Evaluations, Preschool, and an IEP…

A couple weeks ago we took Astoria in to Child Find at Boulder Valley School District(BVSD) to be evaluated for possible preschool services and an Individualized Educational Program(IEP). I was initially very hesitant to put her through this testing since her initial evaluation at Adams 12 school district, when she was 3 months old, was really frustrating for me. The major determining factor in our decision to proceed with this evaluation was our desire for Astoria to have the best opportunity for a normal public education and to succeed in the different difficult listening environments that school will certainly provide.

So this is what I tried to think about as I hauled my 4 year old into the Child Find office for two full hours of testing for a variety of skills including receptive language, expressive communication, classification and sorting, pretend play, and memorization. Stori immediately charmed everyone when we walked into the office and they all gushed about her pretty dress, matching accessories, and long princess hair. My pixie girl, true to her nature, gave them a shy smile and clung tight to the Princess Aurora/Ariel flip doll she got on our recent trip to Disneyland. She quietly told them stories about meeting princesses, getting a Rapunzel makeover, and how scary it was riding Space Mountain on vacation. She also eagerly explained how excited she was to be done with the evaluation so she could have a salon day with one of her best friends. When it came time for the testing to start, Astoria was taken into a little classroom and I sat in the adjoining “spy room” with a one way mirror/window to watch my intelligent girlie pie answer question after question correctly in her shy little pixie voice and amaze the therapists with her vast vocabulary and knowledge that was well beyond what they expected of a 4 year old who had never attended preschool, much less one with hearing loss. With as impressed as they all were I figured it was unlikely that she would be eligible for placement in preschool which was fine with me because I was not a bit thrilled with even entertaining the idea of losing 4 hours or more with her each day. I mean isn’t it enough on this mama’s heart that Z is heading off to Kindergarten in the mornings come fall?

Once the evaluation was finally over we did go out and have an amazing afternoon at the salon and got lunch and ice cream with some dear friends. Astoria was no worse for wear and I was super proud of her.

Now fast forward to last Friday which was our meeting with the BVSD Child Find people to follow up on Astoria’s evaluation. I took her with me because I assumed it would be pretty quick as they were surely just going to tell me she wasn’t eligible for services…. But it didn’t go like that. It went like this…

1. Astoria is very smart for her age and has incredibly excellent receptive and expressive communication skills. She has some articulation issues in her speech, all of which are age appropriate and likely will be outgrown with continued development and practice so no further speech therapy is required but we are going to keep an eye on her progression with specific “trouble” sounds.

2. Being a child with mild to moderately severe bilateral Sensorineural hearing loss she is entitled to receive preschool services through BVSD under the following criteria:

-Inability to demonstrate self advocacy skills or utilize specialized technology/resources to access instruction.

Essentially, they believe Astoria will benefit from preschool services so she can learn to use her hearing aids and assistive devices effectively and so that she can learn how to advocate for herself in difficult listening environments. They have offered her a place at the Aspen Creek preschool in the afternoon class which will likely be the same school that Zoren is attending morning Kindergarten starting in fall. BVSD will have someone with her in the classroom for a certain number of hours each week and will be providing special bus transportation to and from our house for her as the school is pretty far away.

What this means for us:

Astoria will be attending afternoon preschool at Aspen Creek. Aside from general preschool education she will receive one on one time in the classroom with a BVSD Deaf and Hard of Hearing (DHH) early childhood education instructor who will help her learn to utilize her integrated Roger system which is built into her hearing aids and allows her teachers to wear a small microphone which streams their voice directly into her hearing aids. Her understanding of how to use this system is really important, especially in school where there are a lot of environmental distractions that can make listening difficult for a kid with hearing loss. She will also be taught self advocacy skills so when she moves onto Kindergarten she will feel confident asking for a different seat in class or reminding a teacher to wear or turn on their microphone. These are skills that Steve and I feel are imperative for Astoria to have in order to succeed in school. Our hope is that once she learns these skills and practices them throughout the next year in preschool, she can enter Kindergarten with a 504 plan (allowing for preferential seating and assistive devices) instead of an IEP (categorizing her as a special education student and possibly placing an aide with her in the classroom).

