Posted in information, Uncategorized

preschool special needs screening

On Wednesday, Rondel had a special needs screening with our public school district. Because I wasn’t able to find anything about what to expect before we went, I thought it might be useful for someone if I wrote up a description of the screening, along with some context as to how it fits in to the whole process of qualifying for special education services.

Important qualifiers: this information is specific to the Mesa Public School District (although from what I can tell it is fairly similar across all Arizona districts), and pertains specifically to the preschool/early education screening, without any prior early intervention services.

The Overall Process

Requesting an Evaluation

The first step in accessing special education services is to call the district and request an evaluation for your child. We did this after the incident at church that resulted in Rondel joining the special needs ministry there, as the director of that ministry recommended it as both free and most likely faster than a developmental pediatrician. When you call, you’ll need to provide your address and contact information as well as your child’s name, and they’ll let you know the time, date, and location of the next screening. (By law, this must be within 45 days of your request. Our district does screenings weekly but there can be a lot of demand, so your wait time may be short or you might end up waiting a month or more like we did.)

Screening

The district uses the screening process to limit the number of children receiving in-depth, individual evaluations, for obvious reasons of time and expense. So the screening is designed to determine which kids qualify for that additional evaluation (which is the next step towards receiving services). You’ll receive a brief questionnaire in the mail ahead of time, and it is worth your time to fill it out as completely as possible to ensure that all of your concerns are addressed. The special ed teachers carrying out the screening will read it thoroughly and bring up aspects of your input during the screening.

Evaluation

If your child is determined to qualify for an evaluation (there are several different criteria which I’ll go into later), you will schedule it at the screening. Unfortunately, there will be a bit of a lag time here – Rondel’s evaluation is set for almost two full months after his screening – so it is beneficial to start this whole process as early as possible.

IEPs/504s/etc

This is the part of the process we haven’t reached yet 🙂 Your child’s needs and strengths will be considered in great detail at the evaluation, and if those needs are believed to require additional assistance in the classroom or special services outside the classroom (like occupational therapy or speech therapy), a team of people will work with you to get those services in place. That can be done through the structure of an IEP (individualized education program) or a 504 (federal disability law). This is where you’ll get into the minutia of how to best capitalize on your child’s strengths, accommodate his weaknesses, and teach him the skills he needs most. But like I said, I don’t have personal experience here yet!

A Typical Preschool Special Needs Screening

The Criteria

At the screening, your child will be evaluated in six different developmental areas:

  1. Sensory Skills (hearing and vision)
  2. Cognitive Skills (thinking, concepts, reasoning)
  3. Motor Skills (fine and gross)
  4. Speech and Language Skills (articulation, speech patterns, understanding)
  5. Psychosocial Skills (social/play skills)
  6. Adaptive Skills (eating, dressing, toileting)

To qualify for additional evaluation, a child must score below the cutoff in cognitive skills or in any two of the other skills areas.

Sensory Skills

The first portion of the evaluation is a brief hearing and vision test, to make sure that no physical problems are interfering with the rest of the evaluation. For the vision test, the Welch Allyn spot machine is used; this machine can detect a number of visual abnormalities and if any are flagged, the district will refer your child for a full eye exam. Rondel failed the vision test because the machine detected his anisocoria (that is, one of his pupils is larger than the other; this is sometimes associated with disease but is often just a variation of normal), so a failure here doesn’t necessarily mean something is severely wrong. It’s more of an alert than anything else.

For the hearing test, a earbud-type headphone probe is inserted into each ear, one at a time, and a computer sends sound waves out and records the child’s response. I’m not 100% sure how it works as I was more focused on keeping Rondel from pulling the earbud out before the test was complete. The audiologists running this test were, at least in our case, very understanding of squirmy, sensitive, preschoolers and even said it would be ok to skip the second ear after the first one had passed; however, since he has speech/articulation problems, I had them test both ears. And they both passed – so that was a relief, at least!

I don’t think this kind of test would pick up something like central auditory processing disorder; it is, as far as I could tell, looking purely at the physical mechanisms of hearing. So if that is a concern for your child, you should be aware of that, and potentially address it at the subsequent evaluation or at a private audiologist. Any medical forms like the results of an audiology or eye exam should be brought to the evaluation and will be considered there along with the district’s own observations!

