The Reason I'm Sending My Son With Disabilities to Kindergarten Early
Three days from today, my oldest will turn 5. Six days later he will enter his elementary school, not as a preschooler, but as a kindergartner. I wish this transition was nothing but happiness and excitement for what will come. He is excited, but as we get closer to the start of school, my apprehension only grows.
I don’t worry about his academics. He is reading and can do basic addition in his head. His creativity and problem solving skills are exceptional and despite an articulation disorder, his intelligence shines through. So why I am so nervous?
I am anxious because he was forced into this world eight and a half weeks before his due date. Had he been born on time, he would have missed the kindergarten cutoff in our district by seven days. In addition, our state only requires children to be enrolled in a formal education by August 1st of the year in which they turn 6. Because my son’s birthday is 10 days past that, my husband and I are not in violation of our state’s compulsory education laws until 10 days before he turns 7. So why is he is starting kindergarten so early? Especially when evidence shows delaying kindergarten results in students having better attention and less behavior issues than the younger kids in the class? Two words: Early Intervention.
As a result of his prematurity, my son has both, an articulation disorder and sensory processing disorder. He receives speech services through part B of the Individuals with Disabilities Act. As such, his preschool tuition was covered by our state. His school would have had to petition the state for a waiver in order to give him an extra year of preschool. My husband and I met with his teacher and the school’s administration in January to discuss our desire to give him another year to mature. While the school was sympathetic to our concerns, they didn’t believe he needed an extra year of preschool. Yes, as his parents we could have really pushed back and forced the issue, but we chose not to at that time.
A second option was to decline services and put him in a private preschool for this upcoming school year and then enroll him in kindergarten at 6. He would then have to re-qualify for services at that time. In our minds, his need for services and continuity of schools is more important. And honestly, if kindergarten was still play based and not the new first grade, we wouldn’t have as much of a concern.
My son has such a sweet and wonderful personality. He has never, ever met a stranger, despite me trying to teach him about “tricky people.” He will give a complete stranger a hug when he senses they need one. His laughter is contagious and random people at the store will stop us to comment on his laugh.
On top of his sensory issues, he is a very empathic child. Just like his mom, he feels the mood of the room when he enters. He struggles with articulating his feelings and frustrations which can cause him to act out at times. I mostly worry his young age combined with his sensory issues will cause him to be labeled a behavior problem, when in reality if it had been easier to give him an extra year of preschool while maintaining services, those issues may not be present.
As of right now wherever we go, he makes friends. At this age, other kids see the light that shines within him. I am terrified as he gets older his light will be snuffed out by bullies and it will be too much for his sensitive heart to bear.
As a mother, I am constantly questioning whether or not I am doing the right thing. Five years from now, will I be regretting this decision? 10 years? Will his young age affect him greatly in school? Or will he be able to face the challenges that lie ahead, just as he has done every day since he was born? Only time will tell. But ready or not, kindergarten here he comes.