Kindergarten is great so far

So it has been a long time since I updated. I’m not usually superstitious but every time I started to write this post I felt like I might jinx something…

But here we more than half way through the school year and Kindergarten is going very well. The class (self contained special day class) has nine students and five aides.

One of my biggest concerns was R.’s escaping behaviors. I was worried she was going to walk out the front door of the school and try to find her way home. She did escape starting on her first day of school. There are classrooms adjacent to the recess yard and she instantly realized there were toys in each classroom and she wanted to see them. The amazing thing was, the teacher and aides did not freak out about it , no meeting was called, no outside behaviorist was called in.  The kindergarteners have three recesses a day, and for the second recess the teacher brought some toys outside. Talk about brilliant. Over the next few weeks the aides worked on showing R. all the fun things she could do on the recess yard and now it is not much of a problem at recess. She still does try to go exploring from her classroom, but they seem to be able to handle this.

Her school day is so much more interesting than in preschool. They go to the library, have pull-outs like music and garden. Even the work they are doing in class from the worksheets to the art projects is more advanced than preschool. The SDC class is mixed grades, K-2, but the kindergarteners do the same things that the general ed kindergarteners do and it seems to stay the same as they advance in grades.

R. is going to one of the general ed kindergarten classes for free play each day. I was getting notes that she was “playing” with the other students.  I visited one day, hoping to just spy in the window so I would not distract her. I peered in and I did not see her at all–just groups of kids. So I went in the back door, and there was R–hanging out with the large group of kids. From what I saw she was hanging out more than playing anything. But the general ed teacher told me she puts hats on the other kids, takes turns with marble runs and other toys and that the kids really like her.

And that is one amazing thing about this school, it is not just the teachers who seem to like R., the kids do.  I never felt like other kids really noticed R, beyond her differences and she only had limited interest in them. So this is really an amazing surprise.

R. is obsessed with clapping and getting people to clap, and she has a tendency to grab people’s hands to get them to do what she wants. I was concerned about how this would be taken by the other kids, especially at recess and discussed it with the teacher.  After a few weeks the teacher said that the kids don’t mind at all when R. has them clap, and some girls were taking R. by the hand and running around and laughing.  She told me that there were hula hoops on the recess yard and R. put a hoop on the ground, stood in the middle of it and spun her body around. A bunch of other girls watched and then all did the same thing. So I can say that R. inspired her fellow students to spin!

R. can follow directions so much better. I’m able to have her help with cleaning up her toys and similar tasks.  I discussed this with the teacher and she set up a recycling job for R. where R. and a student from the general ed kindergarten class take a box of recycling to the recycling bin outside. The children have to carry the box together, and work together to lift it into the bin. Talk about the most amazing way to work on joint attention skills, social skills and probably more. R. is super motivated to do this, the aide said that she hardly had to help them at all, they worked it out between them.

We won the school lottery

We got the kindergarten placement letter over the weekend and we got our number one choice.  I’m so relieved.

Now it is time to get back to preparing for the transition IEP meeting. I think it will be next month. I’m going to try to meet with the new teacher before this meeting.  That way I can get many of my questions answered, and she doesn’t have to spend a lot of time explaining how things work in her class during the actual meeting.

There also seems to be a precedence for the current teacher to communicate with the new teacher. Being over eager, I gave each of them the other’s contact info.

Hope everyone got what they wanted!

February already?

It seemed like holidays, a stomach bug and a cold just wiped out January.  So here we are in February.

R.’s hitting has disappeared.  She is actually voicing her displeasure.  Her most common response is to say thank you and push away with one hand.  I’m sure she means no thank you, because occasionally I’ll hear a no.  She is also saying wait, stop, all done and now.  There is often still crying and screaming involved, but the words are her first response.

She also got an opportunity to spend time in the kindergarten class she has been escaping the cafeteria to get into.  Her PreK teacher made arrangements with the kindergarten teacher (all special ed) to have her students go into the kindergarten classroom for 40 minutes once a month so she can meet with the aides.  I guess this is common in the elementary grades.

R. just loved the classroom and had a good time.  Since her visit, she has not been trying to escape the cafeteria to run there.   They are going to do this once a month.  And if R. is placed in that kindergarten she will have the opportunity to go into the class regularly.

The application is in

We turned in the application for kindergarten.  After months of obsessing, we decided to take a gamble and only put two schools on the list.

These two schools are really the only places where we saw classes that we thought would be a good fit for R.

