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You really should put your child in one of those special preschools…said no one who actually knows what the arguments against this recommendation are.

Or how about this one…You have a school age child and you are thinking about homeschooling your child. Friends and family bring up a couple of points:

 

  •  How will they learn to get along with other kids and learn social skills?

  • Your not a teacher or a therapist. How are you going to teach your special needs child?

Leave a comment below about your experiences and what others have told you about preschool.

Before I tell you a story about a family who had this happen, let me fully disclose where I am coming from.

My wife and I home school our 6 kids and have done so for the past 20 years. Let’s be real. My wife does the heavy lifting of homeschooling our children, but I offer support and help when I can.

 

Our kids range from ages 2 to 21. Our two oldest children have scored well enough on standardized tests to get a scholarship to college so homeschooling can work.

 

Homeschooling our children required that my wife (An Occupational Therapist) stay home to be a teacher and mom. I estimate that we have forfeited about $500,000 over the past 20 years from my wife not being in the workforce.

 

There are real trade off’s. Is it worth it? You bet. I have never second guessed our decision to homeschool.

 

Over the past 20 years, I have worked in developmental preschools, private owned preschools, public schools and private schools. I have sat in on more IEP’s than I can count. I have also treated in kids homes and in my clinics.

 

Have you thought about educating your child at home and skipping preschool or even public school?  

 

Maybe you have a child in school but you are second guessing that decision. Maybe that’s why you are reading this article.

 

I am not here to bash people who work in preschools, public or private schools. I am here to discuss whether these institutions are the right place for your child.

 

What follows is something that has occurred at Therapy 4 kids more than once. This is not a story of a specific family rather it is a combination of several similar instances.

 

The names below are made up.

 

Polly came into the clinic one day distraught. After delivering little Mikey to his Speech Therapist she asked me about preschool. Mikey was 3 years old at the time and had just been diagnosed with mild to moderate Autism. Mikey was and is a pleasant child with typical 3-year-old behavior issues but nothing outrageous.

 

Polly said that the report she received from the Autism diagnosis team had suggestions. I took a look at the report. I was pleased to see that they were recommending that Mikey continue Occupational and Speech Therapy. They also recommended a vision examination.

 

These recommendations didn’t have Polly in such a dither. It was this recommendation below which is from an actual report:

 

Given Mikey’s diagnosis of Autistic Disorder, he may need placement in a program during at least a portion of the day to address learning, behavior, and social difficulties. The following should be considered: 

 

Although exposure to typical peers is important proximity to typical peers is not enough. Mikey must have structured activities and significant support to facilitate successful interactions.

 

It is important to remember that Mikey is likely to be frustrated and subject to failure and/or behavioral difficulties in a regular class setting unless additional assistance, adaptations, and structure are provided. 

 

Here are a few issues I have about the recommendations of such diagnostic testing:

 

The members of the evaluating team often do not treat clients in a preschool or a clinic or a home health setting. Their job full-time is to evaluate.

 

That is not to say that they have never treated clients in a clinic, a preschool or a home. Many of them have, but the evaluation team can tend to have a group think mentality. An academic approach more than a practical approach.

 

This is a very typical recommendation for children newly diagnosed with Autism. I try and read each Autism team evaluation report, at least the recommendations. I often learn about new intervention techniques, research or websites that are helpful.

 

The recommendation for the child to be enrolled in a developmental preschool is part of their report template. The words are the same on each report: “they may need placement in a program of special education during at least a portion of the day to address learning, behavior, and social difficulties associated with Autism.”

 

It’s not just for children diagnosed with Autism. They often make this recommendation for children with any learning deficit.

 

The recommendation to place a child diagnosed with Autism in a preschool makes no sense.

 

The report from the diagnostic team often mentions that they should be placed in an environment that “reduces behavioral difficulties and lessens the impact of difficulties in communication, social skills and sensory processing.”

 

The recommendation contradicts itself by suggesting the child be placed in a preschool situation.

 

I could see Polly’s eyes moisten when I looked up from the report. “They want me to put Mikey in preschool,” she said. “He has always been with me. He doesn’t like strangers. He breaks into a sweat and closes his eyes when he is around new people in a place that is not his home.”

 

Her voice cracked a little as she relived a story about taking Mikey to a “try it on day” at the local special needs preschool. Polly said he still shuts his eyes and covers his ears when they pass the preschool building on the way to the grocery store.

 

Polly explained that Mikey’s pediatrician agreed that Mikey should be enrolled in the special needs preschool. Polly asked every professional at the doctor’s office, nurses, techs even the office worker what their thoughts were.

