Planning for Alexis's kindergarten year started well before the IEP meeting that took place at the end of last school year. There were many conversations with some friends who are on a similar path with their kids. I had a great relationship with Alexis's early childhood teacher over the past 2 years, and we were in regular communication about hopes, expectations, and realities. Walking into an IEP is extremely intimidating, even though "Team Lexi" is an extraordinary group. I truly believe that all those teachers, therapists, and administrators, want great things for Alexis. But I also know that they have budgets and pressures of their own. The IEP went incredibly well, with the only hiccup being that Alexis wasn't given a one-on-one aide. Being raised by teachers and knowing first hand how full their plates are, in hindsight I don't think I wanted that aide for Alexis as much as I wanted it for her future teacher. But as one of the teachers in the IEP put it, if we're going to see how Alexis does in a general education setting, Kindergarten is the place to try it out. So here we are.
Summer was short and crazy busy and fun and crazy busy. I had plenty of quality time with my kids, but I was ready for school to start. I was ready to miss them again. So while I was highly anxious about Alexis starting kindergarten, the anxiety was tempered by my need for solitude. I put her on the bus, relieved to see the same bus driver as last year, swallowed a huge lump in my throat, and took a nap.
|Pickle, Little Extra, and the Pirate (aka Nicky, Lexi, and Blake) are in 5th, kdg, and 4th.|
What I wasn't prepared for, and absolutely should have anticipated, was how difficult it would be for Alexis to return home from school that first day and not be able to tell me a single thing about her day. She was happy, so that was encouraging, but even as impressive as her speech is, she couldn't tell me of any activities, any new friends, or about her teachers.
I gave her teachers a few days to adjust to the start of the year, but by Thursday I couldn't wait any longer. I emailed Lexi's teachers telling them how happy I was that Alexis was obviously enjoying school, but I needed details and information. I suggested a half sheet of paper similar to what we had used in early childhood: the teacher would circle if she played alone or with others, what therapy she had received that day, if she ate her snack or not, if she had any accidents, etc. I heard back from her teacher, Mrs. V, that day. She would be happy to send me daily e-mails of how each day went. Really? Wow!
The emails started off as general overviews of the day: Alexis traced this, she cut that, and other than taking her shoes off several times, everything was going great. They started sight words, Lexi likes recess, she's stinkin' cute, and she keeps taking her shoes off. It's been great hearing how, other than the constant removal of shoes, she seems to follow directions pretty well.
Last week I dug a bit deeper. I asked Mrs. V if Alexis was making any friends and how the other kids in class acted toward her. The response described how much the kids love her, how a little boy has made it like his personal mission to help her as much as possible, and how there are a few little girls who play with her. I also get regular emails from her resource teacher who works with her a couple hours a day. This teacher told me how there are kids who always help her at lunch with things like opening her juice box, children who remind her to stay in line when they're in the hallway, and kids who play ball with her (her favorite!) on the playground. I'm so amazed at how well things are going, not that it's all perfect. She still takes her shoes off regularly. One note late last week said, "she only had two time outs today." I'll admit to laughing.
So here we are, starting our 3rd week of kindergarten. Alexis got on and off the bus with a smile as usual. Soon after she got home, the email from Mrs. V came through. It still took on the same sweet and positive tone as the others, but immediately I could tell it had been a rough day. After the list of the daily events and activities, Mrs. V mentioned Alexis being off task many times as well as removing her shoes frequently. The kids would clean something up and she would dump it back out. She was redirected and would begin to cry and ask for Mommy. As I was reading the letter, I became anxious. I try to be positive, but I also try to be realistic and I knew the time would come that she'd show her stubborn and sassy side. The girl has an opinion. She wants things done her way. She can be a stinker. In so many ways, she's a typical 5 year old, but in other ways, she needs more guidance and redirection than other kids her age. So as I read this email, I started anticipating the worst. Is she too much of a distraction for these already overworked teachers? I'm so thrilled that she was placed in a general ed classroom, but I wait for someone to say that it's not working.
I teared up as Mrs. V continued on in her description of Lexi's bad day. After Mrs. V firmly redirected Alexis and the tears were flowing, the little boy who tries so hard to help Alexis came up and took her hand, telling her it was okay as he guided her to her seat. Another little girl came over and hugged her. Alexis was back to her usual smiles within minutes. Mrs. V also thought that Lexi just seemed tired. "But we were all a little sleepy today," she assured me.
I don't know this little boy that helps Alexis, or this little girl that hugged her. I don't know the kids that play ball with her or the child that helps her open her juice box. But this is inclusion. This is what I was wanting for my daughter. Inclusion is about so much more than the child with special needs being with "typical" kids. It benefits all these other classmates so much more than they will ever know. They are learning about acceptance and diversity. They are making friendships and learning patience. And she is teaching them. She doesn't know it and they aren't aware, but when Lexi's classmates are taught something and then turn around to help Alexis, it's reinforcing what they've learned. All kids should be so fortunate as to have a kid like Alexis in their class.
I think Kindergarten is going to be okay.