Getting Ready for Kindergarten…

Once a week, I attend a behavioral therapy meeting to discuss my son’s progress and setbacks.  At these meetings, I discuss any concerns I have.  They discuss ways to tackle those concerns and then discuss what skills my son has mastered and the new programs they will introduce to give him additional skills.

I love these weekly meetings because I get to see the growth my little guy is making in the nearly 30 hours per week he spends in behavioral therapy.  In addition to the tutors who work with my son one-on-one, there is usually a field supervisor (tutors’ supervisor) and an assistant director.  The director of the ABA program, a very mellow guy who I have liked since I met him last year, is usually not there.  He is like the rock star of behavioral therapy.  He’s practical, cuts to the chase and gets results.

At yesterday’s meeting, the ABA director was present and he threw a bit of rocket fuel into the way my brain has been thinking about my son still being my baby.  We’re getting ready to prepare him for kindergarten.

You see, the little guy was given an invitation to participate in his preschool’s graduation.  This is coming up in mid-June.  The tutor asked me whether I wanted to have my son participate or not, just in case he stayed in preschool one more year.  As an Asian part-tiger mom, this question caught me off guard.

In my head I’ve had no doubt that he will be going to kindergarten in the fall.  This was the first time, someone actually said out loud that he might not attend.  So naturally, this issue was the first concern I brought up at the weekly ABA meeting.  The director asked me what I wanted.  So I told him.  I want my son in kindergarten in a neurotypical class with a full-time aide.  I do not want to wait because, academically: (1) he can read beyond his grade level; (2) he can spell beyond a 1st grade level; (3) he knows what words are spelled orally in front of him; and (4) he can do simple math equations.  He is bored in the preschool reading group.  Socially, he is probably at the level of a 2 year old.

I felt a bit foolish asking for this because I’m the mom, not the expert on whether my son is actually ready for school.  But, true to form, my behavioral therapy director is trying to help me achieve what I want to happen.  He watched my son perform a couple of programs and then took me into a conference room with the field supervisor to discuss my request.

He told me that certain specific steps have to be taken to get him into kindergarten, just based on watching my son briefly.  First, my son’s vocal tone is a bit loud and strange and he needs to work on modulating it to assure that he is not viewed as odd by his peers.  There are programs for this and they will begin working on one immediately.

He also said that it is imperative that my son immediately begin play dates.  The tutors and assistant director have been working forever on getting his play skills to a level where a play date can occur.  Honestly?  My son has never, in his life, had a play date.  This is partly because of the isolated area in which we live and partly the complete lack of children of any age in any vicinity to play with.  His only socialization comes from his friend, “B”, the preschool, gym and social skills classes he attends.

The ABA director told me that I need to, immediately, begin scoping out a private school for kindergarten.  Currently, because of where we live, there is only one school with a kindergarten in our entire town.  The kids in this kindergarten will be children that he grows up with from grade school to middle and high school.

We do not want him to be viewed as odd from the very beginning by the children he goes to school with for 12 years.  So, for kindergarten, the director thinks it is important that my son start outside of his school district while he learns to assimilate his behavior to that of the other kids.  So, right now is the time to check out the schools before classes are out for the year and determine what would be his best fit.

The director said he could not guarantee that my son would not have to repeat kindergarten but that we should give it a try.  He is going to re-evaluate the little guy’s cognitive skills through testing again as it has been almost a year since his initial evaluation.

I feel, all of a sudden, like my son is growing up a bit.  It’s the very first time I’ve felt that way or had to think seriously about school.  He is, still, in my eyes, my little baby boy, even though at nearly 5 years old now, almost 4 feet tall and 50 pounds.  It seems like just yesterday, he was in his first preschool class singing songs, like this one:

I know he can’t be a baby forever but he’s just so cute now!! I guess it’s time to take that first step on the new journey called school.  How did/do you feel about your child starting school?

