Bittersweet good-byes

This has been a week of good-byes to beloved therapists. Lina turns three on Sunday, which means she’ll be receiving all therapies through her preschool starting next week.

I admit to some tears, especially when I said good-bye to our beloved speech therapist, who has seen Lina every week since she was around seven months old. I didn’t get pictures with everyone, but these photos with Miss Lola, her TEIS developmental therapist, illustrate the bond between Lina and the remarkable people who have worked so hard to give her the very best start possible.

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I can’t express what it has meant to us to have such a fantastic team of professionals supporting, guiding, challenging and encouraging our girl (and often her mama, too). Lina has made remarkable progress over the summer, and she is in a very good place as she enters preschool. Now we look forward to getting to know a new team of professionals who will continue to challenge, guide and encourage her in a more immersive environment.

This is life: bittersweet good-byes, and on to the next thing. We expect great things.

Welcome to Early Childhood

In a season of firsts, we can add another: We attended our first IEP meeting for Lina today.

IEP stands for Individualized Education Program and is the required legal document that has to be in place in order for a student to receive special eduction services through the public school system.

This is our first IEP meeting, because Lina is turning three in less than a month. On that day, her therapies and other services will transition from Tennessee Early Intervention (a division of the department of education for qualifying babies and toddlers) to the local school system.

We met with Lina’s IEP team, which consisted of:

  • the assistant principal, who oversees the early childhood program for our designated school,
  • two early childhood teachers (one representing special ed, the other representing regular ed),
  • physical, occupational and speech therapists,
  • the school psychologist
  • and one additional new teacher there to observe.

It was a full room.

The meeting was long and detailed, but it was fantastic. We were so impressed with the warmth and professionalism of every person there. I had typed up a document listing Lina’s areas of strength and goals we wanted to work on, and it was remarkable how in line that was with the assessments and goals the IEP team had prepared. We came away with a signed IEP we are very happy with, listing specific goals and services.

So now we know:

  • As soon as Lina turns three, she will begin the Early Childhood preschool.
  • She will attend 8:30-11:30 a.m. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.
  • A speech therapist will be in the classroom all day two days/week and an occupational therapist will be there the other two days.
  • In addition, Lina will be pulled out for 30 mins. twice/week for individual or small group speech therapy and the same for occupational therapy.
  • She will also receive 20 mins. each week of individual or small group physical therapy.
  • Her class will be around 12 kids (between 10-14); six of those kids are typically developing, and the others will have a range of special needs.
  • There will be four adults in the classroom all day: one teacher, two assistants and a speech or occupational therapist.
  • Lina’s teacher is wonderful and has a master’s degree in early childhood special education. She also has worked with the KidTalk research program at Vanderbilt (which Lina has been participating in this summer).
  • The Early Childhood program for our area is at an elementary school about 20 minutes away. The building is six years old, open, brightly-lit and very clean.

I am so grateful. I get a little teary thinking about the difference this program will make for Lina. I think often of kids with challenges like hers who live in places without access to these kinds of resources, and it about breaks my heart. I know how lucky we are.

And then, there’s this: in less than a month, I won’t be driving Lina all over creation for therapy appointments! 

School decisions in Reality Land

Things are getting all kinds of real around here.

Today, I pre-registered Corin for kindergarten at our local public school. (He now has a nap mat and official Scales Elementary canvas bag!) I also met with Lina’s TEIS (TN Early Intervention Services) coordinator for her six month review, in which we updated her therapy goals and discussed her transition to the public school system in September. (Kids under three who qualify for special ed receive therapies through the state early intervention system and then transition to the local school district on their third birthdays.)

I’m thankful to still have five months to prepare for the fall; it’s going to be something. In August, I will be putting my firstborn on the bus for his first taste of full-time school (and the first taste of public school for all of us – but that’s a different subject). A few weeks later, I will begin driving Lina nearly 20 minutes one-way for a four day/week, three hour/day preschool. In addition to her highly-qualified teacher, she will have speech, physical and occupational therapists in the classroom all day. Her class will be 50 percent special education preschoolers and 50 percent “peer models” (typically developing kids her age).

This may not sound like a big deal to a lot of parents, but to this “let little kids run free and learn by reading cereal boxes and digging in the dirt” mom, it really is. My instinct for as long as we’ve been thinking about the subject has been that the ideal early education for very young kids happens mostly in an unstructured home environment, with educated and engaged parents. I’ve read some pretty solid research along those lines, particularly related to the key role of play in early learning. I have concerns about increasing academic pressure on kindergartners, who are still at an age when a highly-structured environment can backfire.