All The Other Skills

After vision and hearing tests are complete, you and your child will meet with a special ed teacher who is going to ask your child some questions and give him some tasks to do with manipulatives and pictures. The teacher will also ask you questions about his self-care and social abilities. There were sorting tasks, stacking tasks, instructions with manipulatives to test understanding of prepositions (e.g., “can you move the bear out of the circle?”), fine motor tasks like drawing and folding, gross motor tasks like walking on a line and hopping on one foot, timed “I Spy” kind of tasks looking for items within a picture, and more. For each task or question, the teacher scores 2, 1, or 0 for a great response, partial response, or inadequate response. The questions and tasks span a wide variety of skills and activities, so you don’t need to worry that your child won’t qualify because they have one really strong area, or that they will look worse than they are because of one really weak area. It seemed rather balanced, especially for simply being a short preliminary screening.

If your child’s speech and understanding seems off, the teacher may call a speech pathologist over to assist with the evaluation, to ensure that articulation difficulties don’t lead to an incorrect assessment of your child’s skills.

Behavioral struggles can, however, lead to lower scores than your child is actually capable of, because there’s no way for the evaluator to know if your child can complete the task and is just choosing not to, or if they are actually unable to complete it. On the other hand, if your child’s behavioral struggles are interfering with following instructions and even carrying out fun activities like some of the manipulative tasks, then they probably need special services anyway and ought to be qualifying for further evaluation! An inability to sit still for more than 2 minutes at a time, or to be quiet when others are talking, or to express frustration in non-violent ways, will definitely make education more difficult for your child, and that needs to be addressed and accommodated.

Summary

While they say to give yourself at least 90 minutes for the screening, it only took us about an hour. They were moving fairly quickly and we were one of the first people in, which probably helped. I’d say the whole thing felt kind of like taking an IQ test adapted for preschoolers… if I had to describe it in a way that my preschooler could understand, I’d tell him that he was going to get to answer questions and show a teacher how smart and capable he was at doing different kind of things like building and sorting and jumping. I’d also tell him that it would be a somewhat noisy, stimulating environment with a lot of other people around, and that he would be expected to control his body and his words as if he were in a library, so that he could be prepared for that.

What I’d tell you, the parent considering taking their child for a screening, is not to be anxious. The evaluators are therapists, special ed teachers, and speech pathologists; they don’t have to worry about the bottom line of the budget, and they genuinely want to see the best possible outcome for your child. The sincerity, compassion, and helpfulness of everyone I encountered blew me away. Even if you are unsure of the educational path you’ll be taking with your child, it’s worth the time to get them evaluated so that you, the parent, have a name for your child’s struggles and recommendations for how to work with those struggles. It can help you adjust your expectations of your child to a more realistic standard, and give you the perspective you need to approach them from a respectful, relational direction instead of from a paradigm of discipline and punishment.

So if you have any concerns about your child’s development, especially if someone outside your family can corroborate those concerns, don’t hesitate to call your school district and request an evaluation! The earlier you know what’s going on, the earlier you can structure your child’s environment in the most helpful way possible for their development. I hope this gave you a more complete picture of what to expect at the very beginning of the special education process!

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Posted in musings, Uncategorized

thoughts upon meeting a therapist

So, I rather suddenly and somewhat unexpectedly made an appointment with a therapist through the Employee Assistance Office at my place of employment (how lucky am I to have an EAO with full-time therapists and even a psychiatrist on staff? With a wait time of less than a week?), after contemplating it on and off for the last 6 years. I’m not sure what I expected, but we basically just talked about all my problems for an hour 😛 Actually, it’s a sign of how down I have been feeling that I couldn’t think of anything to say when she asked me what my strengths were…

Overall, the appointment was far less emotional than I feared (thanks to my therapist’s supportive and professional demeanor, not the probing questions that triggered some tears on my end) and far more encouraging than I anticipated. At the end of the session we came up with some long-term goals for the therapy and some short-term assignments for me to work on during the two weeks before my next appointment, which in and of itself gave me a lot of hope about how I’ve been feeling. As I’m just beginning to realize, I do much better in life when I have a plan for how to deal with things. When I was a teenager, I always struggled with cleaning my room because I never knew where to start and all the details of the task fell on top of me at once and overwhelmed me. When I was in the hospital with Aubade earlier this month, especially during that first night just waiting and watching without knowing what I was waiting and watching for, the nebulous pressure of the desire for progress without knowing how to define that progress was the hardest aspect of the whole ordeal. And so it makes sense that having a path forward illuminated for me, with defined steps to take, is going to be helpful now in the pursuit of hope and healing in these emotional issues.