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About solodialogue

I'm a lawyer and the mom of a 6 year old boy with autism. I work part time and spend the rest driving here and there and everywhere for my son's various therapies. Instead of trying cases, I now play Pac-man and watch SpongeBob. I wear old sweaters and jeans and always, always flat shoes to run after my son. Yeah, it's different but I wouldn't change it for anything. The love of my child is the most powerful, beautiful and rewarding aspect of my life.
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27 Responses to Getting Ready for Kindergarten…

  1. Big says:

    They grow up. And fast. I can hardly remember when Griffin started Kindegarten. Sounds like you have a good plan in place.

    Btw, Griffin, at 13, still hasn’t had his first playdate yet! He gets his fill by bothering his sister when she has her friends over.

    • solodialogue says:

      Lil Sis is a jewel! Griff and Lil Sis are lucky to have each other. I wish my little guy had a sibling many times a day but in the end, it is what it is. 🙂

  2. Jen says:

    HA, so are they going to pay for private kindergarten? I have so many problems with them telling you that, but it’s just my personal opinion, so I won’t get into it here ; )

    I never worried about K starting real school. Probably b/c she was academically ready and bored to death in preschool. Really, she was bored to death in Kinder, and I think that might have caused some behavior issues in itself. The transition from K to 1st grade was probably more difficult, as A LOT more is expected and it’s REAL work. Kinder is more or less glorified preschool. Well, I shouldn’t say that, as they did do way more academic stuff than I ever did, but still…there weren’t any huge expectations.

    Also, frankly, b/c Katie is my amazon child, I haven’t looked at her as a “baby” in a long time. My son, on the other hand, is teeny tiny and I already have anxiety over him going to real school b/c he still seems like my baby…ha. I am just weird in the head, but that is no secret.

    We always had playdates, just b/c I was involved in mom groups when the kids were little. Sure, they didn’t always go well, but I mostly did it so I could get out of the house, and I did them with a few people I got close to who “got it”. Katie doesn’t have many now…but we’re working on it.

    • solodialogue says:

      I could choose to put my son in his own kindergarten class or I could have him repeat preschool and forget about putting him into kindergarten right now. The problem is the huge disparity between his academic readiness and his maturity level. Socially – he is completely unequipped to handle anything. Academically, he is probably ready for 1st grade (and second grade in spelling and reading).

      Early on, I always said that I want my son in NT kindergarten. He, like Katie is academically ready and he’s shown some behaviors in preschool with boredom over the sight words they are sounding out because he knows them and he’s bored. I don’t want to hold him back. He’s already the size of a 6-8 year old boy and people are often floored when they hear he is not even 5 yet. So size wise, he’s already bigger and I don’t need to compound that with a hold back.

      The only reason they are suggesting the private kindergarten is because we are lucky enough to afford it right now. If we held him back another year, I’d still have to pay for preschool anyway. (There is no school preschool class where we live). So, really we’d pay either way unless we put him in with the kids he will grow up with. He’s not ready for these kids. He has no siblings, no neighbor kids to play with and no idea how to socialize with a child his own age other than the brief encounters at classes in which the teachers are in charge and there is no talk between the kids in class.

      We’re just now starting that socialization process. He may end up being aggressive. He might act out. He might strike another teacher (he did that at his preschool before his diagnosis). He is bigger than most kids, and if he is aggressive, he could do some damage (although I have no indications other than an early on experience with one preschool teacher one time, that he would). However, the possibility remains that he could make these kinds of lasting impressions. Since I can put him elsewhere (right near where I work which is about 30 miles from where we live) and I can do it without “branding” him among those he will grow up with, which I am fortunate enough to be able to do right now, then I’m gonna do it.

      You are not “weird in the head”! I wonder if it has less to do with Ben’s size and more to do with him being the youngest and a boy. There is a special bond between moms and their boys and Ben is adorable. 🙂

  3. Amanda says:

    My son is successfully attending a regular 4th grade with a full-time aide and he could do nothing of the things you listed, back then, except maybe number 4. So I think your son’s chances are very good. Trust your instincts.

    The kids in my son’s class knew him from the very beginning (ie. preschool) with warts and all, yet they accept him as their own. We also started with nothing and nobody but we now have at least 3-4 “normal” kids drop by our house nearly every day.

    A big reason for that is because we allow him to do almost everything else they do, including starting school at the same time, ready or not.