But life is life, and we don’t dwell in the ideal. We live in our own complicated reality, as does every other family on the planet. We don’t make decisions based only on research and ideology; we make them based on our unique kids and our specific life circumstances.

That’s why my kids have been in a Mother’s Day Out program. It’s how two church school-educated parents moved to the other end of town, to a painfully expensive housing market, to access the best public schools in the region. It’s how a “less structure is better” mom is enrolling her five-year-old in a public kindergarten and her three-year-old in a four-day-a-week preschool. Jon and I have spent a lot of time wrestling with competing needs and priorities. We’re working to find the right balance of what’s best for the entire family. We’ve prayed a lot, researched a lot, talked a lot to other parents and therapists, and this is where we’ve landed. I am (mostly) at peace.

Just don’t ask me about it as I’m putting Corin on the bus in August or dropping Lina off at her classroom in September.

And, just for kicks, I will leave you with this gem of Corin dressed for Dr. Seuss day at pre-K. (That would be my belt as a tail and a hat I stapled and glued together this morning, between packing his lunch and combing his hair for school pictures.)

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Let the festivities begin

Even with my MIL here as back-up while husband was out of town, it took all week to get our Christmas decorations up. They are scaled back some this year, but they are up, and it makes me happy. It also makes my children happy, which is even better.

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To be clear, the nativity set only stayed like this for a few minutes before the pieces were strewn about the house.

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Photo credit goes to MIL, who got this sleepy early-morning moment on camera.

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I can’t get enough of that soft Christmas light glow in the evenings (which begin very early this time of  year here on the edge of the Central time zone). I notice stores are carrying more LED Christmas lights every year, but I can’t do it. The glow just doesn’t seem to have that same warm quality that to me is more than half the point of Christmas lights. I know it’s not very green of me. (My Christmas cards this year are made from recycled paper. Does that make up for it? No?)

This Wednesday, we took a fun outing to see the Christmas decorations at the Opryland Hotel here in Nashville, and then we took Corin across the street to the mall to ride the little train they have there. The Opryland is quite the local attraction, for those who haven’t been there, especially at Christmastime. I was not sorry to miss the crowds that throng as it gets closer to Christmas.

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Katie (SIL), MIL (also known as Mimi), Lina and Corin on a little boat ride around one area of the hotel

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Someone is learning quickly how to take full advantage of his Mimi’s willingness to fulfill his desires. See the car and the cookie. (And forgive the atrocious haircut. Mommy has decided henceforth to hang up her very dull shears in favor of the professional’s touch. Yikes.)

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Today, we had our third visit with Lina’s early intervention teacher, Holly. We love Holly! She is pretty and kind and so encouraging and helpful. She brings a mother’s perspective, as she has FOUR of her own kiddos. She also has her own personal experience with special needs. We are continuing to work on improving feedings, and Holly has shown us some massage techniques and tricks and positions for encouraging muscle development. I think these visits really are going to become highlights of our weeks.

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Learning to love Early Intervention

We met on Thursday with the coordinator for Tennessee’s Early Intervention program, which will provide Lina with regular evaluations, goals and any necessary therapies from now until her third birthday. Anna was lovely and so helpful in laying out realistic goals for Lina’s first year. We will meet with her once a month to review Lina’s progress and revise or add to her one-year plan (called an IFSP, which stands for something I have not yet learned) as needed. As an extra bonus, Anna turns out to be pregnant and seriously considering a home birth. We had plenty to talk about.

The first time we met with an Early Intervention contact to begin enrolling Lina, I came away feeling pretty down. I was being confronted again with the fact that our daughter is likely to struggle and fall behind, and it was hard. I felt edgy and sad the rest of the day.

This time, though, I found the appointment to be encouraging. Anna answered a lot of questions and helped us understand what would be realistic to expect for developmental milestones for a child with Down syndrome in the first year. It was exciting to think about Lina learning to sit, crawl, feed herself, maybe even say her first words. Anna was happy with Lina’s development so far, and I came away with a renewed confidence that my little girl is going to rock at a lot of things.

We’ll hear next from the teacher who will be our bi-weekly contact (probably going to weekly as Lina gets a little older) to provide the actual developmental support. I am looking forward to the appointments and feel grateful that we have access to these resources. And man, is it awesome that they come to the house. I like to think these are people Lina will really get to know as she grows, and that she, too, will look forward to these appointments.

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7 weeks