The long-term goals are mine, so they aren’t exactly measurable or professional; I just want to be rid of the irrational anxiety and to feel happier in general. The short-term assignments, however, are incredibly specific. Every day my “homework” is to get out of bed, shower, and get dressed in something other than pajamas (before my husband has to leave for school), and five days a week I need to spend some time outside. These are very doable things, even if they aren’t always easy things, depending on just how bad I’m feeling when I wake up, and that’s the point. Setting a goal and meeting that goal is going to give me quantifiable substance to refute the negative self-talk of the depression, and it’s also going to help me build a routine of self-care to help mitigate the negative emotional effects of the depression. While they may seem incredibly trivial to someone who isn’t struggling mentally or emotionally (they’re things I’ve definitely taken for granted in the past), they give me an attainable standard for my day and supply some “knowns” to fill in the horrible vast stretch of time that is each day in which I’m responsible for myself and my children and all of our activities.

I was explaining this to my husband by saying that if I get up, shower, get dressed, get outside, and make a healthy dinner for the family, I can define that as a successful day. I can lower my standards, in essence, to something definable and attainable, instead of reaching for an unknown and ever-changing perfection. Obviously the less measurable metrics of success are more important, as my husband pointed out: did I love my children? Did I live by faith? Did I seek God? Did I live an abundant and beautiful human life? etc. And those are things I strive for. But those are things I can never do perfectly or completely. I can always love my children better! So if that is my metric for success, I will always fall short, and I will always look back on the day with guilt for the sharp words and the missed opportunities instead of with happiness over the fun shared and the relationships built.

Could I have created this set of goals and standards on my own, and reframed success this way without help? It seems simple, but I probably couldn’t have. Having an outside source help formulate the plan validates it in a way my depression can’t so easily attack – if it had come just from me, I’d probably work it into my depressive tailspin by bemoaning how pathetic I was for needing to stipulate such small and trivial things. So I am quite glad I finally stopped worrying about whether or not I actually needed help, and stopped caring about what it would mean about me that I did need help, and actually went and got help. I would recommend it to anyone out there who might think some help would be nice – you don’t have to be non-functional or suicidal to benefit from a listening ear and some experienced guidance.

Posted in Uncategorized

{just enough info} – 2017

{JEI} is a link-up with a different topic, and a few different leading questions, every week; I haven’t participated before, but the questions for this week made me stop and think in a New Year’s-y sort of way that I’d been avoiding otherwise, so I thought I’d share with you all.

1. What is one small thing, if you accomplish it in 2017, that will make you feel successful?

Forming an exercise routine and continuing it long enough for it to become a habit or discipline would make me feel insanely successful! I’d be happy with 15 minutes of intentional activity every day, to be honest. My body is going to need some extended rest to recover from Aubade’s birth, but because of that, and because of the anemia I had during the pregnancy, it’s going to be fairly weak and need some attention. I’d like to build back the strength and stamina I had before the kids, ideally – but just starting out with some core rebuilding exercises would make me feel like a success.

2. Have you picked a “word of the year” or patron saint of the year?

No patron saint here (how would I narrow it down? and it feels somewhat audacious to think a saint would be interested in being my patron, like asking someone to be a mentor…), but I did settle on the word: presence. I want to be more present this year, less lost in my own head; I want to engage with the real family I have, in the reality we share, instead of forming an idea or abstraction of them and interacting with that; I want to actively listen instead of chasing daydreams while my husband or children try to talk to me; I want to turn my phone on less frequently and run and play and laugh more often. It is easy for me to live in a world of theories and ideals, to the exclusion and detriment of the actual – and I don’t want to squander the actual blessings I’ve been given by not being as fully present with them as I can be.

And ok, I did go to http://saintsnamegenerator.com and have it randomly select a saint just to see who it would be, and it was St. Jude (author of the book of Jude in the New Testament). Apparently he’s the patron saint of hopeless and desperate causes… Honestly, I don’t know much about him, nor am I even that familiar with the book of Jude. Maybe I should rectify that – I need a book of the Bible to dig into deeply right now anyway!

3. What are you looking forward to in 2017?

I’m looking forward to my husband graduating and (hopefully) finding a job! We’ve been waiting for this next chapter of our lives for a long time now and it’s exciting to see just how close it is! The specifics of it will also help us make other decisions like where we’ll want to live (we’re outgrowing our current house because it doesn’t have the best bedroom layout, mostly) and what schooling choices we’ll make for the kids (since Rondel will be turning 4 this summer! Where does the time go?), so I’m looking forward to hammering out the details.

Head on over to Sweeping Up Joy for the rest of the link-up!