    • solodialogue says:

      Thank you Amanda. I clicked the link and it truly is amazing how far your son has come. Congrats! I will spend more time over at your blog so I can get to know your son’s story a little better. It’s amazing that he has had a full-time aid throughout his journey. I hope to have one for my son as long as I can get one. Starting school at the same time, ready or not, was something I was willing to do with an aide.

      Another thing that I am considering, however, is the commute. I am a working mom and our office is 30 miles away from our home and his school. If I did put him in with his peers, I would have to give up my job entirely since I could not realistically commute from dropping him off at 8 a.m. to job and go back, pick him up around 12:30 or whatever the hours are and go back again. That would mean traveling 120 miles per day back and forth. A private kindergarten near my workplace would cut out that travel (there is one practically next door to our office). The sheer logistics of where we live and how isolated we are contribute to his lack of socialization.

      • Amanda says:

        If you have any questions feel free to email me. We may have different laws and procedures here but many issues and trick situations are the same.

        The thing is, while many parents of normal children feel they can kick back and relax when their kids start school, our battle is just beginning.

        My luck was, I could give up my job and concentrate fully on helping my son and that’s something most parents just cannot afford to do.
        The good news is, it does get better eventually.

      • solodialogue says:

        Thanks Amanda. I very much appreciate your openness to talking to me. You and your son are great inspiration to me! And it’s wonderful to hear that it will get better eventually.

  4. Melissa says:

    My daughter started school almost as soon as she started EI. That notwithstanding, like you, I think I was always caught somewhere in between “baby” and “such a big girl” (partially becuase she IS big for her age)… Watching as her abilities have grown over the past (nearly) 2 years, I only really realize how much of a baby she was. Or how different her challenges are now. And how challenging some things still are. We get asked about playdates as well. I don’t live in a rural area but… In EI, EVERYBODY’S schedule is as tight as ours is on a day to day basis. And if we’re trying for the “typical” peers, well… it’s not like their schedule is better between school and playdates and activities. I’m hoping it may get easier when/if she gets into an integrated classroom the year before kindergarten (they have one at her current school).

    • solodialogue says:

      It’s difficult when they are big for their age because everyone expects so much more of them than they can handle. I never thought about the fact that schedules could interfere with playdates but that’s only because we haven’t had any playdates yet! Lol! I’m happy for you that you have that integrated classroom before kindergarten. We don’t have one of those.

      • Melissa says:

        The option is there (for inclusion prior to kindergarten), however that’s because she goes to a preschool for developmental disabilities – thus has access to things that she may not, ordinarily. There is no guarantee that she will be ready for it. Nor is there any guarantee that she will be picked to be in that classroom. Especially because there is only one in the school, it’s in pretty high demand.

        She has come a long way, but she still needs the supports and may still for some time to come. I don’t kid my self about that. So I am a little on the fence about where I want her to be. I’m kind of just going where she takes me.

  5. That’s interesting what they said about starting him in a different school than the local one that you want to end up in. I have no advice, but hope the preparation (and playdates) go well!

    • solodialogue says:

      I think the whole thing is about making him blend with the other kids. He sticks out miles from the other kids right now. Hopefully, with a structured classroom, he will be able to handle the day to day tasks without too much trouble. If there is trouble, ABA will intervene to correct the behaviors without everyone he will grow up with sharing those parts. Thanks for your well wishes.

  6. Lizbeth says:

    I think even when my son turns 20 he’s still going to be my little boy.
    This is a tough one as he’s so smart academically yet socially lagging. We suffered with this same situation and it’s a hard call.
    Playdates are not going to change the inherent nature of your child nor will they make other NT kids more receptive to him. Sure they will soften the edges and help him socialize a bit, but get your son in a classroom and peer pressure takes over–yes, even at that young age. No matter where you go, the kids will know he’s different. Time will do that. Find the school that fosters your son and encourages him to be his best. Find the school that fits for you and the rest will follow.

    There will be children that “take” to your son. Work that relationship till the parents send out a restraining order. Those are the kids you want Tootles to be around.

