An important moment has arrived: my husband and I got to attend our very first open-house event. Avery has now officially started developmental preschool and we couldn’t be more excited! While he has already been attending a Head Start program, this marks his first step into the public school system.
Developmental preschool is for children over the age of three who have an IEP. An IEP stands for “Individualized Education Plan”. These are plans and goals set forth by a team of therapists, school faculty, and the parents of the child. It is a way for the therapist and the school to be held accountable for ensuring the child’s success. Developmental Pre K is not mandatory, but provides a way for children to receive therapy free of charge in a school setting. The setting not only allows them an opportunity for standard physical, occupational, and speech work but it also provides adaptive and cognitive help. Cognitive and adaptive therapies are crucial in teaching children to understand how to be part of a group in an educational atmosphere. At developmental preschool, they work with Avery at his current developmental level. They will respect the areas where he requires special attention, but also push him to see his potential. The program is only 2 hours a day, for four days a week. Essentially, this will prepare Avery for the eventual big leap into the school system and kindergarten. Like any other parent, our feelings are a mix of happiness to see our child grow, and anxiety over thrusting him into the beginning of the so-called “real world.”
The “real world” is scary. There are expectations, assumptions, judgements, and the harshest of all… comparisons. Now that Avery is in this world, I am understanding even more just how differently we now view what was once just a typical world. The only world we knew.
Below are just a couple of the glaringly different aspects of entering the school system for parents of a child who lives with a disability….
Growing is never sad.
My Facebook feed is full of posts from other parents, echoing similar sentiments of denial – they can’t believe their “baby” is getting older. As a parent to a child who is delayed, I’m finding it interesting just how different my feelings about the whole “ageing process” are from theirs. Words can’t convey how eager I am to see my baby boy sitting amongst his peers, engaging in an art project, or participating in something as simple as daily circle time. I’m not sure watching my child advance to a new grade, or grow a year older will ever carry with it any sad feelings. With every step, and every year, comes a lot of hard work and patience. We strive for these advancements, not fear them.
School is not an expectation, but a goal.
For our family, the school system is not viewed as an obligatory institution, but rather a goal. An unfortunate aspect to our view is that most schools are only set up to teach one type of learner. This can create a tough road for many children, who are being asked every year to reach goals that may not be attainable. Rather than identifying our children’s unique talents and abilities, it seems as though we are left every year asking ourselves, “What is he/she not doing that he/she SHOULD be doing?,” when I think we should be saying, “Look at what my child can do!” and “How can we build on my child’s skills to create even more confidence?” This is what we hope to do for Avery.
School work is viewed as a monumental success.
Watching my child sitting at a table creating a piece of art to bring home and share isn’t expected, but rather something we understand that he worked very hard to achieve, and therefore a success. Avery has practiced for two years just to learn to hold a marker, let alone understand how to use it to display a stroke of color. The daily tasks in a classroom become triumphs. The small things are truly the big things.
I would be naive if I thought my concerns over Avery’s lack of finger-painting skills were the pinnacle of my worries on his road ahead in the school system. The truth is, my husband and I are bracing ourselves for the future and beginning to discuss all of our options. Whether that option ends up being an alternative school, private, or public school; it is important for us to watch Avery and see what is best for him.
Today however, I only wish to focus on how big my heart swells seeing our little guy wearing his first backpack!
Happy 1st day of the “real world,” sweet boy. Go show the world that not everybody wants to color inside the lines, and that’s OK.