I tried hard to be objective.   I understand that there is no such thing as a perfect classroom.  I don’t want to be like one of those people on that show House Hunters refusing to buy a house because of brass fixtures.

I knew that considering R. is in the middle of the spectrum and we chose a SI (Severely Impacted) delivery model that our choices would be limited.   The reason we chose SI is because the MM (Mild Moderate) classes seemed too advanced, and we wanted a class that would give her more support.

These two classes have:

  • Teachers with a background in ABA, who use ABA style teaching in the classroom
  • TEACCH stations
  • I got a real sense that the work given to the students was individualized.
  • Mainstreaming and pull-outs were part of the daily schedule, and both teachers clearly knew how to implement this.
  • Teacher and staff dealt with problem behaviors (meltdowns, escaping) in a respectful and calm way.  Both classrooms were set up so that a child who needed extra space could have it without being removed from the classroom, and so that their behavior had less impact on the other students

When we first started touring classes, I thought that we would choose at least three, and possibly five schools.   But now that I have seen what the choices are, I just don’t want to put down a school that doesn’t have a class with the qualities that I want.

It is a gamble, and I’m not sure what the odds are.  I think we have a good chance, because both schools are near our home and one of the schools is where she is going to now.  That is not supposed to matter, but I suspect it is humans not computers doing the special ed placement assignments, so maybe it will.

The placement letters are mailed in the middle of March.   Of course I can’t wait to get the letter and know what the next steps are going to be.  But it is also kind of nice to have a few weeks of limbo.   There’s nothing I can do about kindergarten at this point.

The Enrollment Fair

Now that the IEP is completed I have to get serious about touring more schools.

Here in San Francisco the IEP team only determines the service model – what type of class that you can list on the enrollment application.  The actual school placement decision is done via a lottery.

The content coordinator suggested that we list as many schools as possible.  I thought that seven was the limit, but this year there are spaces for ten schools, and an extra form to use to list more than that.  There aren’t that many schools that are going to be appropriate.  I’m going to have to look at schools that are further away than I was hoping for, but still within the city.

I went to the annual enrollment fair.   It was held in the concourse building where they hold trade shows.  All the schools in the city had tables.  Each school had the principal and parent volunteers there.

It was incredibly crowded.  Like shoulder to shoulder, only the pushy ones get through kind of jam packed.  The consensus among the other Special Ed Moms I know is that the whole event was drink inducing.

I kind of forget that all parents have some stress about kindergarten.  And because our city’s process seems to be designed to be chaotic, I think parents here (and likely in other cities with lottery systems) have a level of additional stress.

I attended a workshop for enrolling in special ed and it was some what informative.  The district as a whole is trying to move from a programs model to a service delivery model.  (Way to be late to the IDEA party!).  Which is good, but it is clear that they don’t know exactly what to do.

They included the special ed enrollment information in the general enrollment guidebook.  Previously it has been a separate document.  It does send a better message to have all the information together.  But the information that is there is still lacking.

I asked how the lottery actually worked for SDC (Special Day Class) students.  All other students have the same lottery process, with a few tie-breakers to give some students preferential enrollment.   They said that the process and tie-breakers are now the same for SDC students.  That doesn’t really help us, we don’t qualify for any of them.

I also asked where we can get actual enrollment data, like is available for the general ed students.  They said that we could go to the educational placement center.  I’ll be going there soon.

I visited a few school’s tables.   Only one school had anything about special ed prominently displayed.  It was a poster with pictures of students from their SDC class with their new ipads!

I was directed to speak with the principal about SDC classes at every table.  Once I told them my interests, a few just kind of said Yes, we have an SDC class.   It was like pulling teeth to get any specifics.   Two principals in particular did seem well informed and had a lot to say, one even had the school’s speech therapist on hand.   I could just tell the difference between principals who considered the SDC classes part of their community from their attitudes.

The Placement IEP meeting

We had our annual IEP yesterday.   We got the biggest compliment from the teacher and content coordinator – they said we were so calm during the meeting.

Of course I was nervous about the whole thing, but I will admit that by the time the meeting rolled around I was feeling at peace because I felt that I knew what to ask for.  I think that is the hardest thing about planning R.’s education, I have no experience or even a point of reference.

But over the last couple of months I realized that I do know R. better than anyone and my instincts are usually correct.  I’ve certainly always known and tried to act as though I was in charge.  But I think with this whole kindergarten process I had to remind myself.