    I don’t mean to be so blunt, Lord I wish I could soften this….good luck and e-mail if you wanna.

    • solodialogue says:

      Thanks Lizbeth. I will likely be using your email until you take out the restraining order! Lol! I know how much difficulty you’ve had and now Jill and I fear that, though I know deep down that it will happen for Tootles as well. Right now, his voice, his mannerisms, his behavior are all strongly different. Yes, they will not change that he has autism but the playdates will teach him language that he can use that will be more appropriate to kids his age. The behavioral therapy director explained to me that because he does not interact with kids his own age, he has nothing to model the language of a typical child from – no point of reference. As much as I’d like to be it, much of my talk goes over his head. He needs this interaction to get that language that kids his age use and to understand how to speak more quietly or loudly as appropriate.

      I love your advice to find a school that fosters him and encourages him to be his best. I will find those children who want to be his friend. Thanks.

    • I just NEED to ditto Lizbeth’s comment here! We have lots of play dates for Little Miss and to some extent, it has “softened the edges” of her personality — but they have not changed the way she interacts with other kids. Now school, on the other hand, has been waaaaaayyyyy different. I see more new behaviors (positive ones) coming home from school than I have ever seen from play dates. Yes, a lot of that has to do with peer pressure, but I think her teachers are equally important in the equation! Public or private, the right teacher makes ALL the difference!

      The most wonderful thing I noticed about Little Miss’s teacher the other day? On the corner of her name badge was clipped a small pin — only one. It was a blue puzzle piece 🙂

      • solodialogue says:

        You know, I’ve noticed too, that the best changes have come from my son’s participation in preschool. That is why recently I have pushed them to increase his time there. The children there are wonderful and accepting of him and I have seen him progress quite a bit by watching the others. I’m glad you are seeing it with Little Miss as well. It must be that I simply don’t know what he is missing by the playdates. I’ve seen lots of posts by moms about their child’s playdate going well and not so well but it is still a missing piece of our puzzle so it will be nice to fill that one in for what it’s worth. (And I love that LM’s teacher is aware!)

  7. Broot says:

    My boy (my firstborn) always seemed to little to start school but he did just fine. My girl was ready for school long before she started. Here in NZ, Kindergarten (called Kindy) is separate to school and is run more like a preschool. So when they start school, they start Year 1 (Grade 1).

    My son has an Autie in his Year 3 class – she has a teacher’s aide. She’s not quite an Aspie. She’s been there from the beginning. And while the children do think she’s a bit strange, they accept her and help her. They’ve been taught since they’ve started that she’s just like them and her brain is wired differently, so she needs a bit more help. They accept that.

    But these kids at this school may be more accepting as they also have two downs children , 3 deaf children, several other ASDs, and a bunch of ADD/ADHD integrated into their classrooms, and the Special Needs classroom is also visited regularly.

    I’m not saying it’s perfect – but I do know the teachers do the best they can.

    • solodialogue says:

      Teachers are wonderful. They are good people with kind hearts. The problem is always going to be the peers. The teachers cannot watch every move each child makes every minute of every day. It’s impossible. My son has been doing well in his preschool with his aide but he is different. He has self talked into loud laughter during group time to read sight words – he knew them all and was bored. He uses inappropriate language and has some odd ideas about play mixed in with what might pass as typical play. I just want him to grow up with the least amount of problems and if that involves getting himself socialized in a different group, before taking his place with those with whom he will grow up, that’s okay. I know our school has a special needs class but not an integrated special needs/NT class like you describe which sounds actually quite lovely.

      • Broot says:

        My son’s school friend does all that and more. Still. I remember one day she grabbed her backpack and decided she was leaving at 1:30pm. Two of the girls in her class ran out to get her and bring her back. But what really makes my heart smile was the day she was having a meltdown just outside her school room (the class had a relief teacher who hadn’t been to that class before) and the students in the class not only *weren’t* making fun, two of them told me matter-of-factly “(J)’s having a bit of trouble today. We have a different teacher and that’s hard for her.” Don’t forget, these are Year 3/4s. They’re 7-9 years old. And they *get* it.

