Preschool — the anticipation, the nervousness, the curiosity of things unknown (for both child and parents)! These days, the process of exploring, choosing, and enrolling in a preschool is a timely and extensive one. My son began his first school experience in a bi-weekly preschool for three-year-olds this past year. As a secondary educator myself, I thought I had covered all my bases: I met with the teacher, we toured the school, and we bought the supplies, backpack, and new shoes. He was more than ready, and the first few weeks were amazing. I was prepared for the mild separation anxiety in the mornings and clinging hugs at pickup. However, I wasn’t prepared for what came about a month later.
One spring morning when I pulled into the school lot, the teacher asked me to come inside. She explained that my son was exhibiting some characteristics of having low core strength and possibly some delays with his fine motor skills. I was shocked. My brain was processing at a mile a minute and I was instantly questioning myself. “What haven’t I done to prepare him? What will this mean for his development?” And then the all too familiar thoughts of, “This is all my fault.”
Working in the education field, I have been a part of evaluation processes for hundreds of students. I have sat in countless meetings and worked with special education educators and students for the last 13 years. But this felt different. This was MY child. How was I going to react when the process was for my son? After discussing the recommendation with my husband, we both agreed we have just one imperative goal for our son — that we give him the absolute best opportunities as possible to help him be successful in his life. We scheduled the evaluation, filled out the endless mountains of paperwork, discussed the options with our local school district, and waited to find out the results. From the lens of both parent and teacher, here are the top five “need to knows” when your preschooler is recommended for an early intervention evaluation.
1. Don’t Panic.
Every child has strengths and weaknesses. An early intervention evaluation gives valuable information about how your child learns. There are a lot of supports in place for children who need early interventions to get up to speed with their peers. These programs have been proven, through countless studies and research, to be extremely effective. Time is of the essence and the sooner a child is serviced, the less chance they have of remaining in the “system.” According to RAND Researchers, “Early childhood intervention programs have been shown to yield benefits in academic achievement, behavior, educational progression.” When the worries, questions, and concerns come flooding, try to remember that the educator doing the recommendation wants the same thing as you — to help your child be successful.
2. O.M.G. The Acronyms!
The world of pediatric services consists mainly of fancy names and acronyms that can be incredibly confusing. If your child is recommended for an evaluation, classified, or beginning services, it is a great idea to find an advocate that can help you decipher all of the language within the forms and paperwork. This could be a parent liaison, a teacher, a pediatric services provider, or in some cases, an educational lawyer. Laura, a fellow New York mama received guidance through her daughter’s preschool teacher. “Mollie’s school teachers went above and beyond by talking me through everything and joining me in the meeting with the [school] district. I think I would have felt very lost and overwhelmed without their guidance and support.”
Regardless of who the advocate is, you should never be alone at any point during this process.
3. Get The Facts.
Children can be recommended for pediatric services for a variety of reasons. Classifications are not a “one size fits all.” Even two children exhibiting the same characteristics can need dramatically different services. In most states, children will be evaluated in a number of categories, regardless of their area of concern. These categories include fine motor skills, cognitive abilities, physical strength and coordination, speech and language skills, among others. In order for providers to ensure your child gets the services he or she might need, the evaluation needs to assess a multitude of skills.
4. Evaluation Day Is Like Any Other.
In most cases, your child can be assessed at home or in a school setting. Depending on your child’s needs, the specialist in that area will contact you to set up the meeting. For my son, an occupational therapist and physical therapist were present. When the day came for their home visit, my husband and I were filled with nervous anticipation. Meanwhile, our son just saw both therapists as fun, new friends. They asked him to do tasks such as color, puzzles, and play outside.
5. STOP The Stigma.
Regardless of the result of your child’s evaluation, we, as parents of these tiny souls, have a duty to remain positive and encouraging for our children. When Laura’s daughter was recommended to receive services for special education and speech, she didn’t know what to expect. However, after receiving services for just five months, she has seen enormous improvements in her daughter’s social and conversational skills — improvements that may not have come as quickly, had she declined services. “If your child’s teacher approaches you about early intervention, try not to get defensive or feel guilty. [I know these are first gut reactions.] Early intervention is an amazing opportunity to give your child the tools he or she needs to succeed before entering kindergarten,” shares Laura. “I also feel that they have given me, as a parent, the tools I need to guide my daughter. I’m listening to her sessions when I can, I’m staying in contact with her therapist and teachers, and I’m learning how to parent her better. It has been beneficial to our family as a whole.”
Confronting any news that your child is being referred or classified for one reason or another can be unnerving. However, keeping an open and positive attitude is what will benefit your child in the long run. Ultimately, my son was assessed within the average range for his physical abilities, and did not qualify for services at this time. Did the process stress me out? Of course. Did it help me gain perspective to be a better parent and educator for my own children and students? Absolutely. At the end of the day, we all want what is best for our children. And that’s love, support, and more love.
Jennifer Pavone is a mother, teacher, yoga instructor, and literary enthusiast. She and her family reside in Rochester, New York.
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