A few days prior to the meeting I emailed the teacher a list of our concerns, the goals we wanted to add or change and our thoughts about kindergarten transition and placement.

I know that some parents warn against doing this, because it can give the school department time to prepare their arguments.  But in our case I think it only helped.  The teacher shared the email with the rest of the team as I hoped she would.  We were able to get the the process of the meeting faster because everyone knew what we wanted to talk about.

I also gave the teacher permission to prepare a draft IEP based on the email.   This also helped the meeting move smoothly.  She actually gave me all the goals we wanted, and in some cases used my exact wording.

This was the most positive meeting yet.

They said she can sit at a TEACCH station and do work for 15 minutes!   This is the child who could barely sit down when she started preschool.

The ST finally acknowledged that she is using 1-2 words consistently to communicate and increased her goal to 3 word utterances.

They also said she is playing appropriately with many toys and does pretend play on her own.   They added the goals I wanted about engaging with peers on the playground.

She can trace her name and letters and numbers, she is writing some letters on her own and can copy when the teacher writes on the board.

She is not putting her fingers in her ears as often.  I made them all acknowledge that they are aware that if she has her fingers in her ears it does not mean lack of attention.

R. is participating more in circle time.  Every day they sing “We all go traveling by.”  The teacher has vehicle cut outs that she uses for choices.  She asks R. do you want the yellow bus or red car?   R. said pink bike!  (which is one of the other choices)

They all said she is being mischievous.  If they open the toy closet she will run over, knock some over and laugh.   She will pick up the toys or whatever when they tell her to.   I’m happy that they see this as a good sign developmentally and not a hassle.

They wrote this:
R. is intelligent and curious.  She likes to seek out new way things work, and watches intently when you show her how something works.

Originally they did not plan to have a general ed teacher at our IEP meeting.   The CA law says that a general ed teacher has to be at an IEP meeting if any aspect of being included in the general ed class is to be discussed.  I wrote them, mentioning what I wanted to discuss, how a general ed teacher has been at all of her annual IEPs so far, and mentioning the law.    I offered to change the date of the meeting, and offered my consent for the general ed teacher to only attend part of the meeting as long as the topic she needed to discuss was addressed.

So we had a general ed teacher at the meeting.  Her time was limited so we discussed things out of order.    I asked for R. to be included for a short time in the general ed preschool (at her school location).

I also planned to ask for mainstreaming in kindergarten, but they put off all discussion of services relating to kindergarten until the transition IEP in April.  I suspected they might do this, but it was worth asking.

They were supportive of having R. go into the general ed preschool, and we had a good discussion about what would work best with scheduling and R. herself.   They suggested during free time, so R. could go and be confident doing puzzles or playing with toys.  She will have an aide with her.  It seems like they are encouraging the aides to be as hands off as possible, if she is working on her own the aide will go help other students.  I like that they are doing it this way, because R. could be interested in only interacting with the aide, and she can be prompt dependent.

I had to give permission for her to miss some of recess.  She has a long recess and we are going to start with just ten minutes, so I think that will be fine.

We all agreed that the SI (Severely Impacted) classes were the best fit because of small class size, structure and ABA style teaching.

They said that we can change the class type at any IEP meeting.   Even if we have a placement, we could change our minds in April.   I’m sure it is more difficult than they make it out to be, but it is good to know that they don’t consider anything permanent.

Two tours down

So far we have visited two classrooms.  AutismMommyTherapist was right, I’m starting to get a better idea about what I’m looking for and also what it is I am seeing.

It is like there is one voice in my head telling me that I need to keep things as similar as possible to what she is doing now and there is this other voice telling me that this is kindergarten and it should be different.

In the chapter What Can We Expect?  From the book The Child with Special Needs by Dr. Stanley Greenspan and Serena Wieder, they write:

The best indicator of your child’s potential is the shape of his learning curve once he is in an optimal therapy program.  …. as long as that learning curve is going up your child will continue to grow…

If you think of your child’s learning as the building of a skyscraper, you can picture the emotional milestones as the building’s foundation.  They must support 80 stories – 80 years of living in the world.  They must be very strong, for if those basic skills are shaky, the entire building will be at risk.  It is far better to have a solid foundation developed late, than a shaky foundation built on schedule.

Quality of learning should never be sacrificed to the desire to move ahead.  If building a solid foundation and strengthening the milestones means temporarily taking more time, we encourage that, because without that foundation your child will never be able competently to move on to more complex areas.

