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Countdown to kindergarten: Keeping the label out of special ed

For pre-K families, 2013 is a year of big transitions. Our kids will be saying goodbye to the duck pond of preschool and jumping headfirst into the murky East River of kindergarten. Parents of kids with special needs have another hurdle ahead. The dreaded Turning 5 meeting” determines whether those currently receiving support for developmental delays and learning disorders will continue to get it…or not.

For kids like my son, who are on the border of general education and special needs, the Committee on Special Education (CSE) is a tough sell. And kindergarten, with its larger class sizes and longer days, is a demanding transition. CSE doesn’t make it easier. Now Noodle will have to fit into one of 13 special education categories in order to qualify. Suddenly my quirky, bright, wonderful, often-exasperating child who never really fit any label will have to—if we want him to keep getting help.

The problem is we’re not sure. After two years of PT (physical therapy), OT (occupational therapy) and SEIT (special education itinerant teacher), Noodle is doing great, but the road has often been rocky.

After six elbow dislocations and a fair amount of hair pulling and body slamming, Noodle’s preschool teachers urged us to apply to Early Intervention. My husband was upset. He insisted that Noodle’s behavior was natural for a boy who, a mere 30,000 years ago, would soon be learning to hunt bison and defend his tribe. When the special educator reported that Noodle was “very bright, but not a rocket scientist” my MIT-educated spouse lost it. “How do they know he won’t be a f-ing rocket scientist!?” But most of all, he didn’t want our son to be labeled.

At home, we try to teach our kids not to judge others. We don’t call people names like “stupid” and “poopy-head.” To a parent “ADHD” doesn’t sound much better. At best a diagnosis helps us categorize and research; at worst, it leads to stereotypes and segregation

Twenty-five years ago, when I was in public elementary school in Los Angeles, I can’t recall a single classmate with any physical or learning delay. No one got extra time on a test; our school was not wheelchair accessible. Special ed was a shameful term, relegated to some out-of-the-way classroom that none of the “normal” kids ever saw.

Twenty-five years ago, some say, Noodle would have just been a rambunctious kid and then outgrown it. But maybe he also would have been one of the “bad” kids—the ones who never listened to the teachers and couldn’t sit still long enough to do their homework. Those kids were labeled lazy or troublemakers, and typically that label stuck.

I remember the look of relief on my husband’s face when an administrator at our preschool estimated that more than a quarter of the boys receive special services. The recent increase in kids—especially boys—diagnosed with LDs (ADHD in particular) remains controversial, but it’s also helped bring special ed out of the closet.

At home, Noodle continues to be both challenging and remarkable. At 4 and a half, he still can’t (or won’t) play by himself for longer than five minutes. When he’s stressed, he has trouble controlling his body and I’ve gotten injured in the melee. But he can also be very sharp—like when he recently told a friend in his own words “Infinity isn’t a number. It just means counting forever—”and hysterically funny. “Hey Mom,” he said the other day, holding the clock we use for transitions, “Fart when this timer goes off.”

Once again, Dad and I are divided on whether to get support for our son. I do worry about how Noodle will feel and what other kids will say if he gets pulled out of class next year, but I worry more about what will happen if he doesn’t. The way I see it, I can either fight for my kid without the DOE’s help, or I can fight the label.

For now, I’ve decided not to hunt for a diagnosis for my son. At our Turning 5 Meeting, I am going to let his record and progress reports speak for themselves. I will be honest about the challenges he continues to face, but I will also brag a bit about his successes. Even though I’m still unsure about what is best for Noodle, I do believe that CSE cares deeply about the children it serves. Hopefully together, we can find a way to give him the best shot at a healthy and productive kindergarten experience. 

 

Last modified on Monday, 04 February 2013 10:39

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