Posted in family life, musings, Uncategorized

beauty in the little things

newborn baby giggles as little girl slips, milk-drunk, into sleep in my arms…

the smell of fresh bread, sweet and citrusy, to celebrate Epiphany…

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it got a bit lopsided but tasted delicious!

warm sun and a cool breeze and a couple hours at the park with my family…

little boys all crazy smiles running through the splash pad in the cold…
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warming up before heading back into the spray

sunlight on baby girl’s face, streaming through the window to the changing table, holding her spellbound for a good twenty minutes…

little boy hugs, head laid down on baby’s tummy, arms ever-so-gently tucked around her…

big boy love, wild and exuberant, caring and protective, running joyfully in each morning to say hi to the baby, showing her his toys, getting up at dinner to check on her…

tiny fingers capturing us all with their utter perfection…

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not forgetting that tiny perfect nose and mouth and chin of course! or the perfect chubby curve of that tiny cheek…

Postpartum is hard. But in with the hard times, there is so much beauty – beauty in the new life, beauty in the old familiar everyday that keeps on going on – and the beauty is what keeps me going on as the old and the new become one.

Posted in family life, Uncategorized

oobleck!

After discovering Bartholomew and the Oobleck, by Dr. Seuss, by sheer random luck at the library last week, and enjoying it on the basis of its story alone for several days, I told Rondel that oobleck was actually something we could make at home. I wasn’t sure if he would want to, but he spent the whole next day (while I was at work) telling my husband how he was going to get to make oobleck with Mommy, so at that point it was going to have to happen!

And happen it did:

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Oobleck is, in its simplest form, a mixture of cornstarch and water. We added some food coloring to try to make it green like it is in the Dr. Seuss book, but we obviously should have added more! The proportions of the two ingredients have to be just right (approximately a 1:2 water:cornstarch ratio), but when they are, the mixture stops behaving like a liquid or a solid and becomes a non-Newtonian fluid. In other words, the way it responds is based on the force you apply. Let your hand sink down slowly into the bowl and it feels like water; try to pull your hand back out quickly and the substance instantly hardens around you. (For a good overview of the science, check out this article from Cornell).

I spent a lot of time just playing around with it on my own before I could convince the boys to touch it, but after they got over the initial weirdness of it they didn’t want to stop. Rondel in particular enjoyed the odd sensation of it and kept immersing his hands in and pulling them out again over and over and over. In fact, because our air is so dry, I had to keep adding water to the oobleck so he could keep playing with it as long as his interest held – which ended up being about an hour and a half, and would have been longer if we hadn’t desperately needed to put Limerick down for a nap.

Oobleck is definitely a messy activity. Because of the way it sticks to your skin, it’s not going to stay nicely contained in a mixing bowl! However, since it’s just cornstarch, it does hose off of everything fairly easily (much to my neighbors’ relief… the newly returned snowbirds aren’t used to the kids playing in the common area and were worried about the mess). It will also dry out your skin, so it might be good to have lotion on hand for after the clean-up. This was my first time playing with it as well, although I’ve read about it before, and I highly recommend it (and the book!) for both you and your kids!

Posted in book lists, family life, Uncategorized

books for the youngest dinosaur lovers

When Rondel fell in love with dinosaurs this fall (with Limerick close on his heels, as always), I was at a bit of a loss at first as to how to feed this love with good books. I spent a lot of time searching through recommended book lists online, as well as combing through the library catalog, and ended up bringing home quite a few of various genres, lengths, and reading levels. While I think that all of the books we ended up trying out were good books, some were definitely better than others for a young preschooler and a toddler! Two important aspects that stood out to me were quality illustrations and accurate but accessible information. In other words, mediocre art or dumbed-down language made a book annoying to me and, what mattered more, less captivating or engaging for the boys. Drawings that captured the wonder and drama of the dinosaurs could keep them riveted, and detailed information at an accessible level answered their questions and gave them a foundation for their own imaginative dinosaur play. All of the books we ended up truly loving had at least one if not both of these attributes.

disfordinosaur

D is for Dinosaur: A Prehistoric Alphabet, by Todd Chapman and Lita Judge

This book was one of the best. The alphabet format allowed it to move through a wide range of dinosaur topics (some pages focused on types of dinosaurs, others on specific species, others on basic scientific concepts, and still more on fossil discoveries and paleontologists) without becoming overly long and unwieldy. Each page had a short poem to go with the letter and a well-crafted illustration to accompany the poem, but the unexpected bonus on each page was the extensive sidebar of supplemental information. I never read a full sidebar to the boys, but I almost always grabbed one or two sentences from them to give them more information about the drawings (which were incredibly detailed and thus led to detailed questions from the boys). This book also spent some time on extinction and what happened to the dinosaurs, which helped Rondel understand why he couldn’t just go out and find some real dinosaurs!

