Another big concern of mine at the moment is placing Jackson in an appropriate preschool. Jackson was assessed by our school district back in May, and we held our first IEP (Individualized Education Plan) meeting with district personnel. Back in May, it was determined that Jackson does qualify for special education services. Since Jackson turned three at the end of May when the school year was almost over, they offered to continue Jackson’s in-home ABA therapy of 20 hours a week. Now that the school year approaches, with the start date of August 20th, we are trying to figure out the correct preschool placement for Jackson. We have another IEP scheduled for August 17th to discuss Jackson’s preschool placement.
Our school district has two special education preschools. However, at the last IEP in May, the district representatives said that those classes are not appropriate for Jackson. Thinking back on that comment, a red flag goes up in my mind. I wish I had asked why. I called the school district a couple of weeks ago to ask to observe those preschool classrooms so that I could have an idea as to why they think those classrooms are not appropriate for Jackson. The director of special education told me that the summer classes are going on with different teachers, at a different school, and that no district people are available to go with me. Basically, they didn’t want to take me or let me see those classes. I told the director that I will not be comfortable signing a new IEP until I see those classrooms. She was not very flexible or helpful.
Since the district claims that their two preschools are not suitable for Jackson, it is their responsibility to find a classroom that is appropriate. They can look to County programs or surrounding school districts that have spaces available. Back in July, I was taken by the district to a county program to observe. The classroom is a 20 minute drive on the freeway from our house. It was a tiny classroom, with 7 kids, 1 teacher and 2 aides. The kids I saw were nonverbal, 2 were downs syndrome, 1 autistic, and the rest, I don’t know. They were very sever, rocking back and forth, drooling, crying, spinning, rolling on the floor, chaos. I’m not saying Jackson is perfect and higher functioning than them, but it was not a classroom I was comfortable with. The other thing is they would bus Jackson to and from school. He would be strapped in, go pick up other kids and go to school, making it a 30-40 minute bus ride. Are you kidding me? No way! No way, no way, no way! I am not sticking Jackson on a bus by himself while he’s nonverbal….ever.
I want Jackson to be as mainstreamed as possible. I want him around positive, verbal role models where language is abundant. I want him in a nice classroom, surrounded by appropriate toys, where his teacher and aides have the belief that Jackson will learn to speak and develop, and that his “autism” is not a life sentence.
A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to get to go look at a wonderful program, Cupertino’s YCC program. It consists of six different classrooms, a beautiful playground with lots of equipment, cars, balls, etc. The classrooms are big, colorful, with little trampolines, play houses and toys galore. Now that I know what special education classrooms can look like, my expectations are at an all time high. Can Jackson go to the Cupertino YCC? I don’t see why not. As long as there is space available there, and the classroom is appropriate for him, he should be welcome there. Our district may say no because x, y and z, but that’s our time to get answers and let the district know exactly what our expectations and wants are. We are in the drivers seat and have a lot of power as to what program Jackson attends.
The other possibility for Jackson’s education is to think out of the box and forgo the county and district programs. I have called several co-op preschools to ask about their policy on mainstreaming children with special needs. For those of you who do not know, a co-op preschool is a preschool where parents are involved and “work” a certain number of hours each month. There is still a teacher and curriculum, but parents are heavily involved. I would be happy to be involved in Jackson’s preschool, and days when I am not available, our school district would be in charge of hiring an aid to attend the preschool with Jackson. With this co-op option, Jackson would be around typical kids, get the 1-on-1 help he needs and be in a safe, loving preschool environment. My next step is to go visit the two co-ops that got back to me and told me that they are very interested in having Jackson be part of their preschool.
Misha and I are Jackson’s advocates. I need to know Jackson is in an appropriate preschool setting where he is given every chance to learn and thrive. When I’m at work 3 days a week, I need to have peace of mind that Jackson is in the best hands possible. If it were a perfect world, Jackson would be a typically developing child and we would decide what preschool to send him to. That’s not the case, and Jackson has many challenges, but we will not settle for just any preschool that the district chooses. I will not be signing any IEP until I am 110% happy with Jackson’s schooling. To make sure the district knows how serious we are about finding the correct placement for Jackson, my dad has agreed to come to the IEP. My dad has been in Education for a long time, 35 years maybe? He’s now retired, but his latest job was Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources, and he has been around special education and the laws of education. He knows his stuff and how districts operate. I think my dad will be a key player in helping Jackson get what he needs and deserves.
Jackson has so much love and support on his side. I will feel much more settled once we have the Jackson’s school/therapy placement settled.