It seems like only yesterday that I was worrying myself sick about how my four-year-old son with special needs would make the leap from preschool to kindergarten. (For the record, he’s five now and doing fabulously!) For any child, the move to “big kid school” is a huge transition for the whole family, but for those of us whose children will be receiving special services, the process is fraught with that much more paperwork, research and worry. 

Your local kindergarten orientation meeting is a good place to start learning about how services transition from preschool to kindergarten. During the first three weeks of December, the Department of Education is hosting citywide meetings in all boroughs for families of students with disabilities entering kindergarten in September 2014. Here are a few meeting tips from someone who has been there:

• Don’t be shy. Prepare to sit close to the front if you can. At the meeting I attended last year, microphones were spotty and simultaneous translation occurred in the back of the room making for a bit of a chaotic listening experience.

• If you have the time, do your reading and research first. At the meeting you will have access to special education officials who are difficult to contact at other times. Use the opportunity to ask your most important questions instead of asking about basic information that can be found in the written materials. The newest version of the guide for parents of kids born in 2009, Kindergarten: An Orientation Guide for Families of Students with Disabilities should be available soon. Keep checking the website to see if it is posted, or take a look at last year’s guide, A Shared Path to Success (PDF), for some of the basic information.

• Be realistic. While the meeting I attended was somewhat helpful, I did leave with more questions than answers. Looking back, could I have learned the same information without attending? Probably, but it still felt important to me to go. In the long run, a strong showing of active, caring parents of students with disabilities sends a message to the Department of Education that our children’s IEPs be honored and taken seriously.

Families of students who are eligible for preschool special education services should have received information and invitations to kindergarten meetings in the mail last week. The list of meetings is also posted on the DOE website in ten languages.

If you have not yet received a letter, contact your assigned administrator at the Committee on Preschool Special Education (CPSE) to make sure your address is listed correctly.

Remember, you are your child’s best advocate. Good luck!