Even though we knew our son would benefit from special education services, we still weren’t prepared for the bittersweet heartbreak that came with hearing the words “Your child qualifies for special education preschool.”
If you asked me three years ago how I felt about my preemie starting preschool, I would not have been able to answer. Three years ago, doctors told me that my son born at 23 weeks gestation only had a 4% chance of healthy survival. I always kept hope that my son would be ok, but three years ago, it was hard to think about my son’s future because it was too scary.
Fast forward to now…we just celebrated my son Jaxson’s third birthday! It hasn’t been an easy road, but we know how lucky we are to be here. Jax has worked really hard to beat the odds he was given at birth and he is looking forward to starting school this fall.
Jax has made incredible progress thanks to Early Intervention (EI) services through our school district. Because of Jax’s low birth weight and the fact that he came home on oxygen support, he has been receiving home-based physical, occupational, and speech therapy through EI for most of his life.
The EI staff was like having our own private “what to expect” book. I had gotten used to being surrounded by highly-educated professionals whose jobs were to help me identify problem areas and come up with at-home activities and solutions to help Jax succeed.
Over the years, we identified areas in which Jax struggles, such as attention and focus, receptive speech (or understanding), and sensory processing. We knew these things would impact him in a school setting and we knew he would need support in school to continue making progress.
I was nervous when the EI staff started talking about the transition to school. Could my baby really be ready for preschool!? Plus, EI services are only available until a child turns three years old, so we would be losing our EI team and starting with a brand new team of therapists and teachers. It was going to be a BIG transition!
Jax was given a variety of standardized tests including the Bayley Scales of Infant and Toddler Development and the Child Development Inventory, to measure his skills and identify areas in which he could use support. He was also evaluated by the school’s Other Health Disabilities coordinator because he has chronic medical conditions that affect his learning. (States have different requirements and procedures for children to qualify for special education services; check with your state department of education for more information in your state.)
Our Early Intervention team prepared an in-depth summary of the results and helped us come up with specific goals for Jax to work on during the school year. This document is called an Individualized Education Program (IEP). The IEP outlines the services Jax will receive in special education preschool this fall.
Reading the results on paper was like a punch in the gut – our son is almost three years old, but he’s functioning at a 15 – 16 month level in some areas.
As parents, we’ve worked hard to make sure that Jax has what he needs to grow and learn. I quit my job of 13 years to stay at home with him and be his full-time teacher and advocate. He receives therapy regularly. We are intentional with our playtime and often incorporate therapy and teaching strategies into our everyday routine.
It was hard not to take it personally.
But, we remember how small he was when he was born and how hard he fought to live and we are in awe of his progress.
While I am sad that my child has delays, I know where Jax excels – he loves making people laugh, he is constantly exploring and being curious, he shows empathy – these things will take him far in life. He is so much more than a child with developmental delays.
Jax is going to love preschool! He will meet new friends and learn and grow. He’s is going to be just fine.
Me on the other hand? I still don’t know how I feel about my son starting preschool. It’s hard to believe he is old enough to get on a bus and go to school by himself. I never believed people when they said that time flies – until I had a child that taught me just how precious time really is. The future is still scary, but now I’m cautiously able to imagine what it holds for my son.