 

They each agreed that the special needs school would be a great place for Mikey. Sure, he may have a hard time at first but he would “fall in line.” He would get used to it.

 

Will Mikey and your child “fall in line” and get used to school?

 

Possibly and even probably. But is this what is best for your child? I would suggest the answer is no. Even if your child doesn’t have a learning disability or special need.

 

All people, especially children, and even more so children with Autism, learn and develop best when they feel secure and safe. It’s the first two levels of Maslow’s hierarchy.

 

For a child who has developmental delays especially those with Autism or Autistic tendencies such as Sensory Processing difficulties if they don’t feel safe and loved they will not learn and develop to the best of their ability.

The natural environment for your child is the family, your family.

In the Federal and state rules of providing therapy services under the Early Intervention program, the rules state that therapy must occur in the child’s “Natural Environment.” My clinic does not count as your child’s natural environment. A preschool does count as the natural environment.

I remember a therapy audit that my clinic went through a few years ago when they were implementing natural environment rules. I let the panel of “professionals” know what I thought about their natural environment rule. I told them that the therapy we provide in our clinic is so much better than therapy we can provide in a child’s preschool classroom.

We have equipment like swings, mats and other big items that a preschool classroom doesn’t have. We can also work in a small quiet room that helps children focus on the task at hand.

When I told these professionals who were auditing us that their natural environment rules were flawed they looked at me like I had three eyes. I let them know that the kids I see in the clinic make better progress because the parents are very involved with their child’s therapy. Parents bring their child to therapy. They get to ask questions at each session and get homework to work on.

Let’s get back to the question of socialization. How is your child going to learn proper behavior? How will they learn to interact with other children?

Preschools have been around in a popular sense for less than 50 years. How did kids learn social behavior before?

 

Has child behavior and social interaction improved in recent decades? I’ll answer that for you…They’ve gotten worse.

 

  • Do you want your child learning social skills from other preschoolers who are getting their social skills from questionable tv shows and movies?

  •  Are your social skills better than most preschoolers? If so, then you can teach social skills better than any preschooler.

All people, especially children, become their environment. The best place for any child has the following in place:

  •  Safety

  • Loving individuals

  • Intact family with mom and dad

  • Loving and helpful extended family

  • Supportive and helpful friends and neighbors

  • Abundant opportunity for imaginative play. This does NOT require an electronic device

  • Parents and adults who provide good examples. Behavior is caught more than taught. Sort of like a cold.

  • More positive interaction and affirmation from parents and adults than negative punishments.

Affirmations are those “attaboys” that children between ages 2-7 especially seek out and need. Have you ever been asked a thousand times to “look at this” or “watch this” from a child? They are seeking affirmation. They want and need your approval.

This approval will ensure that they will continue to try and please you. Your affirmation gives your child a reason to try new skills and to improve on skills they already know. If a child doesn’t receive consistent affirmations like “good job” or “wow I like that” they will stop trying to do new, good and important skills.

Do you think a preschool teacher can give as many “attaboys” as you can in a day? These teachers often have a dozen or more kids to keep up with. Even the best teacher won’t be able to give as many “way to go’s” as you can. This fact alone makes you better equipped to train your child’s brain to be motivated to learn more.

Don’t feel pressured by a “professional” or a friend or family member when they tell you to enroll your child in a preschool. Some parents have to choose preschool because they need to work. That is a whole different issue. I’m talking to parents who are able to stay at home with their child.

You are qualified to teach your child at home because you are mom. That’s all the certification you need. You can read, you can access the internet. You have a mom’s motivation to want what is best for your child. You have all the tools you need to teach your child at home.

Don’t worry that your child won’t be learning to line up when the teacher whistles or that they won’t learn to sit at a desk with 20 other kids for a time that is way beyond their attention span. If your child has a sensory processing difficulty the distraction from the lights, the sounds and the kid next to them touching them.

When I was in preschool I remember having the feeling that no one in the building really cared about me or if they did their attention is pulled in 20 different directions each of which has a name and a soul.

Homeschooling has so much support locally and on the internet. Each county usually has a homeschool support group. Those groups often offer tutoring or classes. If you are concerned about teaching math or any other subject you can get a tutor or seek out your local homeschool coop.

 

Here are a few good Homeschool web sites.

Arkansas Education Alliance  – They have a helpful “Start Homeschooling” Page

 

Arkansas Homeschool Organizations and Support Groups by TheHomeSchoolMom.com 

 

Home School Legal Defense Association – Arkansas Page – News and Legal Help 

 

Home Educators Resource Directory – Arkansas Support Groups and Organizations 

 

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