It is no small task to get your child into preschool at an approved private school (in our case, the Western Pennsylvania School for Blind Children.) The planning and preperation started about six months ago and we still aren't finished yet.
The standard is that children with special needs should be in the least restrictive environment (LRE) that they can successfully learn in. For Tom, a school for the blind will be his least restrictive environment until he develops more sophisticated travel and pre-braille skills. A blended classroom or even the special education classroom of a regular school cannot provide Tom with the level of support and specialized trainings he will need. My mind was made up on a private school placement - now I had to get the approval needed to get him there.
We began with an in-person planning meeting with DART (Discovery Assessment Referral Tracking.) They are a part of the Allegheny Intermediate Unit, who is responsible for providing specialized education services to children in my area.
He is destined for an A in gym class.
At age three, children transition from Early Intervention (home based) to the school based system for special education and therapy. The transition meeting should take place six months before the child's third birthday so a plan can be developed and in place by the child's birthday.
You can have your transition meeting over the phone but I was glad to have the option to meet in person with the DART team. It was very important to me that they get to meet Tommy. Especially since Thomas has a lot "going on." The picture you get from reading Tom's medical files and what you get when you meet Tom are completely different. I want people to know him as a person before making decisions for him.
I prepared about 20 pages of background information and a getting to know Tommy page that I call his "Strengths and Challenges" page. Since blind children are rare, I feel it is important to be as vocal and as proactive as possible. Planning a child's education is important business and you need to be involved and aware of your child's options. I think making sure that people know you and your child will help them understand more about your child as an individual, and understand how invested you are in your child's education. If you take this process seriously they will be more inclined to take your input seriously.
I let everyone know that I wanted Thomas to attend preschool at the Western Pennsylvania School for Blind Children. I believe it is the only place where a blind child in my area can get the support and blindness skills necessary to transition into a mainstream kindergarden. So yes, mainstream is my goal, but it isn't where we intend to start! Tom needs intensive work on his mobility and pre-Braille skills to be able to participate in a mainstream kindergarden.
Most children who transition from Early Intervention to school based special needs education have services provided by professionals that visit the child's regular preschool, child care, or home, while others attend a preschool special education classroom in their district. However, most special education teachers do not have any experience teaching totally blind children and do not have the tools needed to effectively teach a blind child. Even Teachers of the Visually Impaired (TVI) usually don't have many totally blind children on their rosters- low vision is much more common. Tom's current TVI says he has only taught 3 kids like Tommy in over 20 years of work. I can tell that he really enjoys putting all his TVI skills to use when working with Tom.
What will preschool at the Western PA School for Blind Children be like? Well I found a lot of information in this Wonderbaby.org article, "Transitioning to Preschool," that was written by a mom about her daugher's preschool experience at WPSBC. Tom has participated in the Toddler Program and in playgroups at WPSBC. He is also starting his second month in their blended daycare, A Child's View. I feel lucky to already know many of the people that will be involved with Tom's education over the next couple years.
Tom is ready for preschool. Is preschool ready for Tom?
I hear that the only thing holding back our paperwork are Tom's medical records. I hope they arrive where they need to go very soon! Probably the State of PA? There are so many people involved that I'm not even sure who has what at this point.
The next step is the IEP (Individualized Education Plan) meeting. This is where your child's educational plan is created. I am very interested to participate in this process and create a plan for Tom. Once the IEP is complete it is sent to the State of PA for approval which I understand will take about ten days. Then Tom can enter preschool!
I got a call today from Tom's very awesome Early Intervention Program Coordinator who inquired about his IEP. I am hopefull that she can attend the IEP meeting with us. It is nice to have some professionals with us that have been with Tom from the beginning.
Transitions can be difficult but preparation makes it easier.
I have still more paperwork to complete this month -Yay! When Tom turns three he will lose his Medical Assistance coverage which is provided through the Waiver Program. He is still eligible but I have to re-apply. Your Pennsylvania child may be eligile for Medical Assistance. Read about it here - MA Eligibility!
Update- Great news! All the paperwork is in - Tom has been accepted into the WPSBC and will start this month! His IEP will be held next week.