So as I spend the next gazillion hours mentally and emotionally coming to terms with sending both my older kidlets off on buses to Preschool and Kindergarten respectively, and on opposite schedules, I am throwing all my energy into preparing for an EPIC summer…. Between school and Zoren’s recent acceptance into Artistic Fusion Dance Academy’s Company Competition Team which practices 4 nights a week and some weekends, along with Astoria’s two weekly dance classes, this next year is going to be insanely busy and I can already envision the full weeks just flying by without the luxury of daily down time and family time that we are definitely accustomed to and spoiled by. So this summer we have a big list of all the awesome things we want to do together which I will post next time!!

Look for more frequent updates and posts now that my schedule is a little less crazy!! Thanks for reading :)

-erica

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Spring Sensory Observation Walk

One of the new Spring activities that I introduced to the kidlets yesterday is a sensory observation walk/scavenger hunt. I aimed the focus of this walk toward using multiple senses together to find particular items on our observation list. I chose a bunch of things that we were most likely to see outside and we came up with some more ideas along the way so we will probably be doing this activity again soon! Here are the items that were on yesterday’s list:

-birds chirping
-water rushing over rocks
-barking dog
-a sparkly rock
-children playing
-airplane or helicopter in the sky
-a bridge to cross
-swimming ducks
-big birds hunting/circling

We used both pictures and words on our lists because Z is just learning to read and Astoria can’t read by herself yet. I think it is great for them to make the connection between pictures and written language and we found that having the visual really helped them remember what we were looking for along the way without needing any reminders.

The observation walk was a huge hit with the kidlets and they stayed intently focused on listening and watching for things on their list while chatting with each other about what they were hearing and seeing almost the whole time. They also decided the next time we did this activity, they would need to make their own additions to our lists. Zoren wants to add “zooming cars” and “the far away snowy mountains”, while Astoria came up with “people not hitting us on bicycles” and “dog poop” to include. All of which we certainly see plenty of on our walks.

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I think this is an especially great activity for a child with hearing loss because it helps prompt them to marry their sense of hearing with their sense of sight to figure out exactly where a particular sound is coming from. This is a skill that Astoria is quite proficient at but something we still work on to continue building a good listening foundation for her once she reaches school and is put into different types of hearing and listening situations. Being able to reliably determine the origin of a specific sound is also something that appears on all of the assessments Stori has been taking every six months for the last three years, so it must be important! Let me go off on a little tangent for a minute to help explain why this is such a fundamental skill for children with hearing loss to master…

Although hearing aids are a great benefit to most people with hearing loss, especially for individuals who test in the mild/moderate range like Astoria, they are essentially just miniature microphones which are positioned behind the ears. This positioning makes it easier to pick up sounds coming from your aft but make it a little more tricky to decipher sounds coming from in front of you when there is a lot of background noise, especially if its coming from multiple directions. I can only imagine now hard it would be in a crowded situation, like a gymnasium full of kids for instance with someone speaking into a microphone, and having to compensate for the echoing room, disrupting children, applause, and other various distractions coming from all sides while trying to pay attention to what the speaker is actually saying.

It is also worth noting that certain hearing aid settings/programs actually take loud noises over a certain decibel range and cut the sound off completely so as not to cause unpleasant feedback and to protect the wearer’s hearing. A perfect example of this is when we were taking Astoria to ballet and tap dance classes. While she loved the ballet part, once the echoey studio was full of little girls and boys running around in tap shoes, she couldn’t hear much of anything. It was especially difficult for her to comprehend any instruction from her teacher because her hearing aids were either cutting out the noise completely, or it was too loud for her to decipher what was being said. I don’t know exactly what she was experiencing because she is so young still and not always able to explain exactly what the problem is. But I do know that she will inevitably be put into a countless number of similarly difficult listening situations throughout school and beyond. Situations that I won’t be present for, have no control over, and can’t guide her through. I will have to trust that the skills we have worked on since she was so small and her feisty, honest nature will allow her to prevail and thrive in those types of environments.

And I digress… We finished up our observation walk with a nice picnic in the park and plenty of time at the playground. Astoria is getting to be quite a proficient climber but is still my little swinging girl and will sit on the swings as long as someone is willing to push her once her legs get tired from pumping. Zoren is my playground conqueror and has mastered pretty much every obstacle aside from the monkey bars, which I am sure he will have down by the end of summer.

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We stayed at the park most of the afternoon, soaking up the last rays of sunshine and watching sinister storms form over the mountains then slowly meander in our direction. Once we saw the ominous clouds start to fill our pretty blue skies and the sun tucked itself away behind them, we made our way back home, quite pleased with the day.