My preemie just finished his first few weeks of preschool. After a rocky first few days, everyone says he is doing just fine. I was so surprised to hear that, considering neither one of us handles transitions well. (I think having a certain stuffed blue Rhino with him helped.) I am also surprised by how well he is doing because he started earlier than I would have liked. He turned 3 in February. Normally he would have started this coming fall, along with all of his typically developing peers. However, he still presents with a global developmental delay, so when he turned 3, he did not graduate from our county’s Early Intervention program.
Instead, he qualified to transition to the Preschool Special Education program offered by our school district. While he was eligible to start his preschool program the January before he turned 3, we had thought we might be moving, so we wanted to wait until we knew where we’d be before subjecting our little guy to such a big change. Once we knew we were staying put, we then had to wait for a spot to open up, which did not happen for awhile. Then, at the very last minute, a spot opened up for the summer session, and we took it.
If your preemie ends up needing to go to a preschool special education program, and you want him/her to go to a center-based program, I recommend getting on any and all waiting lists as soon as possible. We do not have many center-based programs that provide preschool special education services in my area, so spots fill up quickly.
Though I am not at all surprised by my preemie needing a special education program, since he has been struggling all along to catch up to his peers, I am still so depressed. This is not the way it was supposed to be. He was supposed to be starting preschool this coming fall. We were supposed to be full of all the excitement that comes with a brand new school year. He was supposed to start out only going two mornings a week, not five hours a day, five days a week.
And, yet, neither was he supposed to be born 11-weeks early and spend the first two months of his life in the NICU. But just like he needed that time to gain and grow before he could come home, he now needs the extra time in a preschool special education program to gain and grow some more before starting kindergarten.
So, no, it’s not where he’s supposed to be, but it is where he needs to be. Because three years has not been enough time for him to be “caught up” yet. Even though he has been receiving speech, occupational and physical therapy most of his life, and despite all of his hard work these past three years, my preemie is now a labeled a “preschool student with a disability.”
Does this then mean he is somehow a failure? Heck, no! My body failed both of us, but my stubborn, loving, strong-willed, sensitive little boy has already accomplished so much! So many things that others take for granted, our preemies fight so hard to achieve. And, no, I should not feel so depressed about this when other parents have to fight their local providers just to get a few hours of services a week, let alone five hours a day. I am beyond grateful that we live in a school-district that makes special education services a priority.
Overall, all I want is for my preemie to be able to look back and see that his Dad and I did everything we could to help him overcome his premature birth. That the sometimes painful lessons we learned in the NICU, and beyond, about how to be, and not to be, an effective parent advocate have prepared us for our journey as parents of a child with special needs.
Most of all, we want him to know that we always have his back. As does Rhino!