“Mama, are the cupcakes ready?” my former 29-weeker, now 5-year-old son, asks for what must be the thousandth time in the past 5 minutes of the 20-25 minutes it takes for these darn cupcakes to bake.
I try so hard to not get annoyed. Because first, let’s be honest, I am feeling just as impatient as he is to eat one of those cupcakes. Second, and more importantly, it was not that long ago that my son was unable to ask such a question, let alone help me bake. He has made tremendous progress this past year. Not just with his speech. But in all areas of his development. And just in the nick of time, too! Because he will be entering kindergarten this fall.
While my son is considered ready for kindergarten, he is not ready to be mainstreamed just yet. He will be starting out in a self-contained classroom. This is the same type of classroom he was in at his preschool. However, he will be mainstreamed for his “specials,” i.e. music, art, and gym. He will also have one of the best special education teachers in our school district. (Although, I happen to think all special education teachers are the absolute best!) This particular teacher has a good reputation for getting all of her kids mainstreamed by the second grade.
And while now it seems like I am ecstatic with my son’s current Individualized Education Plan (IEP), getting to such a happy place has been challenging to say the least.
Last year at this time, no one was sure if he’d ever be ready for kindergarten. Not even me. His preschool team of teachers and therapists wanted to get a 1:1 aide for him, mainly because some of his behaviors had gone from disruptive to dangerous. At home his meltdowns were increasing in both frequency and duration. So he was put on a waiting list to be evaluated by a child psychologist for autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Suffice it to say, no one was really that surprised when he was diagnosed with ASD in November. Not even me.
What I was, however, was determined. Determined to help my newly diagnosed son get ready for kindergarten. I began by meeting with his preschool team to discuss how we all could best serve my son moving forward. At that first meeting post-diagnosis, the most important thing they wanted me to understand was that before his IEP meeting in June, we needed to figure out where my son should attend kindergarten.
In the months leading up to my son’s IEP meeting, I spoke to the head of my school district’s special education committee a few times on the phone. She had been out to observe my son at his preschool. She recommended he’d be better off in a private program that specialized in behavioral therapy for kids with ASD. Neither I, nor his preschool team, agreed. So the next step was to have the previously mentioned special education teacher from our local elementary school meet and observe Ben. And the rest, as they say, is history! Because according to her, and all who were there, it was love at first sight for both of them. Since she feels confident that she can help my son, the school district is happy. And so am I.
Thankfully, my son has come such a long way this past year. He has calmed down tremendously. He is able to “use his words” more and melts down less. He hardly ever runs off anymore. And he is able to play with his friends. Thinking back, he has come such a long way since the NICU.
It seems just like it was yesterday that I sat by helplessly, while my preemie had to endure a two-month ride on the roller coaster that is life in the NICU. One step forward, two steps back, am I right?
Just like with those darn cupcakes, it seemed to take forever before my preemie was ready to come home. Then, once home, it seemed like forever before he met each milestone, especially walking. Yet what matters is that he did start walking on his own. Just as like he did start breathing on his own and feeding on his own.
“Ready.. Set…Go!” my son yells as he prepares to race me from the car to our house. While he still struggles the most with his motor skills, favoring his weaker right side as he runs, I believe he is so ready for kindergarten. His preschool team now attributes much of his previous “bad” behavior to him acting out because he is simply bored with preschool. “More than ready” for kindergarten is how his preschool teacher put it.
Even though he was born before he was ready, he is ready now. Ready to take on kindergarten. Ready to take on the world!