I adore questions from readers because that means I don’t have to think about what to write about. It also means I can procrastinate more on the nightmare that is the Georgia Alternate Assessment.
Alexander’s Daddy asks:
I need a little advise. My 3.5 year old will be entering kindergarten in the fall of 2008. He has high functioning autism, possibly asperger’s. I’m convinced I would have been diagnosed as a child based on the DSM today, but of course I never received a label. Do you think my son would be better off starting school without the label. He doesn’t need speech help, perhaps some intensive OT, but I am concerned that the label may in someway be used against him by teachers unable to handle an active boy. What are your thoughts? I bring this up because you wrote that the schools are now actually rewarded with funding for inclusion so maybe I don’t have anything to be concerned about.
This sounds a lot like my youngest son, Percy. He was evaluated at the age of 3, and was found eligible for some services at that time under the significant delay label, including O.T. In fact, OT was the main service although he did go to a special preschool 2 days a week for half days but stayed in his regular church preschool the other days. The fact is, is that your son could be eligible for services NOW, and if all he gets is OT, now is a good time to start.
And this is what I think most professionals and other parents will tell you. Go to the school board office, ask to see a coordinator for special needs preschool and see if they can do an evaluation. They’ll tell you if your son is eligible and for what services he is eligible. Medical diagnoses will be considered, but the education system will want to do their own thing. If he is found to be eligible, the Special Needs Preschool (SNP) coordinator will explain the process for getting him services. These do not have to be full-time.
Here’s the deal: you really do not want to wait until kindergarten to go through this. If your son has delays, you need to know NOW. If he is significantly behind now, he will continue to get more and more behind over time. The problem is this accelerated curriculum that is going on around the country. I harp and grouse about NCLB, but this has been going on for 15 years where the curriculum is drifted into lower and lower grades. Kindergartners are expected to enter in knowing colors, shapes, numbers and letters. They will begin simple reading and simple math and will begin writing. It truly is much more intense than it was when you and I were going through school.
Also there is the whole social skills business. Fortunately my youngest has really picked up quickly from being around more typical peers (instead of his brother who is definitely high functioning autism) and might not even need anything but OT next year. But students are expected to sit still, do lots of work and to generally behave coming right in. Most children will since they were in preschool or daycare prior to kindergarten. Jane and I (mostly Jane) has worked very hard to make sure both our boys get as much social skills exposure as they possibly could and as early on as we could stand it.
I usually advise getting the services as soon as possible. It is far and away easier to be discharged from a service than to try to get in later on. Percy’s OT evaluation took several months, and he did eventually get qualified but did not qualify for speech which we were sort of really hoping for. Today, it is obvious he doesn’t really need it. Thomas qualified for speech, OT and PT at the beginning but we were eventually able to discharge him from PT. But I kept him on PT consult for an extra year, just because I knew that getting back in would be very difficult.
I wouldn’t worry about the label being used by teachers to exclude your son. What it might do is help obtain some help and eliminate some grief. Teachers are becoming increasingly educated about autism thanks to the parents who blazed the trail ahead of you. The label might help them access some knowledge and adaptations for him where they might otherwise be prone to labeling him with a behavior disorder or even bad parenting. Yeah, some teachers still like to lay it all at the feet of parents. Sometimes it belongs there and sometimes it doesn’t.