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Monster Bones: The Story of a Dinosaur Fossil by Jacqui Bailey

This book tells the story of a dinosaur who comes to an untimely end, slowly fossilizes, and is eventually discovered and reassembled. The science is good (one section describes how bone turns into stone at a microscopic level!) and punctuated by humorous thought bubbles from the dinosaur himself; information is broken up into segments and sidebars so that the discerning adult reader can add more or less information and time to the story as is appropriate for the listeners’ attention span at the moment. Sometimes we read them all and sometimes we skipped most of them… But more than any other book we found, this book explained fossilization and described paleontology in a way that a very young child could understand and get excited about. And since it’s rather incomplete, at least in my opinion as a scientist, to just learn about dinosaurs without understanding how we’ve obtained that knowledge, this was an invaluable resource (not to mention that most other dinosaur books will just casually mention “dinosaur fossils” and expect the reader to know what that means). It was an enjoyable book for me to read aloud and surprisingly to me, since I thought it might be a few years beyond them still, it was enjoyable for the boys as well. They even asked for it at bedtime!

In addition to these books, we had a few Eyewitness/Atlas type of books that gave broad overviews of the dinosaur era; they weren’t the sort of thing we could read straight through, but they tended to have excellent illustrations and exposed the boys to the vast spectrum of dinosaur species that existed. We also borrowed the Wee Sing Dinosaurs CD from the library and Rondel begged for it every car ride to the point of tears… but while it was a huge success with him, it drove my husband absolutely crazy! The songs are cute but far from high musical quality, and they will be stuck in your head forever once you’ve heard them a few times…

The rest of the books we brought home were either over the boys’ heads or not really at the same level as the two above. I am looking forward to reading the Magic School Bus books with them when they’re older, as I loved them when I was a kid and the dinosaur one seemed quite good when I skimmed through it this time around, but so far the boys have very little interest in them. It would also be nice to find some decent dinosaur fiction! Rondel doesn’t need the storyline aspect to stay engaged, because the dinosaurs themselves are the draw and poorly done stories detract from that, but I would enjoy it and I believe Limerick would as well (and a book that appeals to both of them is always welcome).

So there is my very short list of excellent recommended books for the very young dinosaur lover! With these, some dinosaur atlases, and some dinosaur figurines (accurate ones of course!), you should be set. Even your one-year-old may go around saying things like “metriacanthosaurus” and correcting you if you don’t pronounce “parasaurolophus” correctly, and your three-year-old should be prepared for months of dinosaur pretend play involving such things as turning into a dinosaur fossil (by being buried under pillows and blankets for “millions of years”), hatching from a dinosaur egg, roaring like a giganotosaurus, being eaten by a T. rex, and ramming his head into everyone like a pachycephalosaurus. (Results not guaranteed).

Posted in family life, Uncategorized

to my sons’ grandmothers

One of the greatest gifts my children have been given is the chance to know both of their grandmothers well and form deep, personal relationships with them. There is something special about the unconditional love and care of a grandma, particularly when coupled with their wisdom, experience, and maturity. When I am concerned about a certain behavior, my mom or my mother-in-law can provide the perspective her own years of child-raising have given her; when my patience has run out or my tank is empty, they can support me with their time and prayers; and when I worry more about my parenting or how people judge our family, they can simply give their love and acceptance to my children.

At family gatherings, I often notice some of our relatives looking askance at Rondel, for his odd physical behaviors (spinning, licking, etc.), or for his intense emotional reactions (especially in the uncomfortable, overstimulating environments that often surround family events), or for his particularity and attention to detail (which he hasn’t yet learned to express gently…). And it hurts me a lot. I want to go into “Mama Bear” mode and totally destroy the people who judge my son poorly, especially when they go beyond glances and start making snide comments. I try not to because that’s not the example I want to set for my children on how to interact with the rudeness and criticism of the world, but that’s my visceral reaction…

And so it means so much to me when my mother-in-law comments on how fascinating Rondel is, how sharp and attentive he is – when she notices his quirks and differences with affection and love instead of judgment. She’s not oblivious to his sensitivities and struggles, but she simply accepts them and loves him not despite them but because of  them, in a way, because they are a part of who he is. I don’t think I can fully express the gratitude I have for her because of that, despite all the differences we have in general about raising children 🙂 And because I’m apparently ridiculously blessed, I know I can count on my mom to have that same attitude and perspective towards my children.

So thank you, wonderful grandmas 🙂 Our little family is so much richer, emotionally and relationally, because of your presence and your love.