I haven't written an update on my daughter, A, in some time. This is not because she isn't doing well; actually, to the contrary, she is doing great. I haven't written about her recently because I am harboring some anxiety about her, and to write about it would mean actually having to deal with the issues in my mind. However, I am finally ready to write it all out.
As I wrote a few months ago, she is doing well in kindergarten. A is in the first of a two-year kindergarten program; this program is geared toward typically-developing children, who were born June through November. Ordinarily, these kids would be the youngest in their classes. The district recognizes that young kids may need an extra year of growth (social, emotional, etc) and offers this two-year program as an option for parents. You don't HAVE to enroll your child in the program if they're born June-November; you can go right ahead and put them in the regular one-year kindergarten class. For me, however, enrolling A was a no-brainer. I knew she needed this extra year, and am grateful she qualified based on her birthday (otherwise I would have had to fight to enroll her).
Last month her report card came out and we had her parent-teacher conference. The report card made me happy; the conference did not.
Let me explain.
Her report card showed her pretty much right where she should be. Academically, she is excelling, and is even above "grade level" in some areas (I put "grade level" in quotations, as there really is no grade level for the first year in a two-year kindergarten.) She is reading, and knows all of the sight words she's been taught. She's a pro at reading 3-letter words, and at home is almost done reading the Level One books of the Hooked on Phonics series to me. She is at "grade level" with math and most other things too. It was noted that she was behind on language, but that wasn't anything I didn't expect.
Her teacher, during the conference, expressed some concerns about A for next year. She said that while she is excelling academically, she worries about her with social and language issues, especially with language pragmatics, which essentially is using language in a social context. At home, she not too bad with it, but at school she is very quiet. She is very well-liked and has a lot of friends in the class (one girl even gave her a Best Friends Forever necklace last week) but I'm not sure how well she is relating to the kids. The teacher reported that the kids treat her "like a doll". For example, A will be playing with blocks and another child will say, "A, come play dolls with me." A will go and play...but when the teacher would ask is she had wanted to play dolls, she said no. She is not speaking up for herself in social situations, or having full conversations. Again, this is odd, because at home she talks in full sentences all the time.
The teacher thinks that A has the most problems during free play, when the classroom is very noisy. With her hearing aides, she may not be able to tune out the ambient noise. There are 26 kids in the room, and trust me, it gets noisy (I'm in there every Thursday to volunteer). During instruction time, when the class is quiet, she is doing well. She suggested that next year A spend some time in a special day class, for part of each day, in order to give her some quieter time.
Well, this doesn't sit well with me at all. I'm not opposed to a special day class if there was one that is appropriate for her...but in my district, there isn't one. The highest level of special ed class, the non-severely handicapped class, is way below her level. I observed it this past May, and watched as kindergarteners were being called up to the board to point out letters. If I put A in this class, this is where she's be expected to be A YEAR FROM MAY...pointing out letters of the alphabet. The child is already reading! Yes, the class was small and quiet, but I can't put her in an academic environment where she'd wither.
I've been considering other options, such as private school. However, from what I'm hearing from talking to others, private schools aren't always the answer. They often have large class sizes (as the schools want the money) and they aren't necessarily equipped to handle special needs. There is a deaf/hard-of-hearing school, but I'm not sure I want to segregate her. Besides, she is doing well right now where she is.
I called an IEP (the first one I've called---all my others have been her scheduled, annual reviews). The people there (her teachers and all her therapists) were convinced that they could meet her needs in the school district. We added another half-hour of speech therapy, with even more focus on social skills. We also added another occupational therapy goal of coloring, and the OT may be adding a goal of sensory processing. They talked about other things to do in the classroom to help her (put a stool under her feet, etc). They, too, nixed the idea of a special day class---she needs to be in the least restrictive educational environment, and she's too bright for the level of classes they have, at least at this time. I left the IEP feeling really good about what we're putting into place.
Additionally, I have found a local private clinic that has a social skills class, focusing on the language pragmatics! A has already been 3 times. I love that we're doing something extra, outside of school, to help her. And even at home, I'm prompting her more to use complete sentences rather than one-word demands (i.e. saying "I want some water, please" instead of "WATER!").
My plan is to enroll her at our home school next year for kindergarten (she's at a different elementary school right now, as our home school doesn't have the two-year class). We'll see how she does. If I have concerns, I'll raise them. If I find it's not the best fit for her, I'll look into other schooling options. I want to do what's best for her, and time and money are not the issues. It's finding the place where she's going to thrive. Nothing has to be set in stone; no placement is unchangeable. I'd hate to have to move her in the middle of a school year, but if I'm not happy next year, I'll do it.
I'm convinced that this little girl has what it takes to thrive. It's my job to ensure that she has every opportunity to do so.