Our Five Ring Circus: The Countdown to Full Inclusion Kindergarten

Monday, July 9, 2018

The Countdown to Full Inclusion Kindergarten

The Countdown to Full Inclusion Kindergarten

When we received Liam's Down syndrome diagnosis, a lifetime of worries stretched out ahead of us. One of those worries was "What are we going to do when it's time for him to go to school?" That decision seemed SO far away, but the years passed by quickly, and soon, it was time to make that decision. We were completely torn about whether we would send Liam to full inclusion Kindergarten in the Fall, or have him go to preschool for one more year, but last week, we made our decision!

At the beginning of the year, I shared my thoughts about "redshirting" my child who has Down syndrome, and we have been undecided since then. So much so, that I signed the declaration to send him to Kindergarten, but never turned in the paperwork. If you would have asked me one week ago what our decision was, I would have told you that he would be going to preschool for one more year.

Although this is our first time dealing with special education concerns, we had to make a similar decision about sending Lily to Kindergarten when she was eligible. Just like Liam, her birthday fell just before the age cutoff for Kindergarten, which would make her one of the youngest in the class. We put a lot of thought into it, and decided NOT to redshirt Lily. It wasn't always easy, and she IS one of the youngest children in her grade (some students in her class were over a year older than her), but it was the right decision for her. However, we had to consider other factors with Liam, who has special needs.

Down syndrome education

Although Liam does have special needs, which sets him a bit apart from his neuro-typical peers, my main concerns were his late Summer birthday which would make him one of the youngest kids in the grade, his tiny size (he's about the size of a 3 year old right now), his speech delay, the fact that he needed help in the bathroom, and that he would need extra assistance in the mainstream classroom where he will be. (Yay, full inclusion!) 

On the other hand, I knew 5 days a week of school would benefit him greatly, he is very social and has no problems making friends, and he would learn a lot from his neuro-typical peers. (Please be kind to my sweet boy, kids!) All along, we wanted full inclusion, and he will be getting that without a fight. Realistically, sending him to Kindergarten would be most beneficial for him, and would provide him with more options to learn and grow. 

The thing that was holding us back was the fact that he wasn't guaranteed to have a full time aide with him in the classroom. It's difficult enough to send your independent and fully capable babies to Kindergarten, but it feels a million times harder with a child who has special needs. Even though we want Liam to be exactly like his peers, the truth is he just isn't. That's a hard thing for parents who have children with special needs to admit! (Including myself!)

I believe in my son, and I know he has a TON of potential, just like any other child. The most important thing is to focus on the qualities that make Liam stand out from his peers, believe in him, and realize that he WILL be able to do everything his neuro-typical peers can do. It's just going to take more time, a lot of hard work, and he's going to need some extra support along the way. It isn't always going to be easy, but then again, it isn't easy to raise ANY child! Thankfully, he has an incredible support system cheering him on!

Here was our issue: We couldn't imagine Liam not having an aide available for extra support in the classroom, so that was the deal breaker. IF the school district could give us that, we would send him to Kindergarten as planned. Liam has elopement issues, can be easily distracted, and he does have a speech delay which makes it difficult for him to convey his needs. He absolutely would need an aide with him at all times, just to guide him, watch over him, and help him when needed. 

Liam needs somebody to meet him at the school doors, walk him to his classroom, watch over him to keep him on task, help him when he needs support with his school work, help him communicate his needs, and take him to where he needs to be. Without that, he will just get lost in the school system, and that's unfair to him, and could be detrimental to his well being. Some might call me a helicopter parent, but when you have a child who has special needs, you HAVE to be proactive. No, I don't go looking for a fight or find fault with everything, and I have been pleased with all of Liam's IEP meetings to date, but he absolutely needs extra support in Kindergarten.

Unfortunately, I wasn't sure if he would get what he needed, and another year in his beloved preschool was looking like the safer option.

A phone conversation last Monday, with a specialist from his current preschool program, changed our minds! She is also working with the school district to set up new special education programming in Kindergarten and 1st Grade, and she encouraged us to take a huge step and actually register him for Kindergarten! So I called my husband, gathered up the paperwork, and headed to the administration office to register Liam!

