Monday, June 8, 2015

Too Good to be True

Over a year ago, I called our local regional center because I was concerned Nathan was behind in his development, especially speech, and they came out to evaluate. I told them about his cleft palate and chromosome 22 duplication, and that it could cause global delays in development and other areas, and they did not hesitate to offer him services. At the time, it was a home program where he would have a teacher come for 75 minutes, once a week, and play one on one. It was great for him, and I loved his teacher. But she decided to get another job to care more for her baby last fall, and she then told me about the center-based option. Center-based? She explained it was like a small little preschool class for 18 month to 3 year olds where they would work on developmental skills. How often is that, I asked? Three days a week, for 3 hours and 15 minutes. I was stunned. So I could send Nathan to a little class with 8 other kids and 3 teachers, 3 mornings a week, for free? And he will develop socially, emotionally, and academically? FREE? Funded by Regional Center, no less. Sign me up! I was so excited for this opportunity and felt completely blessed by it. Nathan could make little friends and I could get some me time during the mornings. Sounded perfect.

And it was, and has been, until just last week, when a letter was sent home to the parents saying that Regional Center has changed their guidelines in order to receive services. Instead of allowing parents to drop off their kids and come back later, one parent or guardian now has to stay with their child the entire time, each day, beginning July 1st. This was to help facilitate more parent involvement at this young age, part of the state's rules regarding early start intervention. What? How could this be? My wonderful me time would be gone! I would have to stay with him? But why? What good would it do for me to be there? He's learning independence! He's learning classroom procedures! He's growing so much, without me there! And how would every family be able to meet this new guideline? What about parents that both work? Or don't have family close by for support? How would all these precious little children get the crucial early intervention they so need?

I talked with his teachers and other parents that day the letter was sent home, at the end of the class period. Everyone seemed in agreement that this new rule was unnecessary. I told them that I would be more than willing to make some calls and take action, that I'd done it before and I would most certainly do it again.

So I first called the Department of Developmental Services (DDS) and told a director there if she was aware of this change. As far as she knew, the laws for early start had not changed one bit. So I found out, to my knowledge at that point, that our regional center was not truthful about why they had to make this change. They said it came from the state and that there was no other option.  But the DDS did reinforce their views on parent involvement in early start intervention and how important it is to see better results, and told me to call the regional center.

So I called the regional center, but of course got voicemail. Friday came, and no call back. So I wrote a carefully crafted email stating why it was not a good idea to require parents to sit in with their child for the entire 39 hours of early start class, and gave some alterative options, like having a monthly parent training, or weekly meeting with the teacher. Monday morning came, and I didn't get a reply. As I began driving Nathan to his craniofacial appointment around 9 am, the thought occurred to me that I would be just 2 minutes away from their main office, and that I could easily stop by in person to fight this issue. And having Nathan with me would be even better! How could they look at his cute little face and willingly make these life-changing services more difficult to obtain?

I called on the way to the appointment, and finally got through to the secretary of the early start director at regional center. I told her no one was returning my calls, and that I wanted to come today, in person, to talk to someone. She took the message, and I headed to the appointment. Toward the end of Nathan's visit, I got a call back from regional center. Another director called me back to let me know the only person I could talk to would not be back until later in the afternoon, and that she would make sure to have her call me today. I was very hesitant, but agreed to let her send the message.

Earlier this afternoon, to my surprise, the early start director did call me. We had a very nice conversation, and she told me that the regional center was audited last year for not complying with the parent involvement guideline. She said Nathan's school is one of only TWO schools that provide a center-based option, and that this model has been done away with all over the state of California. The model elsewhere has always been a "mommy and me" where the parent would be in attendance to help teach their child as the teacher taught them, so they could then go home and reinforce these new skills. This "drop-off" idea is no different than getting day care or preschool, and it hadn't been dissolved at Nathan's school yet because of how well the program is received in the area. Children under 3 need to learn in their natural environment, or with parents in a community setting, like library story time.

As I listened to her describe all of this, I began to realize how lucky I really was to have had Nathan in a class like this for as long as I did, and maybe it was too good to be true, that my reasons for fighting this change were mostly selfish. I remembered when Julianna was first offered early start services at 18 months old in Utah, and I took her to a class with little children of all disabilities. I sat there with her and watched as all the other moms helped their children with different skills, like drinking from a straw or cup, or stacking blocks, as the teacher facilitated the group. I remember the feeling I had being there as a young 23-year-old mom, scared to death of even thinking that anything could be wrong with my child, and because of how scared I was, I NEVER WENT BACK. I couldn't be there in that room with those children and parents. Not yet. And now, here I am, 10 years later, with my youngest child, and I might have to do the same thing. I wonder if I will feel the same as I did 10 years ago? Am I ready to face all of these things yet? I think so, because this time I know Nathan will be okay. I was so unsure with Julianna.

At the end of our conversation, I told her that most parents will not be able to meet this new qualification, and that there needed to be some middle ground in order to have a smoother transition. I suggested that regional center provide a combination of center-based and home-based services so that the children could benefit from both. I said maybe a parent could attend class with their child just one day a week, and then another day that week someone could be sent to their home to work with the child one on one. She really liked this idea, and said she would present it to her directors and also the school to see if it could become an option. The conversation ended well, and I regretted somewhat my very forceful letter I sent just a few days ago.

So I won't have my precious me-time anymore in the mornings. I won't get to go grocery shopping by myself while he's at school and will have to again face the terror of having him in that grocery cart, seeing items being tossed to the ground as I shop. I'll be bringing him with me to the gym now, every time I go.  The me-time was good while it lasted, and it really was too good to be true. I was spoiled by having this free class for Nathan. And now I will be even more spoiled to see him interact with those little kids and his teachers, and feel more a part of his development. I think this will be a really good thing. Sometimes change is good. After all, he'll be 3 in 6 months, and off to preschool. Might as well treasure these last few months with him.

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