Welcome to the Letter K! I feel like I am on my favorite TV show-Sesame Street. The letter of today is K and our IEP topic is Kindergarten Transition. When you hear most special ed folks discuss “transition” most of the time they are talking about the older transition, when the child is either graduating or aging out of the system. But, the kindergarten transition is so important and so often overlooked. I’m not scolding parents–I get it. Many times we are just struggling to accept diagnoses and getting our feet under us during the preschool time.
Having a good transition to the school district is essential to create a path to success for your child. So this needs to go to the top of your priority list when it is time. Devote time to it and it will pay off.
Ok, the IEP transition into Kindergarten….where to begin.
Should you hold your child back until they are 6, or the latest age allowed by your state?
This is a personal decision. There are a zillion articles online about redshirting your kindergartener. To add to your decision, there are many who believe that preschool services are better and more plentiful than school age services, therefore, you should give your child the additional year of those services. Once you read the section below on building a good groundwork first, you may need that extra year to do just that. Personally, my son started receiving much more when he started kindergarten, so I did not hold him back for that reason. I have a friend who kept her child out of school until age 8, what our state mandates, and he did just fine too. It’s very individual.
Use preschool to lay the groundwork for a solid IEP.
Make sure that the child in front of you is the same child on paper. Make sure that the IEP/IFSP is thorough and accurate and that his every need is identified and addressed. A developmentally delayed child who is 3 or 4 years old is not really that delayed, just by virtue of only being on the planet for 3-4 years. It is a much different story to have a 9th grader who has the reading and social skills of a 5th grader. But at age 4, you can’t really be 4 years behind. Make sense? What I’m trying to get across is that even if the child is only 6-12 months behind their peers on some skills, keep pushing for more to close the gap. Your team, even your pediatrician might be saying “don’t worry, he’ll catch up.” Really? How do they know that they will catch up without intensive interventions? Do they have a crystal ball?
I personally find that smaller class ratios and specialty programs such as ABA are more plentiful for the preschoolers. Push for the smallest setting possible and 1:1 if it’s warranted. If your child has behaviors, pursue wraparound or whatever behavioral health options are available to you, that you can reasonably fit into your child’s schedule. Having an FBA and behavior plan going into the transition is a much better option than some of what I see….which is schools that are suspending 5 and 7-year-olds for negative behavior. You avoid that by already having a behavior plan.
Get your child in social skills instruction if they need it. This is one area where I see a ton of pushback from the schools, so better to have it going into the transition than waiting.
Your end result should be a near perfect IEP when your child is 4 or 5. It should have all of their areas of need identified and be strengths-based. The way the IEP process works, is that if your child’s needs are identified, and the strategies in place are working for them to make progress, there is little legal justification to take it away. You might hear “Well, we don’t do that here” or “we want to try something else” but you can disagree. “No thank you, we’ll stick with what is working.”
going through the actual kindergarten transition
Your district will evaluate the child all over again, even if they are not due for their 2 or 3 year eval. Many parents and advocates will encourage you to go through the whole process at age 4 “just to see what they are going to offer.” As a general practice, I don’t like that. I don’t think it benefits anyone to do a bunch of evals and have meetings if you have no intent of following through–that’s wasting resources that our schools already don’t have. But, that is exactly what I ended up doing.
However, I was unhappy (and he was regressing!) with his preschool program, so I had every intention of enrolling him in the school district. Until they offered the IEP and the placement, and I did not have the data I needed to get him a different placement. It took me another year to gather that data to show that the placement (where he is now) is appropriate for him and what they were offering was similar to the placement where he regressed.
Basically, if I was coaching you, I’d tell you–this is it, the big game. You need to be prepared. Don’t take this lightly. This sets the stage for their educational career. Please please don’t take an attitude of “well, we’ll just wait and see what they offer” or “well, we can always change it later if we don’t like it.”
No, go in STRONG! Know what you want for your child. Know what it is going to look like. Prepare a VISION STATEMENT with your child’s other parent, particularly if your child is higher needs. What is a priority for you–academics or adaptive skills/life skills? Many children who use wheelchairs and are cognitively normal are assumed to be cognitively impaired, so keep the focus on the academics if your child is automatically deemed to be “life skills.”
Some things to think about for kindergarten special education and IEPs
- class size
- pull out services vs. push in
- individual services (speech, OT, vision) vs group services
- individual services vs. just a consult with the therapist and the teacher(s)
- self contained classroom or regular ed
- pull out to small setting for some subjects?
- if a 1:1 is necessary, whether it be behaviors or health needs
- behavior plan and what that will look like in new setting
- socialization and making friends (is the playground even accessible for your child?)
- “specials” and what that will look like for your child
- any specialty programming (such as ABA) and who it will be implemented in new setting
- how does your child best learn?
Going in strong means you get a strong IEP. Doing a “eh, let’s see what they offer” means that it will likely take you 2-3 years to get your child on track and in that time they can fall significantly behind their peers in reading and math.
Stick to it, hire an advocate if you need support. Don’t let yourself get nervous by timelines. My own son did not start at his kindergarten placement until school had been in session for 3-4 weeks. Yes, it was very unsettling to see school buses roaring down the street and knowing that I still did not have a placement or IEP that I agreed with so K was still sitting at the table in his jammies. It was nerve-wracking, but I survived, and you will too. It was worth sticking it out to get what he needed because now he is in a good placement that meets his needs and we’ve been able to cut back on some services. So don’t sign anything just because “school starts next week!” If it’s worth it, it’s worth waiting for.
Good luck, keep us posted…and as always, I’m open to any suggestions I may have missed.