Over the past months I have shared some of what it means to me to be the mother of a special child, both the highs and the lows, and some days which moved between one and the other with dizzying speed. Throughout, one of my ongoing worries was Maya's move to kindergarten next year. I worried tremendously about her ability to cope in a class of 35 children (yes, I did say 35), where Maya's particular challenges mean she would be in perpetual fight or flight mode, expending all her energy on surviving in what to her would be a highly hostile environment, leaving her with no emotional reserves to focus on learning.
The decision to place a child in special education is not and should not ever be taken lightly. Even when the decision seems clear cut, the emotional toll it brings shouldn't be underestimated. There is still constant questioning, endless second-guessing. Is this right? Are we sure? Is it absolutely necessary? And again, are we really sure?
We had an acceptance hearing for special education last week. Maya has now been officially accepted into a special education kindergarten for the coming year. Surprisingly, the whole process went quite smoothly and very professionally. Everyone involved seemed professionally capable and up to speed about our case. The municipal psychologist presented an overall picture to the committee and then our own private psychologist talked about Maya's specific issues. The whole process took under half an hour. The committee had basically already accepted her to the program we wanted before we walked in, though we won't receive the official notification until July.
Maya will be attending a "language" kindergarten (gan sfati) with children her own age, from our town. Like other kindergartens here it is in a freestanding (brand new and purpose-built!!) building. This particular type of program is for children withOUT cognitive challenges, which was very important to us. There will be a maximum of just 12 children in the class, each with various speech, language, communications or emotional issues, but all will be high functioning. The teacher is certified in special education and will be assisted by an aide, and probably a National Service volunteer as well. A number of trained specialists (speech, occupational therapy, and art or music or some other type of therapy) will come in and out to work with the children individually or in very small groups. Maya is overloaded with therapies right now so it would be a lot easier if she were to receive some of these during her school day instead of after school. This would leave her more free time to just be a kid (and would save me a LOT of running around). Because of her October birthday she's also entitled to and encouraged to stay in kindergarten for two years. (The cutoff here is December 31st, and most children with fall birthdays are encouraged to take that second year, regardless of whether they are special needs or typical.) If things are going well, during the second year she may be mainstreamed into the regular kindergarten a few days a week. The professionals are voicing cautious optimism that with the right supports and a small classroom environment now she will be able to make the transition back to the mainstream system for good for first grade, which is the first year of elementary school here.
On the whole, Maya is doing very well right now and we're seeing a tremendous amount of progress (knock wood, spit three times, throw salt over my shoulder, etc. - I'd hate to tempt the fates into a backslide!). Instead of worrying incessantly about the psychological damage a mainstream kindergarten could mean we are finally feeling hopeful for her future. Hopeful that in this supportive, nurturing environment she will be able to learn, and to grow, and to throw off the chains she is struggling with now.
So that's where we are. Hope has shown its face, in the shape of small building, and it is a beautiful sight.