I started looking into preschools for Aiden as soon as we moved to Ohio. Even though Aiden wasn't even two at the time, I wanted to get a good feel for all of our choices. As an AV (auditory-verbal) family, we were hoping that Aiden would be ready for a mainstream preschool since we started this journey, but looking at all our options, decided Aiden would do best in an oral deaf preschool setting for many reasons, the main one being it is what we feel is right for him at this time in his journey AND what is right for our family.
We had many options to look at, from our local district's preschool to the Ohio School for the Deaf (OSD) to a near-by school district's deaf ed program to an auditory oral school to a program that offers both oral and total communication options. We are lucky to have so many options, but the hard part was choosing which one was right for Aiden.
I toured three of these programs, and although I still want to tour OSD (for the experience), it was not an option we considered since they are voices off for a good part of the day (although I have heard they are starting an oral program). We are a completely oral family (with use of basic signs when his CIs are off), and therefore were obviously looking for an oral deaf program.
When looking at preschools, some things I considered were: the educator's expertise/understanding in teaching children with hearing loss, teacher:student ratio, days/hours per week, curriculum, available support services within program, physical and learning environments of classroom, and of course, modes of communication used.
I found THIS checklist very helpful and brought a copy along with me to each preschool visited.
I won't go over what the other preschools offered in our area, but I will say we didn't choose the preschool where 1) one of the teacher aids said to me, "Oh, he has those "ochlear things", 2) I had a hard time understanding one of the teachers, and 3) when I asked if the speech therapist was trained to work with deaf kids and would work with Aiden on language, was told, "Ya, speech, language, same thing." This is why preschool visits are so important.
Here is what the preschool we did choose for Aiden offers:
Oral program, with classes five days a week from 9:00 to 3:00 (or parent can choose 1/2 day and pick up before nap. He goes half a day now, but next fall he will go all day, and while I still think this is quite a long day for a three year old, the last couple hours are spent napping/resting, which he doesn't do at home, so I figured he'd be a "gentler bear" at home if he gets rest time at school PLUS then the bus will bring him home!)
Student:Teacher ratio - Preschool One - between 6-8 students with hearing loss to one teacher and full time aid (Aiden's class also has one typical hearing peer); Preschool Two - 8 students with hearing loss and 2 hearing peers to one teacher and one full-time aid.
All teachers have masters of education degree with concentration in deaf education
Auditory training and Ling checks done everyday with classroom teacher, individual speech therapy provided twice a week outside of classroom.
Onsite PT and OT (if evaluation determines these services are needed, they are written into the IEP - which Aiden did qualify for PT and will receive 90 minutes a month)
Full time audiologist with on-site sound booth
Morning Message literacy program - a good basic start to literacy focusing on the weather, the calendar, and a message from the teacher to the students. They identify upper vs lower case letters, punctuation, words vs letters during this time. The class also has a daily math or science lesson, story time, and incorporate a particular theme throughout the day (right now their theme is Springtime).
Specials are also included such as art, music, library time, cooking, and pe.
Playground is CI friendly - foam instead of mulch, metal slide instead of plastic
We will also continue to see our wonderful AV therapist on our own two times a month and if needed, add back in our speech therapist from our EI days.
I think the most important thing when choosing a setting for any child is feeling it's the right fit and we felt in our hearts this was the right placement for Aiden. It has so much to offer and we're so excited to watch Aiden soar through these next steps in his hearing journey.