Liam's entire team of teachers and therapists said he is absolutely ready for Kindergarten, and the specialist, who has also worked with him, agreed. She explained the current plan for the upcoming school year, and my mindset quickly shifted to wanting to send him to Kindergarten in the Fall.

Because he and his current preschool classmate, who also has Ds, will be headed to Kindergarten together, the school district wants to hire one of the special education preschool teachers to come with them. Instead of an aide, that teacher will be in the mainstream classroom to help out with their needs, and assist the regular teacher. She will have experience working with children who have special needs, and be able to address every concern that I have. This is the PERFECT solution! 

But like every seasoned, well prepared parent, we have a backup plan! We did receive a letter that basically dismisses Liam from his current preschool program on September 1st, due to his team saying he is ready for Kindergarten. We have to sign it and return it, which would essentially give up his preschool spot for Fall. 

We decided not to return it until his August session of Summer preschool, just in case. IF the school district doesn't follow through with what they promised (which I doubt), we will petition for a hearing for him to remain in the preschool program for one more year. As much as we love his preschool, teachers, and therapists, I do hope things work out for Kindergarten!

Kindergarten is full inclusion, which is exactly what we were hoping for. Liam will still go to the special education classroom, and receive all of his therapies through the school district. It is half day Kindergarten in our district, which I love. And Liam loves school, so the transition from 3 to 5 days, and from special ed to full inclusion should go smoothly, especially with the help of the preschool teacher/aide!

We love our school district, and we have had wonderful experiences with our three older children. We didn't have any experience with special education, and we were hearing a lot of negative things lately. However, a lot of positive changes are currently happening in our district, including the hiring of a new special education director, and the use of the special education preschool staff. We love the teachers and the staff at the school Liam will be attending, and most parents who have children who have Down syndrome in the district are content, so I'm trying to remain positive about the upcoming school year.

So here we go...Liam is off to Kindergarten in the Fall!!! Yes, we are worried, and I highly doubt that worry will ever go away. IF everything works out as promised, this will be the perfect placement for Liam. If it goes as planned, I have no doubt that he will thrive and grow by leaps and bounds in Kindergarten, and win the hearts of the teachers and staff! (He already charmed the administration staff!) Full inclusion Kindergarten, here he comes! (Deep breaths! We got this!)

Full Inclusion Kindergarten my child who has Down syndrome #specialneeds #kindergarten #inclusion #Downsyndrome

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  1. Yes, you do "have this!" Yay, for Liam! You must be so proud that he's ready for kindergarten. I hope the school follows through on their plan--it does sound perfect. I don't blame you for being nervous. Kindergarten was such a huge step for us too, and we actually held Lewie back one year because his preschool teachers said he was still a little too immature, especially when it came to socializing with other kids. (He eventually received special services for that.) You know what's best for Liam--I know he will thrive because he is sooo loved. Good luck!

    1. Thank you, Annette! I think Kindergarten is a huge step for ANY parent. We just had a lot of additional factors to consider, but this seems like the best option!

  2. What great news! Hopefully it all works out and he’s able to go to Kindergarten. Your school district sounds amazing to work with. Yay for Liam!

    1. Thank you so much! Fingers crossed that it all works out according to plan!

  3. Yay for Liam! He will do great! So glad your school district is willing to work so well with you all.

  4. Yep, you've got this, Momma! And you and your family are in my prayers. I hope that he has an easy transition. And you, too. :o)

  5. That is a lot to worry and wonder about but it sounds like if the school's plans are implemented, that everything will be great and I'm sure Liam will love it since he's already a fan of pre-school!!


    1. Thank you, Lauren! I will probably still worry, but not as much as I was before!

  6. Exciting, glad things seem to be working out!

  7. That is great news! So excited for him.

  8. That sounds brilliant! Liam will do great! My second cousin's daughter has DS (she is now 12) and spent her entire junior school life (up to 11) in a mainstream school and loved it - she did have an assistant with her but got fully stuck into school life! Exciting times ahead! I bet he will love the social side of it xx


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