I sort of get that (although I can't imagine a kid whose parents really didn't need the services wasting their time and effort trying to navigate the system). And the county has generally been helpful with us. But we have to bend over backwards so they can accommodate Rosie's speech therapy at home since she's in a day care out of the county. So I can see how when you had Emily in a private school they weren't inclined to provide the services that she was entitled to (out of sight, out of mind, sadly).

I can definitely see why many families with special needs kids or kids that require accommodations in education get frustrated with the public system and move them elsewhere. But it's a real catch-22.

Jessica R. said...

Stories like this make me want to howl. So much can be done before 3! It's so frustrating that parents have to fight to get their children helped!
I'm so sorry you had to go through all that. I can't wait to read the rest...

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