Education is a fundamental right for all individuals. In Florida each child at the age of 4 is entitled to free VPK. This provides students with 3 hours a day during the school year of pre-k free of charge to families. Children are provided with instruction through approved providers, typically preschools/daycare.
Buggie is eligible for VPK this year. He also has a diagnosis of PDD-NOS, in other words he is on the spectrum. His IEP, Individual Education Plan, does NOT have accommodations for autism. This is a battle I have been fighting with the school board since our IEP meeting last year. He was one of many who have been lost in the system. This will not be the case this year when we return to our IEP meeting in September.
Buggie is “High Functioning.” He has partial eye contact, he is verbal but still has communication issues, and academically he is behind. We have worked countless hours with therapists and in home programs to help his functional skills develop. In the middle of this somehow he did not grasp the educational concepts that typically developing children have by this age. This is okay, we take it step by step.
Based on his level of functional skills, my Husband and I have made the decision to place him in a typical preschool for VPK in hopes to keep him with his typical developing peers. This decision was not made lightly, rather it was done after countless hours of observation and conversation. Finally by June of this year the decision was made. Now it was time to find a preschool who would accept him.
This seems like an easy task, yet it was not! My first thought was this will be easy, I will simply go back to the preschool he was in prior to diagnosis. He was last there when he was a year old, his oldest sister went to VPK there two years ago. This seemed like a no brainer for me. I went in, talked to the teacher and was told “We are not trained to handle his needs.” Well damn, I struck out. This was not a good start. After I left the school, I called an additional 10 schools. Each one gave me the same answer, “I’m sorry we are not trained to handle his needs.” This sounds so pretty when it is said this way. Yet I got the feeling that every school I contacted would say the same thing. These are the times I wish I was ignorant to the way the educational system works.
Family Central, an organization here in Florida, and the Early Learning coalition provide the VPK program. On their website they have information about inclusion in the VPK program and even better they provide FREE training to childcare centers on how to make sure their programs are set up for inclusion. At this point I was mad. I was seeing red and was ready to report each of these schools for discrimination. I couldn’t even find the “nice words” I tell my children to use. I wanted to be a raging bitch and make everyone understand that my son is amazing and they need to include him.
Today I called two different schools, both welcomed me for a tour. I went to the first school who said they would be able to accommodate my son’s needs. We walked in and lil man would not take his headphones off. The classrooms were cluttered, nothing was at eye level for the children and it was LOUD. I was having problems with the environment. Both lil man and lil girl shied away from the staff and were not very open to the idea. They were ready to get out before I could even finish the conversation with the school’s director. THIS WAS NOT THE SCHOOL. While they said they could accommodate his needs and his therapist would be able to come to the school, there was little about this school that was sensory friendly.
We left, I felt defeated. I was at a loss. We entered the second school shortly after. I must admit, I did not have high hopes for this school. No other school would take him and the only other option was too much of a sensory overload. We toured the school were shown each classroom and they kids were allowed to explore the classes. They could touch the toys, meet the teachers, and even interact with the other kids. (Nope there was no interacting with other kids, but it was nice that it was an option.) As the tour went on things kept getting better. Each classroom is equipped with a “chill zone” where children can go to decompress. There are visuals of emotions, calm down methods, and get this SESNORY items. So at this point I am wondering if I have died and gone to preschool dream land. We continue with the tour, we talk about logical consequences and then I am surprised with the training that their staff is undergoing. It is a training called PBS, Positive Behavior Supports. Really a preschool working with behavior supports. I’m in shock.
After the tour is over we talk about Buggies current needs and what will be needed for him to succeed. They are cool with this, then I meet the director/owner. Everything makes sense following this meeting. She was an elementary school teacher who went on to get her masters in Special Education. Now it all makes sense to me, this school is the perfect choice for my two younger ones. Not only am I happy with the school and the staff, but lil man is happy with the choice as well.
Maybe all of the “No’s” we had to hear were put in our path so that we could get to this school. I believe everything happens for a reason and that there is always a plan in life, even when it hasn’t been reviled to us yet. It is faith and trust that will lead me to the right decisions for my children.