Both of the voices in my head have a point.  We do need to find a class that will provide a similar environment to what she is used to, but at the same time offering new opportunities for learning and experiences.

By the end of the month we will have visited 3 SI (Severely Impaired) and 3 MM (Mild Moderate) special day classrooms.  Between the two categories there are more than twenty schools in the city.  There just is not enough time before our placement IEP to see all of them.  I think that we will have enough information to make a decision on service type.

In speaking to the teachers it seems that each one has an idea of what type of student belongs in their class.  It would be nice if they printed a directory of that information, but technically I believe that is against the law.  Special education is a service, not a place.

The teacher of the MM class we saw told us that she felt a couple of her students were misplaced in her classroom.  I feel badly for those children and their parents.

I’m not going to be able to change that before R. gets to kindergarten so I will try to use it to my advantage.  The teachers seem willing to speak to R.’s teacher and one offered to have R. come and sit in on a class.  I don’t know how that would work out considering it is a different school, but it is something to think about.

Reference: The Child with Special Needs by Stanley Greenspan, MD and Serena Wieder, Phd (Perseus Publishing, 1998)  Pgs. 433, 436,

Kindergarten Obsession – Questions for school tours

I’ve been compiling questions, and I have way too many.  This list does not even include things like details about the teacher and classroom, the parking situation and probably a dozen other things.  But it is a start.

  1. What are the procedures for drop off and pick up?
  2. What time does yard supervision begin? End?
  3. What is the school’s philosophy and practice regarding discipline?
  4. How many recesses do kindergarteners get, and how for how long?
  5. Are SDC students included for recess?
  6. If so, how are integrated play opportunities facilitated on the playground?
  7. How long is lunch? Is there also snack time?
  8. Are SDC students included for lunch in the cafeteria?
  9. How does the school handle supervision during lunch and recess?
  10. Does the school have assemblies? How often?
  11. What kind of school-wide activities are there?  (including music, PE, etc)
  12. What are the before- and after-school childcare options?
  13. Do SDC students have the opportunity to participate in the above?
  14. Where do pull-outs for speech therapy and OT take place in the school?  Do they have an office or dedicated area for working with students?
  15. How often do fire drills and earthquake drills take place?  How are SDC students prepared?
  16. How does this school/class encourage and monitor students’ progress toward meeting grade-level standards?  How does this apply to SDC students?
  17. What standard testing is done?
  18. Is there regular reverse mainstreaming scheduled in the classroom?
  19. Do they do disability awareness lessons for students without disabilities?

Thanks to all my awesome mentors from Support for Families and this great article with questions from Bonnie Sayers.

Getting ready for the first tour

We have our first tour this week of a K-2 SDC (special day class)

The process of touring is kind of slow going.  We have to take a general tour and an additional tour of the K-2 SDC for almost every school.   The general tours are scheduled in advance, but for the SDC tours I have to get the teachers to call me back.    Many of the schools won’t schedule anything until October.

I realize that October is just a few days away.  But it just feels like the window is closing in so quickly.

Even with the appointment we have this week, they are only giving us half an hour to observe the class.  I get that they can’t let us hang around all day (though I would like to ). But it sure doesn’t seem like much time.

The teacher also told me that if I had any questions I should call him after class.  So in other words, sit down and shut up for our 30 minutes.  I do understand that the teacher can’t give us a lot of attention during class.  Maybe if the tour was longer it could spill over into some of the free time and then he could answer a question or two.

Part of me wishes that I could take R. to see the classrooms and schools.  Of course that would be difficult on so many levels.  And it seems that even the general ed students are not welcome at the tours, so there is no precedence for it.

Kindergarten Obsession – it begins

I’m going to be writing about kindergarten more over the next few months.

Here in San Francisco, the process is fairly complicated.  We have to select up to seven schools and then one is chosen (hopefully) from the list.  The IEP team chooses a service type and that narrows the available options.

I will start touring schools next month, and then I hope I will get a better idea of what type of class would be a good fit for R.   We have to make a decision by the end of January.

I’ve been trying to read blogs from families with children who are going through or have already experienced the kindergarten transition.

Autism and Oughtisms writes about her reflections on his first term at a special needs school. 

She pointed out to me that R., being moderately affected by autism could potentially fit into any class.   The labels sometimes seem meaningless in these situations.

Autism Wonderland has been documenting her journey with her child with autism who is starting kindergarten.   She lives in a big city, and their process seems as convoluted as ours here.

Here’s a post called when autism and kindergarten meet