Becca received Early Intervention services from the time she came home from the NICU to her third birthday, and they made a TREMENDOUS impact of her development and our understanding of the ways we could encourage her to meet her milestones, albeit at her own pace. Early Intervention is a federally-mandated, state-sponsored program, and it is worth every penny our taxes put towards it (and could use a lot more pennies thrown that direction). Without it, Becca never would have made the progress she has made, and it's even more important to other kids whose parents aren't able or willing to go to advocate and care for them the (very difficult) way that kids with special needs require, because the Early Interventionists are able to (somewhat) step into that role and equip parents to, well, parent better. So, we are fans of Early Intervention.
But once you turn 3, if you require "services" (therapy and/or special instruction), you are the responsibility of the public school system. So beginning in January, we began transition meetings with the Williamson County school psychologist. A few months later, Becca had a whole battery of assessments: one morning the psychologist and the speech therapist double-teamed; another morning the physical therapist and the occupational therapist worked with her. We then had several meetings with me and John (and Becca), the psychologist, an OT, a PT, a SLP (speech/language pathologist), an early childhood special education teacher, and either the school principal or assistant principal. These meetings were...difficult. And at times, not-so-professional. And definitely not family-friendly (like most everything in Early Intervention is designed to be), meaning that everything was at their convenience, on their schedule (or re-schedule), and flexible only on our end. We even had to pull Becca out of therapy one morning to have a meeting about how Becca needs therapy. Ridiculous. BUT - in the end, we were (and are) VERY happy with the Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) that we have in place for Becca. Here's what it includes:
- Physical therapy: Becca's biggest area of delay continues to be gross motor (motor skills that use the big muscles, like walking, running, jumping, climbing, etc.). At her assessment, Becca was 34 months old, and she scored 20 months in this area, so she obviously need physical therapy, which she will get at school 20 minutes a week.
- Occupational therapy: Occupational therapy mostly works in 2 domains: fine motor and sensory processing. In her fine motor assessment (again at 34 months), Becca scored 28 months, which is actually considered the very bottom edge of normal, though there's still a delay. However, we know Becca's sensory processing shows significant dysfunction, as she demonstrates "over-responsiveness to visual, auditory, touch and oral tactile forms of sensory input that impacts her ability to attend to task in busy or noisy environments, impacts her ability to participate in daily functional activities at home and at school, and impacts her readiness to learn;" "sensory seeking with visual, auditory, proprioceptive and vestibular forms of sensory input that also impact her ability to attend to task;" and "decreased perception of proprioceptive and vestibular sensory input. Combined with her gross motor skill delays, this impacts her balance and coordination along with her higher lever motor planning skills." The OT's rec? "Becca needs consultative OT services integrated into the classroom." Which won her a place in the...
- Early Childhood Special Education classroom: While Becca was somewhat borderline in whether she qualified for services because of her strengths in the communication and cognitive domains (talkative genius that she is), she qualified for classroom instruction because of the ways that her particular delays impact her ability to access the classroom environment, appropriately attend to task and progress towards kindergarten readiness. I was really happy that she qualified for classroom services because it is SUCH a great program, and we L.O.V.E. Ms. Jamie, her teacher. More on how the classroom program is structure below.
- Transportation to and from school: Yep, she rides the short bus, and we're so proud of it!
- Speech therapy: Becca is no longer delayed in her receptive or expressive language. In fact, at another round of assessment at the NICU follow-up clinic, when Becca was 36 months, she scored 42 months on expressive language. That's my girl!
- Feeding therapy: Because everything done through the school is focused purely on helping the kids success from an educational perspective, they do not provide feeding therapy, I guess because you can be fully tube-fed and still participate in the educational process fully. Not that it's totally disconnected; the sensory work they do in OT especially can help make progress in her sensory-based feeding issues.
And the program is awesome. Half of the kids are on an IEP (a.k.a. have special needs) and half are peer models from the community (a.k.a. normal kids - by the way, it's FREE preschool for these kids, and I don't know why everybody doesn't put their kid in this program, particularly if the schedule does work for your family!). There are always four adults in the classroom: a teacher, two teacher's aides, and one therapist. The therapist alternates between speech and occupational because both of those disciplines provide integrated services, meaning that they build the therapy into the classroom program. (The PT pulls Becca out for her session. It's have to practice walking on a balance beam, climbing and jumping with 13 other 3-year-olds without it becoming pure chaos!).
Everything they do in school is coordinated, but in such a way that the kids don't notice or feel confined. They work on 2-week storybook units, meaning that they base their different activities on one book for two weeks. For example, they have been studying The Kissing Hand, which is a really sweet book about a little raccoon who misses his mommy at school, so she kisses his hand so that he always has her love with him. So in OT, they stuffed "raccoon tails" (tube socks) with newspaper and painted them. In art, they made a little raccoon mask. In dramatic play, they wore their masks and tails and pretended to be raccoons. Another time in art, they made trees by drawing rectangles for the tree trunk (because the rectangle is the base shape for the letter of the week, which was "F") and glued cotton balls on the top for the leaves (an activity Becca is averse to because it involves getting glue on your hands). It's just so well thought-out! So, like I said, it was a little frustrating getting there and working out the scheduling logistics so she can go to school and I can work, but it is so, so, so worth it.
And we're still busy outside of school. Monday afternoon, she gets a super quick nap/rest time in before we head out to feeding therapy, and on Thursdays (starting this week), we'll go to ballet in the evening. Add in Wednesday therapies and weight check and the regular Sunday/Wednesday church schedule, and she's one BUSY little girl! And I'm one tired mama...but, thankfully, we've got a great Team Becca, including SuperDad, her second family (the aforementioned Lovells), and a new SUPER babysitter who - get this - used to play Mickey and Minnie at Disney World. I mean, really, could you have any better credentials for playing with young kids? :)
We're slowly getting adjusted to the new schedule and working out some of the (pretty major) kinks - and relying heavily on the loving hands at church to make this whole mom's a pastor-dad's a pastor-Becca's got special needs charade work. And after I had to steam clean the youth room carpet after Becca disconnected her tube feeding while "napping" in there while mommy and daddy worked, we're having to think creatively about scheduling. But we'll get there. And we're accepting any and all advice. :)
Here are some pictures of the big elementary school student!
|"Bye bye, Mommy!"|
|"Tan I go NOW?"|
|Time for one more goodbye on her first day|
|There's the short bus, dropping her off right in front of our house!|
|So tired after school - "No picture, Mommy!"|