        I think it’s all in how it is presented to the other children, and how they see older students and adults role-model how to behave/accept all children, even the ones who are a bit different.

        But I also get that it’s different for each school, and between our countries, too. I don’t think I’d paint as happy a picture if my children went up the road to the other primary school.

        And it’s not easy to create that environment. It takes hard work and dedication and understanding.

        **hugs** I know you’re going to think about it long and hard and do what’s right for you and for Tootles. Go with your gut feeling. You’re his Mom, and you know him best.

      • solodialogue says:

        Thanks Broot! I wish your son’s school was the way it was everywhere. What a beautiful story. Those children have amazing role models. 🙂

  8. Rachel says:

    I’m sorry, but I just don’t see the wisdom of putting your son in a school outside the district in the hope that he’ll learn to modulate his voice better. That’s segregating him, and it sends the wrong message — that he has to be up to a certain kind of “standard” before he can be in the world the way that other people are. He is who is he is, and the sooner you insist upon his right to be himself in every context he enters, the better it will be for him.

    He is always going to be different, no matter how much you soften his edges. The main thing is to educate the other children that being different does not mean being worse or less-than. Why is it so completely on Tootles to assimilate when he will never be NT? Why is there no work done with his classmates on how they can assimilate themselves to a world in which there are a lot of different kinds of people out there? 1 out of 5 Americans in disabled. 1 out of 5. We’re here, and we deserve to have people meet us halfway. Why is this not a two-way street? It’s not just Tootles’ problem. It’s everyone’s problem.

    This is why disabled people end up anxious and depressed — because the pressure is entirely on us to change, and on no one else. It’s as though we have no right to just be who we are, right now. It’s as though we have to wait for some elusive day when we’re just who people want us to be, and then all our problems will be solved.

    If your son were in a wheelchair, would you send him outside the district, hoping that he might walk in a year? Or would you fight like a tiger and insist on respect and inclusion from the get-go? I don’t see why this is any different.

    • solodialogue says:

      He’s only 4, nearly 5 with no social context other than this preschool he has attended. His voice is sometimes screaming loud and other times mostly inaudible so yes, he does need some modulating as part of a full package of socialization tools. He is not being segregated – he’s going to a private kindergarten with NT peers. Segregating would be placing him in a special needs only class and refusing to integrate him with the NT kids.

      He is not who he is- yet. He is in his formative years. His brain is still full of plasticity and he can be molded to control his atypical behaviors to avoid – as long as is possible – (and I would hope that’s at least til he is in 3rd grade where Jill is now seeing this happen – or where Lizbeth is seeing it happen with her son) the bullying and teasing by the NT kids.

      Yes, he will always be different. How much different? That depends on the choices I make now to help him blend with the NT kids. Do I want him screaming out that he wants to staple his finger? No. But yes, he does this right now. He talks about banging his head into a brick wall or putting his finger in a pencil sharpener or stapling his finger. He does not physically do any of it but he talks about it to get attention and smiles and laughs, acting as though these things might be like going out to the swings for recess. Do I think these behaviors might cause him to be viewed as different? Yes. Will they subject him to teasing and bullying? Yes. Can’t you see some 8 year old encouraging my son to actually do that? I can. He has come very close to it already.

      No matter how much you and I believe it should not be on Tootles to assimilate to others, the reality is that he has to. The world is full of bullies and bad people and until that changes, I can only help to control my own son’s behavior. I plan to make sure the other kids know about his disability and how to accept children with disabilities whether that is through a presentation I have the school’s permission to provide or that I organize. I will lobby the school to do such a presentation as many times as is necessary for as many years as it needs to be done when he is in school because I am completely of the belief that everyone needs to be educated on acceptance, tolerance, and no bullying.

      As for your analogy, let me answer your it this way: if your son were needing a wheelchair to get around and someone told you, he should not have to have a wheelchair to get around because he should be accepted the way he is and everyone else should carry him around or go to him – what would you say then? Giving my son social skills tools which include playdates and voice modulation to normalize his language – to help him understand appropriate from inappropriate play and then letting him learn to use his skills in a practice area before going “on stage” is me building his wheelchair and giving it to him for the rest of his life.

