Transitioning from the Early Intervention (EI) program to the Early Childhood Special Education (ECSE) can be an overwhelming experience for a first-timer like myself. But I found ways to make the process less daunting. We had the 6-month IFSP review last week and the transition meeting yesterday. In our state and our school district, the transition meeting was scheduled separately from the final 6-month IFSP review. Overall, both meetings went very well.
Preparing for the Transition Meeting
1. Attend workshops - I attended workshops such as "Your First IEP" at the 2010 Down Syndrome Conference and "Next Steps" at the local Disability Fair. These workshops gave me a chance to listen and talk to other parents about their experiences with the transition process. I picked up great information and tips at these workshops. It was at one of these workshops that I learned about a good resource called "Transition from Early Intervention". There are also helpful workshops such as "IDEA Part C to B" and "Understanding the IEP Process", both of which I was not able to attend.
2. Prepare a Developmental Achievement Chart - This document lists Matthew's can-do's and things he needed to work on in all areas of development (communication skills, fine motor skills, gross motor skills, self-care/ independent skills, social skills & self-concept, cognitive skills, senses & perception). I typed it up on Microsoft Word, patterned after the downloadable .pdf file is available on the MPACT (Missouri Parents Act) website's resource page. I highly recommend preparing this (or similar document) for the school representative(s) at the transition meeting. I met with three school reps, gave them a copy of this document and they were impressed and grateful to have such specific detail about Matthew's current development. While this document highlights Matthew's many strengths, it also emphasizes the fact that he has developmental delays and still needs help. Hence, he would still need certain therapy services.
3. Prepare a list of questions - I listed all my questions on a sheet of paper. At the transition meeting, I checked off questions as they were answered. My questions were:
- How and when will it be determined what services Matthew is eligible for?
- What does the evaluation process entail?
- Where will the evaluation take place?
- When will the evaluation be? Can we schedule separate evaluations?
- What type of testing may be done? What assessment tool will be used?
- Can a family member be present during the evaluation?
- After the evaluation, when will the results be available? Will I get my own copy?
- Is the Reading of the Evaluation Results scheduled separately from the evaluation day and IEP meeting?
- Are there "typically developing" kids placed in the class at any time during the week?
- Will Matthew be pulled out of the classroom for all types of therapies? Are some therapies pushed in the classroom?
- Are therapies group or individual?
- How can parents communicate with the teacher and therapists? How often?
- What supplies will Matthew need?
- Will the school need hearing and vision information from Matthew's doctors? How current must they be?
- What other information will the school need about Matthew?
- How will teachers and therapists communicate with Matthew, assuming he's still not saying understandable words when he's in the program? Will assistive technology devices be used?
- How will Matthew's classroom placement be determined?
- How many students are there in a class?
- Are there field trips parents can participate in?
- Who can I call if I have more questions?
4. Start a binder - To file everything from communication logs between the school and myself, copies of IEP's (Individualized Education Plan), evaluations, rights and procedural safeguards, and other information pertaining to Matthew's education.
Other helpful tips I picked up from the workshops but didn't apply in our situation were:
1. Visit the early childhood centers or preschools to get a good idea of which one you want your child to attend. - We don't have a spread of choices for special education in our area but the few parents that I had spoken to about our local ECSE program had only good things to say about it. So I didn't feel the need to visit the school or look around prior to the meetings.
2. Explore the necessity of Senate bill 112 - This is for children who turn 3 mid-school year. Matthew turns 3 close to the beginning of the school year so it is not necessary in our case.
Our EI service coordinator, three school representatives, and Matthew's speech therapist, who also works at the school, were present at the meeting. Matthew's other therapists offered to be at the transition meeting but I didn't think it was necessary. I would, however, want them present at our First IEP meeting, which will be scheduled close to Matthew's birthday.
During the meeting, we went over the evaluation process and how services can be center-based or provided at the preschool, daycare, and/or at home. That decision will be made at the IEP meeting. Our preference would be to have Matthew receive services in the preschool setting so that he also gets the benefits of socializing with other kids in his class. Each class usually has a maximum of 12 children, sometimes a few more toward the end of the schoolyear. Each class has "typically developing" kids to serve as role models. I forgot to ask how many there were per class and if they were there during the whole school week, which is every morning for 4 days in the week.
Some therapy services are pushed in the classroom, which means the therapist will work with Matthew in the classroom as they are participating in the class activities. Some therapy services are done in a group and some are individual, depending on factors such as Matthew's needs, effectiveness, and if we choose to specify one way or another in his IEP.
I can expect to receive quarterly progress notes from the teacher and therapists. At the same time, I can contact them anytime if I have questions or concerns. Some parents communicate with the school via a notebook on a regular (maybe weekly) basis if needed. I personally think that a notebook or email would be a good way to communicate with the school so I can have everything in writing.
Since Matthew's current speech therapist in the EI program also works at the school, she will be assigned to Matthew when he is in school. This should make for a seamless transition in speech therapy for Matthew and one less adjustment to make.
The classrooms are packed with toys and activities to stimulate any child's imagination and make learning a lot of fun. As soon as we walked into one of the classrooms, Matthew immediately started investigating the different toys and activity areas. There is a separate area for speech therapy if a child needs to be pulled out of the classroom for it. And there is a separate room for physical therapy (PT) and occupational therapy (OT). The PT and OT room had a trampoline, a swing, climbing equipment and other fun stuff.
From what I gathered at the meeting, everyone seems to be excited about having Matthew there. It was pretty funny and cute to hear about how everyone wanted to work with Matthew and they were going to have to fight over him or draw straws. Some of the teachers/ therapists hadn't met him yet or had only briefly met him. Maybe it was his charming, sweet smile that drew them in. Maybe it's because of all the good things his speech therapist has said about him. Whatever it is, it makes me smile.
The school will contact us in August or September to schedule an individual evaluation. This may be done in several sessions, depending on how many areas of development they will need to assess and depending on how well Matthew puts up with the process. If the diagnosticians/ evaluators get enough information about Matthew's development from updated EI progress notes in August and other information I provide them with, they may not have to evaluate him in some areas of development.
I will write about our experience with the evaluation process once we have gone through it. Stay tuned!
Preparing for the Final 6-month IFSP Review