I recently had the honor of speaking with Dr. Kathleen Feeley, an expert in the field of educating children with special needs. Specifically, her expertise lies in the areas of Autism and Down syndrome. For much of our conversation, we were discussing the practice of mainstreaming and inclusion. Involved in the Down Syndrome Advocacy Foundation http://www.dsafonline.org/
), she informed me that their recommendation was to have children with Down syndrome attend kindergarten by the age of six. I was a bit surprised by this, and so relayed to her a conversation I had with the “immediate past president of SEPTA” in my town. Without ever meeting my boys or even inquiring about their level of functionality, this person told me that my boys would spend at least 2 years in kindergarten. She automatically assumed that my children would require at least that educational assistance. To be honest, I was a bit taken aback… offended… unimpressed… angry… and a few other emotions I won’t go into. I mean, who was she to dictate what my children would or would not need educationally? She’d never even met them! Interestingly, Dr. Feeley had nearly the same message but explained things differently.
By law, our special needs children are entitled to a free and equal education up to the age of 21 years. In the grand scheme of education, mastery of primary skills — language, the alphabet, numbers, reading and writing — is critical to move on to bigger and more complex skills and concepts. That said, Dr. Feeley suggested that rather than packing on all those extra years of learning (as needed) on the end of our children’s educational careers, parents should consider putting at least one of those “extra” years up front in pre-school so that these critical primary skills — the building blocks that all education rests upon — provide a stronger foundation upon which to build all future knowledge.
I totally buy into this premise! (Did you see the light bulb go on?)
I have always been open-minded about a child repeating any grade as necessary according to their needs. Admittedly, I’ve also been hopeful that this might not be necessary given my boys’ consistent performance in the borderline delayed range. I have lauded parents who had their academically struggling “typical” children repeat a grade at a young age to help ease the child’s burden and boost critical skills early on. So why would I be less willing to do so for my special needs children? The notion that I would push them forward when they are performing in the borderline delayed range just to keep them with their same-age peers is absurd. But, that is how I was thinking… I guess.
After speaking with Dr. Feeley, I’ve concluded that it would be most beneficial for my boys to repeat at least another year of pre-school to ensure the building blocks of all subsequent learning are strong. I’m not sure of the significance of repeating 3-year-old pre-K when they’re 4 or 4-year-old Pre-K when they’re 5. That has yet to be determined. But, I suddenly find myself committed to the logic of the “Kindergarten by 6” concept. Easing Brian’s and Michael’s burden, giving them that extra time to strengthen core skills by repeating, is a phenomenal idea. I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of it! Perhaps I was so caught up in keeping up that I neglected to think about my sons’ individual learning curves, educational achievements and needs.
Truly, my conversation with Dr. Kathleen Feeley was an eye-opening experience and one that has eased my mind with regards to the educational decisions I face in the very near future for Brian and Michael. As a matter of fact, the immense stress-relief she provided by calling and having that conversation with me, absolutely makes her my Angel Amongst Us for this week…. But, that’s another post!