      Likewise, if that hypothetical boy in the wheelchair was just given the wheelchair and it had electronic controls, are you going to throw him out into the street with it or are you going to let him practice using it before that? I’m gonna let him practice with the tools to aid him with his disability in a private NT kindergarten and see how it goes. It may be that the private school turns out to be a fabulous place. The one we anticipate using is two doors away from my office and will allow me to continue in my profession. Once I go back to our own district, I must also give up my career because the logistics are such that I would drive 120 miles a day to go to work come back, pick him up and go back to work again. It will probably all work out for the best.

  9. Tam says:

    I can see sending him to a private school if it makes more sense for you guys financially or because of location/etc. That’s a decision that only you guys can make. But keeping him out of the school because you’re worried he’s gotta spend his life with these kids? That really doesn’t make sense to me at all.

    The younger kids are the more accepting they are of differences. If they know him from kindergarten, there’s actually much less chance that they’re going to make fun of him than if he moves in in 1st or 2nd grade.

    Here’s the thing. He will not be the only child that comes to the kindergarten classroom unprepared and socially behind. There WILL be others. His differences now will not be as big as they seem to have scared you into thinking. He may require the extra aide, and how that specific school handles the issues will affect a lot (i.e. if the teachers suck, and handle things badly then it might not go well, but that’s another issue entirely). But the kids will get to know him, quirks and all, and they’ll all grow up together. They’ll see him making progress from where he was before, and come 2nd or 3rd grade he’ll just be part of the group.

    Take the situation they’re suggesting though. You put him in another school so he can get “good enough” to be put with the kids he’ll grow up with (besides the things Rachel mentioned which make that entire thing just SO offensive…) He works on things in another school. He makes friends there, gets to know everyone, gets comfortable (hopefully), learns and grows with these kids… then come 2nd or 3rd grade they declare him ‘good enough’ or ‘caught up enough’ or whatever label you want to use… or perhaps your financial situation changes and you can’t afford to keep him in the private school anymore… and they pull him from that school and put him back in the public school. Not only is he ripped out of the environment he has become comfortable with, away from the friends he has made, and put into a new potentially scary environment… but he’s now new to every kid in that school.

    So now you have a 2nd or 3rd grader who is still autistic, no matter how much progress he’s made, and he’s got quirks. He’s also overwhelmed, possibly scared, out of his comfort zone, and the “new kid”. He’s not a part of this group of kids, they didn’t grow up with him, they don’t know how far he’s come from where he was a couple of years ago. All they see is this new kid stepping on their turf, and he’s quirky. Why’s he act like that?! They don’t know anything about autism…

    I can’t see this going as well as the picture they’ve painted for you. I’m not saying it can’t work. When I was young I switched schools 6 times by 5th grade, and Lord knows I was quirky. I was downright weird (and proud of it!). I did okay switching schools, but only because I didn’t *care* if I fit in. I was there to get away from home, and to learn. If I *had* cared, it probably would have killed me. Being the new kid SUCKS, and every switch is a whole new world to have to try to learn. A whole new sea of faces that know you as the weird new kid when you know nothing about them.

    • solodialogue says:

      You make a good point about displacing him once he is settled into the group. Anything can happen that necessitates a move outside of a school district and makes you the new kid. That is a very scary change. The idea was just for kindergarten not for regular school. But if he does get along with the kids in the private school that would be terribly difficult. I will find out what would happen with ABA if we chose to stay in private school. Thanks for the perspective Tam. You’ve given me something to think about.

  10. eof737 says:

    Time does fly and it’s a good thing to start preparing for the changes ahead. Tootles is going to be fine… The play dates will need more effort as I’d imagine there are kids he can play with. How about some other kids he’s played with in the past? 🙂

    • solodialogue says:

      Thanks Elizabeth. As strange as it may seem, he has never actually “played” with other children. He does play “near” other children at preschool and has one “friend” who makes it to birthday parties and has known him for a long time. They don’t talk to each other but will play next to each other or around each other. As long as little “B” can make it over, we will have a playdate soon! 🙂

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