Yes, that is in ALL CAPS because I’m shouting for joy!
Let me back up a little bit.
Some of you might remember the nightmare we experienced last year with the school district and getting Finn’s first IEP put together. If you’ve only recently joined the program, in summary, our school district screwed up by beginning the process of transitioning Finn from Early Intervention to school district services late. They then rushed us through the process, cramming a three-month process into less than one month, all the while being complete dicks about the whole thing. They ended up developing Finn’s IEP and holding the first IEP meeting without us, over our very vocal protestations. The whole thing was terribly adversarial, there was no sense of collaboration, and it just completely sucked. Eventually they offered us placement for Finn in a self-contained special ed preschool class for kids with “moderate to severe” disabilities. There were no other options on the table, although we asked – that particular class was all they would offer us. They wanted him to attend all day (6+ hours/day) five days a week (at three years old!). Michael and I visited the class and it just wasn’t at all what we wanted for Finn. In the end, we decided to forego any preschool for a year and just put Finn in speech therapy twice a week – and this was really only conditioned on him being able to get in with an SLP we have a previous relationship with (via Daisy).
Here’s where the drama ended last October.
So Finn has been attending speech therapy twice a week since the end of October. It’s been a positive experience, although I cannot say for sure that it’s resulted in any sort of difference in his language capabilities. He continues to add words to his vocabulary and to understand more and to communicate his wants and needs more and more – but this could very well just be the natural progression of things for him, and I’m sure being part of such a large family who talk to him and to each other all the time doesn’t hurt. (Even his speech teacher says that she can’t necessarily give credit for any of the progress he’s made directly to what he gets going to see her twice a week.) However, he loves going, and it’s given him an opportunity to learn how to share and take turns and follow directions from individuals outside his family, so I look at it as a plus.
As spring has approached, finding a preschool for fall placement for Finn has been my goal, and it’s been something that has weighed very heavily on me. I want him to have a typical preschool experience, with typical peer models. I want him to learn through play, and to be welcomed with open arms. Where the hell was I going to find all that for a kid with Down syndrome? I guess the whole school district experience left a very bad taste in my mouth – and not very positive expectations about what we might encounter when we actually began our search for The Perfect Preschool.
Well, as it happened, it just kind of fell into my lap. I tentatively put the word out to my local friends on Facebook that we were about to begin the process of looking for a preschool for Finn for fall placement, and did anyone have any recommendations? Right away, my friend Christie got in touch with me and said that she had gotten in touch with the preschool her (typical) boys attended. She copied me with the messages that she exchanged with the director, and the director was very open to having Finn (knowing up front that he has Ds). I was so grateful for this – just the fact that I have friends who see Finn as a person, and as someone worthy of typical experiences, you know? Anyway, this program is a co-op, which I may have been able to make work, but I will be saddled with a new baby come fall, so it might not be the most workable situation.
Then my friend Carrie called me and told me about the preschool her son attends one day a week. She absolutely raved about it. Her son is on the autism spectrum, and he attends this preschool one day a week in order to be with typical peer models. It’s a lab preschool at our local community college – right around the corner from our house, as in, we could walk there. And as it happens, another good friend of mine, Jodi, is a professor at this college, so she’s a good connection to have. Both Carrie and Jodi put in a word for us with the director of the program, and I spoke to him at length on the phone last week, and I came away from that conversation so pleased and excited I could hardly sleep that night.
Here’s the description of the preschool from their website:
The Fullerton College Child Development Center and Lab School provide high quality early childhood programs for preschool children ages 21⁄2-51⁄2. Teachers design the early care and learning programs to meet the developmental needs, interests and learning styles of the children. The center is licensed and holds accreditation from the National Association for the Education of Young Children. The Center serves families without regard to sex, race, religion, sexual preference or physical handicap.
In addition, The Child Development Lab School serves as a college classroom for students in the Child Development and Educational Studies Department. Teachers provide an environment that supports and promotes early care and learning through the creation of natural learning spaces where children can investigate, learn and develop.
The hours of operation are Monday through Friday from 7:30 am to 6:00 pm. The Center is open year round and follows the holiday schedule of Fullerton College. There are 2, 3 and 5 day enrollment options. The program is available to students, Fullerton College staff and the greater community. We provide the children with a nutritious breakfast, lunch and snack daily at no additional cost. Please call to visit, check availability and tuition rates or to be added to our waiting list. The Center offers free and reduced cost child-care services to eligible families.
The Child Development Center is a part of the Fullerton College Social Sciences Division and works in conjunction with the faculty of the Child Development and Educational Studies Department.
This is a preschool for typically developing children. However, the director is very enthusiastic about diversity and inclusion. He has a background in special education and a degree in Speech and Language Pathology. He said to me on the phone, “We see every child as whole and capable.” Um, excuse me while I get a tissue, please. The school is no stranger to kids with special needs – they’ve had kids with Down syndrome (although Finn will likely be the only child with Ds for now), they’ve had kids on the autism spectrum, and they’ve had kids with IEPs for other issues.
We went and visited the school today. I wish I had a video to show you of our walk through. It’s seriously like Kid Heaven. They spend a lot of time outdoors, and their outdoor area is amazing – gardens, a tree house, paths, water pumps, and arbor, water tables, plus they’re putting in a sound garden. Very developmental, very hands-on, very child driven. The classrooms are all mixed-age and divided according to space, and there is a 1:8 teacher-student ratio. The classrooms are very much like the outdoor areas – just lots of things to explore, lots of hand-on activities.
Finn got to spend lots of time exploring everything this morning, and he really seemed to dig it. We met several of the teachers, and everyone was warm and welcoming, and not one person gave a funny look or expressed any reservations about having Finn, Down syndrome and all.
And while they typically require children to be potty trained to enroll, they were not put off at all by the fact that Finn is not yet potty trained and might not be by fall.
I asked what we need to do to secure Finn a place on their waiting list, and the director told me, “He’s in. Just tell us when you’d like him to start.”
Somebody pinch me.
Happy World Down Syndrome Day!