Hurray for Head Start! (Beanie gets a Village)

It took me a long time–too long–to admit that my Bean needed some extra help with her talking. I didn’t want her pigeon-holed, and set up with lower expectations. Jelly Bean is brilliant–she just isn’t into the talking scene so much.

So, at her 3-year-old check-up, I finally asked for a speech referral. We went the private route, because I did not want her put on a lower track for school. I was afraid we would hear that she had a significant impairment. She had some definite autism-like characteristics (like pulling out her hair and eating it), but she socialized very well and had great relationships with Rob and me. So I knew she did not meet the criteria for autism, either medically or educationally. But she was a puzzle to me.

During our initial consultation at the therapy clinic, the director immediately observed that Beanie has great problem-solving skills and is probably very intelligent. She would definitely qualify for speech, and she was an obvious candidate for occupational therapy, since she had some strong signs of sensory processing disorder.

Sensory. Processing. Disorder.

Music to my ears. Something manageable. Something treatable.

Beanie responded remarkably well to sensory integration therapy, as well as speech therapy. She was diagnosed with hypotonia and is making great progress in physical therapy.

However, I started to wonder about preschool. I absolutely did not want her in a special education program, because I wanted her around kids who did not have disabilities. I wanted her to have the same expectations as a kid who would be in a general education elementary class. Yet I also knew that she would benefit from school-based therapy, from a general education classroom. So I started asking around at work.

Everyone I talked to strongly recommended early childhood special education. It turns out that our district have a fully inclusive program. The kids can attend any Head Start class and get pull-out therapy. Or they can attend one of the Community Action Agency Head Start classes and be in a team-taught program.

I team teach. I think it is perfect for any kid, with or without disabilities.

In the team-taught class, Beanie will be in a regular Head Start class, with about 15 kids. She will have a Head Start teacher, assistant teacher, and aide. She will also have a special education teacher. When we visited, there were 3 special education students in the class, so the teacher was able to give them plenty of individual attention. Both the special education and Head Start teacher attended Beanie’s IEP meeting.

Beanie will not slip through the cracks. She will not be held to lower expectations.

So, today, I got to go and spend an hour filling out paperwork with the Bean’s assistant HS teacher. It was tedious, and most of it did not apply to our situation. But it was neat to see how much help is available to families who need it.

If you’ve got a kid in HS, you can pretty much get help for any problem your family is facing. I really think it’s awesome that so much help is available, for families who are willing to accept it.

I always knew that it takes a village to raise a child. I never expected to be the only adult in Beanie’s life. And having a child with a disability–even minor ones such as Beanie’s–complicates everything. While I may joke about the Bean starting the Head Start Yacht Club (and, yes, I will continue to joke about that!), the truth of the matter is that Jelly Bean does have some differing needs, and this is a program set up to help us meet them. Beanie will have her village, and I am very happy about that.

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