As most of you know, a child who meets the criteria for a "developmental delay" is eligible for early intervention services until the day before he/she turns three. Once they turn three, the public school district takes over until they're twenty-one.
For those who have children receiving early intervention services, right around the time your child is two or two in a half, your service coordinator should've arranged for a transition planning meeting to discus whether or not you want to move forward with having your child evaluated for special education services within your town's school district. Here in NJ, once a parent/guardian confirms they want their child to be evaluated by the school district, the school has to contact the parent/guardian within ten days upon notice to arrange for the ID meeting to do exactly that: meeting your child and yourself and to discuss a plan of action. This meeting usually takes place 90 days before the child's third birthday. In addition, your service coordinator will send in the paperwork to the school district indicating the above.
If parents aren't ready to start the transition into preschool, they can waive this option with their service coordinator at the transition planning meeting. However, if in the future the parent wants to have their child evaluated for special education services within their school district, they will have to write a letter indicting this and send it into the special education department. I almost decided to go this route, but changed my mind because I wanted to get the evaluation process done instead of waiting to do it at a later date.
Once the transition planning meeting has occurred (usually in the home with the service coordinator and someone from the school district-with us, just the service coordinator), next is the ID meeting. It will be a good precursor of what an IEP meeting will look like, well at least for us it was. We had the entire child study team (CST) there: the case manager, social worker, learning consultant, speech and OT, as well as a special education teacher in the room. This can look intimidating for those who've never gone through a meeting such as this one, especially since it may be your first rodeo with your child's school district. I highly recommend bringing another adult with you to help with your child and to also give feedback regarding your child. My husband came with us and our service coordinator was going to attend, but she cancelled last second. Thank goodness my husband came because he was such a help with Autumn while I did all of the talking.
So during the ID meeting, I chose to disclose her diagnosis with the CST. Parents, you don't have to do this. I did it because I don't care or feel ashamed of a label. After hearing everything, the CST determined Autumn was eligible for an eval for special education services. During our meeting, the CST stated she gets into their program just because of the diagnosis, but they had to go through the proper protocol of evals and the IEP.
Please keep in mind that even if your child has a diagnosis or is receiving early intervention services that it doesn't guarantee he/she will be eligible to attend your district's special education program. For instance, one of my work kids wasn't eligible because they didn't meet the criteria, which for my school district I learned is being "developmentally delayed in one area up to 18 months".
Once eligibility at the ID meeting (moving forward with evals) has been determined, you and your child will have to come back to the school possibly several times to complete evaluations. For Autumn, they used the Battelle Inventory (the same one they use in NJ to eval for eligibility of EI services) to assess her skill set. We did this over the course of two appointments as I had to answer questions as well. In addition, Autumn was evaluated by the speech therapist for speech and she was also evaluated for OT (occupational therapy). Luckily, her early intervention OT works for our school district and was able to evaluate her in our home.
Once the evals are completed, the CST should be sending home via mail an overview of the evals to read/go over before the IEP meeting. Usually the IEP meeting is scheduled right before the child turns three for those who are transitioning into preschool from EI like Autumn. However, since Autumn is a summer baby, we had her meeting a little after her third birthday. We also declined her attending the extended summer program because of her only being able to go for a week and then being out again until September.
Now, parents, you CAN choose to have your child attend the extended summer program if your child has a summer birthday, it's solely up to you. If your child has a birthday during those months and misses the extended summer program, discuss with the CST as to what you can do in the meantime. We chose to take Autumn to private therapies for speech and OT so that she didn't regress. Luckily, our insurance covers her therapies, but I know not everyone is as fortunate. If insurance doesn't cover therapies, look into state programs. Here in NJ we have Perform Care that may be able to offer behavioral therapy as well as respite services. Again, each state is different so check in with your service coordinator or case worker within your local school district.
At the IEP meeting, the CST will discuss goals and outcomes and outline them accordingly. Before the IEP, write down your questions as well as your personal goals and come in there prepared. Make sure the CST answers them all and do not feel like a question or a goal that you have is silly or wasting time. This is your child were talking about here. My personal tip is that I highly recommend suggesting a communication log for your child's classroom (most will already have one in place) and for all of their school therapies so that you can carry over what's being practiced at school at home. If you forget to ask something, email your child's case manager. Again, I cannot stress enough the need for constant communication with the school. You want to be on the same page with the CST and classroom teachers so that your child receives the best care possible. Once the IEP meeting is complete, your child can attend school the very next day. They can attend preschool on their third birthday if that's what parents and caregivers choose to do.
I'm sure I'm forgetting things, but in the end, you can go through the entire process above and decide to not send your child. Here in NJ, you can decline services/decide not to send your child, but if you do decide to within the year, you won't have to endure the eval process again. It's tedious and time consuming (felt like that for me at least) so be prepared.
Overall, this is a very emotional time. Sending your "baby" to school is going to be tough. I know for me it was very difficult to let her go, but I did it. Parents and caregivers, take some time to grieve and process this transition. Reach out to others for support because even though our butterflies going to school really is beneficial, they're still only 3 and not 5 going to school for the first time, which was very difficult for me to grasp. It's like sending your kid to kindergarten two years sooner. That's how it will feel. Plus, within special ed, they want consistency and five days a week. Autumn goes five days a week, half-days, because I wasn't ready to send her full-day just yet. I still battle the idea of sending her full-day (deep breaths, she's going next year whether I like it or not), but I'll cross that bridge when I get there.
Overall, you (parents) are the expert on your child and you know what's best for him/her. Go with your intuition and do what's right. Sometimes putting one's pride aside is all it takes (well for me at least it was). This is just the stepping stone to a lifetime of advocating for your child. In the end, you both will survive and prosper, and I'll be here for you the entire way.