By Megan Stenburg
Like many preschoolers, Eddie, an active, 4-year-old boy with deep brown eyes, already knows how to use an iPad®. He easily navigates to kid-friendly videos and educational apps, and is intensely engaged by the bright colors and catchy tunes.
Bending his head and tilting his ear to get closer to the speakers, he swipes his finger back and forth on the screen, repeatedly turning the volume up and down, a small smile brightening his handsome face.
Like many families with preschoolers, the world of early childhood development offers endless opportunities for growth and learning and an emerging awareness of their child’s strengths and challenges.
Eddie’s parents, Josh and Gloria Killen, brought their concerns about his lack of communication and social skills to the family pediatrician when Eddie was 18 months old. The family’s life shifted dramatically when he was diagnosed with a developmental disorder somewhere on the autism spectrum before he was 2 years old. When the family began to incorporate an array of specialists and services, their daily life became decidedly more complicated.
“Eddie didn’t have any words,” his dad says. “While he was able to do some sign language, he wasn’t articulating any words. He also had trouble biting food off and gagged easily on certain textures and smells.”
At 22 months, a pediatric behavioral doctor diagnosed Eddie with Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified (PPD-NOS). According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), PDD-NOS is a diagnosis that is used for “severe and pervasive impairment in the development of social interaction or verbal and nonverbal communication skills.” Psychologists and psychiatrists sometimes use the terms “pervasive developmental disorders” and “autism spectrum disorders” (ASD) interchangeably.
One of the first agencies the Killens contacted was Northwest Regional Education Service District (NWRESD)—one of the state’s largest provider of special education services for children birth through age 5 who demonstrate significant delays in their development.
Like the Killens, families and caregivers with concerns about a child’s development can call the Education Service District (ESD) in their region. There are free screenings and evaluations that are facilitated by a team of highly qualified specialists in a variety of disciplines, including early childhood education specialists, speech-language pathologists, occupational or physical therapists and school psychologists.
Evaluations are paid for by local school districts and children are made eligible for services based on guidelines provided by the Oregon Department of Education. Once eligibility has been determined, NWRESD provides developmental supports for children birth to kindergarten.
- For children age birth to three, services are provided in the home or other caregiver settings. They may include occupational or physical therapy speech and language therapy and parent coaching to empower families to help their child progress.
- For children age three to kindergarten, in addition to the services listed above, children can also receive specially designed instruction provided at community preschools, childcare facilities, or Early Childhood Special Education centers (ECSE). Northwest Regional ESD operates three centers in Washington County: Woodside Center in Beaverton, the Tualatin Early Childhood Center and the Hillsboro Education Center.
Eddie currently attends class at the Hillsboro Education Center four mornings a week, where he works one-on-one with staff on basic academic skill-building, behavioral strategies and social/communication skills, as well as with his peers in small and large group activities that reinforce those skills.
His parents are pleased with the progress he has made since attending Northwest Regional ESD’s Hillsboro Education Center.
“He can focus on one thing for a longer period of time,” his dad says. “He’s more social and is better with structured activities.”
Kathy Andre, an ESD early childhood education specialist and Eddie’s teacher, says he is learning to follow classroom routines such as what to do when he arrives, how to transition from activity to activity using a visual schedule, and what to do when it’s time to go home.
“Now he comes into class willingly and with a little help, is able put his belongings away and begin his day,” Andre says. “He’s learning to follow routines independently and increasing his attention to a particular task. Eddie’s ability to sit and to learn has increased over the year and he’s much more responsive to the staff in the classroom. It’s a lot of fun for us to work with him!”
In the short-term, Eddie’s parents would like to see him begin to use his words and be able to interact socially with other children. When they look further ahead, their vision for their son is universal among parents: they want Eddie to be happy and to function as independently as possible.
Transitioning to Kindergarten
Many families with a child receiving early childhood special education services are concerned about what happens when a child reaches kindergarten age.
Law requires that when a child receiving early childhood special education services is eligible to enter public school, NWRESD staff, parents and the receiving school district staff meet. As a team, they collaboratively determine the necessary steps to support the child’s transition from the early childhood special education program to public school or another educational setting.
In addition, when the school district determines a child is eligible for school-age special education services, the ESD, parents and school district work together to develop an Individual Education Plan (IEP) that goes into effect at the beginning of the school year.
Here are some ideas to help your child transition:
- Generate a list of your child’s strengths and challenges, along with your concerns. Here are some areas to get you thinking:
- Academic Skills
- Social/Personal Skills
- Independent Living Skills
- Orientation and Mobility
- Write a description of the kind of person who works best with your child.
- Bring a picture of your child.
- At the IEP, discuss the level of family support needed to participate effectively in the round-up (e.g., extra staff support for children if needed).
- Bring a friend or family member who is familiar with your child to the meeting to help with support (e.g., to take notes, to help clarify etc.).
- Purchase a three-ring binder in which to keep your child’s special education paperwork.
- Attend a local school’s Kindergarten Round-up.
- Schedule a time with the new teacher to meet your child at school prior to the start of school.
- Request and familiarize yourself with the kindergarten curriculum.
- Familiarize yourself with special education law.
- Discuss how communication between home and school will occur.
- Share the vision you have for your child with the IEP team (short- and long-term).
- Be sure all of your child’s needs are addressed on the IEP.
- Discuss extended school year (ESY) at the IEP meeting.
- Register your child at the school she/he will be attending.
- Transportation: Discuss whether your child will ride the special education bus or the regular bus.
- At the IEP meeting, goals will be developed prior to the discussion of your child’s placement. Make sure placement options are considered. If you have questions, ask to find out more about the options.
- Give your child a chance during the summer prior to school starting to visit the school playground and become familiar with the school’s layout.
- For the orientation or the first day of school, prepare a one-page “get to know my child” sheet for his or her teacher. Include a picture, strengths, weaknesses, favorites, triggers and calming strategies.
Questions to ask:
- To what extent is the school staff knowledgeable about your child’s disability?
- Parent involvement: How can I be involved in my child’s education?
- Find your local ESD here.
Megan Stenberg has worked for the last nine years as the Communications Manager for the Northwest Regional Education Service District and also serves at the director of the agency’s nonprofit foundation. She is the mother of three adult daughters and the grandmother of five.
In July 2013, David Douglas School District was awarded the Multnomah Early Childhood Program (MECP) contract to provide Early Intervention/Early Childhood Special Education (EI/ECSE) services for all children, birth through age five, who reside in Multnomah County.
MECP continues to serve families in all eight school districts in Multnomah County (Centennial, Corbett, David Douglas, Gresham-Barlow, Parkrose, Portland Public Schools, Reynolds, and Riverdale). Services are individually designed to address the special needs of the young child with developmental delays or disabilities. All services are free of charge to eligible children.
You can contact MECP at: (503) 261-5535, 5208 NE 122nd Ave Portland, OR 97230