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Wednesday, March 29, 2017

My Little Cricket’s Delay: Finding the Perfect Preschool - Cassidy

I have been having these huge internal wars with myself since last September when I started talking to specialists and everyone and their mother couldn’t agree on ANYTHING except to send him to preschool as soon as possible. I am the type of mother who wanted to be with my kids. I wanted to be the one who teach them everything they know. I wanted to facilitate a joy of learning. I wanted to control the environment that their little brains grew so rapidly in. I even was considering homeschooling until 6th grade. I am that kind of mom. Even considering the possibility of preschool I was thinking not until 3.5 or 4 at the earliest and even that was hard.

With my Little Crickets delays I realized quickly that the picture of what kind of parent I wanted to be and the idea of what my sons childhood would look like had to take a back seat to what was best for my Little Cricket. I didn’t have the luxury anymore of doing what I wanted to do. Instead I had to listen to the specialists and compromise. I set out to find the right preschool for my child.

I did have my Little Cricket enrolled in an amazing school when he was a year and a half. Lala land schools fill up quickly, so you have to start early to get on the list. I loved the school and I figured that this way we would at least have a spot if I decided to send my son to preschool. However after learning about my Little Crickets delays, and after more of his personality started to emerge, I realized that a loose Reggio Emilia style just wasn’t going to work for him at all. It worked for me. I would have loved to have gone to that school. So I pulled his name off the list.

When I thought that my Little Cricket just had a language delay I toured a few preschools in the area and found a typical preschool. There is one right down the street from my house. I visited without my son and thought that it would be just the right place for him. There was a good teacher to child ration, there was beautiful open rooms and plenty of outdoor play time. I loved the director and the teachers seemed really nice. But in December, during our 3 meet and greet sessions, where my Little Cricket and I went to acclimate him to his new school, it went terribly. I had a dark ugly feeling in the pit of my stomach. I postponed his start date (originally for January), I had to listen to my gut. Something wasn’t right.

In January we got the autism diagnosis, I had to wrap my head around that and start a treatment plan. As part of the process one of the things I looked into was getting my Little Cricket approved and enrolled in an Early Start Child Development Program funded through the state. After getting approved for funding, which took months, I looked over the schools. Most of them were disappointing but one was fantastic. Sadly all good things must end and these early start programs are only until children hit the age of 3.

In April, a month before my sons 3rd birthday, I started the IEP process with the school district and I continued to look at school placements for my Little Cricket. He had made such amazing progress with therapy some of my team were advising that I put my Little Cricket in a typical preschool environment with a shadow (a helper that would go with him). Others in our team were stating that my Little Cricket would benefit from at least a year if not two of preschool at a special school, with teachers who understood how to teach an autistic child. I looked at the school districts placements. When none of those netted out to be the right fit I looked at special schools that the IEP team suggested and some that I found. While looking at the special schools I was also looking at typical schools. I was torn at which way to go, special school and keep him safe but possibly unchallenged, or a typical school with a helper, a challenging environment for sure but with the possibly that I might just be pushing him too far too fast.

All the special autism schools I looked at, which included OT and Speech therapy during their school day, were all 8-2 Monday through Friday. That would be 30 hours a week of preschool for a 3 year old. I was shocked. There was NO WAY I would ever be comfortable letting my 3 year old out of my control for that amount of time. Easier sure. To get school, OT and Speech all within that window and to give me back all that time would be FABULOUS. But there was no way that that was going to work for us. NO WAY!

The typical schools I was looking at either seemed uncomfortable trying to accommodate a delayed child, were full (lala land schools fill up ridiculously early), or just didn’t fit the standards I was looking for. I was getting increasingly frustrated, increasingly worried that I wouldn’t find the right placement. In the end I decided that if I didn’t find it he just wouldn’t go to preschool, instead I would take private classes like gym and art from our local neighborhood where we could take our therapists and where my Little Cricket could get the socialization he needed. I wasn’t going to sacrifice the positive steps that my Little Cricket had made.

I wanted a clean, beautiful, good energy school with a nice outdoor play yard. I wanted amazing teachers that used appropriate tone, regulation, and language with the children. I wanted a smaller classroom size and a good child to teacher ratio. I wanted children that would be good peer models for my Little Cricket. I preferably wanted an afternoon program, a few hours a day, so we could continue with our therapies in the morning and then he could work on his socialization skills in the afternoon. I wanted a director who was open to working with me, my shadow who would be attending school with my son, and who wouldn’t balk at any accommodations that my son might need.

All in all I didn’t think I was asking for the moon, but I was getting SO DISCOURAGED trying to find the school that I could see in my head typical or special. And then a week ago we got our genetic results stating that my Little Cricket may not have autism at all. He has duplications on his 16th chromosome that cause delays. With this new information my decision was tipped. I wasn’t going to send my child to a special school. I needed to find a placement in a typical school. If we started him in a typical preschool and it didn’t work I could change my mind, but with this new information I felt a typical school was the way to go. That cut the schools I was researching in half. With a more direct purpose I felt renewed to find the right school.

And then the very next day, after our genetic screening and after my decision to send my child to a typical school the stars aligned. I was venting my frustrations to my incredibly amazing, incredibly awesome head Occupational Therapist. A woman who has been working with kids in the area for 23 years. A woman very well connected with the area. She listened to me vent, she smiled at me, and she then stated that she would send a few emails and see what she could do. She called in a few favors and one of the schools she reached out to replied back. She connected me and the director. I went to see the school with my Little Crickets Shadow, someone who has been working with him for months, someone who knows him well, someone who has worked in countless preschools in the past and could get a feel for the undercurrent of the school. Important since she was going to be the one going with him to school and important because I knew she would see things that I would miss.

Thankfully. We. Both. Loved it!

The school was beautiful, with adorable classrooms, lots of light, and an awesome outdoor play yard. The teacher for the class we were considering for my son was FANTASTIC. We stayed over 2 hours observing her with the kids and I just adored every single thing about her. In fact they sang the same exact song that they sang at another preschool but with a totally different feel. Instead of the chaotic loud craziness that we witnessed at the other school this school was able to keep it fun and not escalate the children too high, which is so incredibly important for my son and his issue sometimes with regulation. The children in the classroom that my Little Cricket will enter will be ages 2.3-3.3. Technically my Little Cricket will be 3.4 when school starts. He was cusped right between this classroom and the older classroom. However with his delays the younger classroom we feel will be perfect for him. The director said that they would make a spot for my son in the afternoon 1:00-4:00 Monday through Friday. It was the perfect hours, in the afternoon, I was hoping for only 2 or 3 days a week but since everything else was perfect I conceded to five days a week. To top off all the awesomeness both the teacher and the director were super accommodating. They both seemed genuinely willing to help us transition my Little Cricket into the classroom and make accommodations as needed. The teacher even agreed to send me daily updates on my Little Cricket. SCORE.

It was prefect. Exactly what I was looking for. And I feel like another giant weight has been taken off my chest.

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Each decision I make, each step we take to a fuller well rounded plan, each day that my Little Cricket improves by leaps and bounds, alleviates the almost paralyzing terror that I have been carrying for months. So as time goes by the clutching fear slips a little further away and I can breathe a little easier.

He’s going to be ok. I am going to be ok. We are going to be ok.

And I will chant that over and over and over again until it sticks.

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