Lauren started nursery school last week. It was a tough decision between sending her to a regular day care or a special needs school. We knew she wouldn't fit with the Montessori type school Kayla is in, but we thought a day care or nursery school would be good for her overall development. Steve and I visited several day cares and special needs school over the fall/winter/spring, interviewing and being interviewed about what would be best for Lauren. Absolutely she could have went to a regular daycare but we were most afraid that without special attention, she might get lost in the shuffle. Lauren is, and always has been, very passive, not very vocal, and doesn't demand attention. So in a regular daycare setting, with screaming kids, with kids who ask and demand for attention or assistance, we were afraid that Lauren might just sit contently in the corner playing with string all day, instead of doing activities that would help her with her development. Also, at the time when we were looking at daycares, Lauren wasn't walking, and the thought of sending her to a daycare where all the typically developing toddlers would be playing at the park and she would have to sit in the stroller and watch was sad. So we took the highroad, agreed that she would be better in a setting where the teachers were specialized in special needs, where our concerns about Lauren would be truly understood and where programming would include gross, fine motor and speech goals and began focusing our search on special needs nursery schools or day cares.
In the suburbs where we live, there is actually no special needs nursery school programs available. Daycares and nursery schools will make accommodations to kids with challenges, but ratio of kids:staff does not change and programming remains the same. So we opted to look in Toronto, where I work, for a school that would fit Lauren. There were a few to choose from, but all had long waiting lists (some over a year). Thankfully, we did our homework early and was accepted by two of them. The school we ended up choosing for Lauren is called Centennial Infant Child Development Centre (website: http://cicc.ca/ )
The nursery school runs 5 mornings a week, 9:00am to 11:45am. The school functions very similar to other nursery schools. There is circle time, music time, arts and crafts, snacks, gym etc. Every child has a volunteer that is with them throughout the day, ensuring participation and inclusion in all activities, so the ratio is 1:1 - which is often unheard of. Voluteers are parents, retired nurses or teachers, students studying special needs and community members. The school has a physio and occupational therapists who set goals for the child, provides guidance to the volunteers and teachers and monitors and reviews progress. One of the things we really liked about the school is that its an "integrated" school, meaning that 1/3 of the children are actually "typically developing" who serve as role models to the others in the classroom. My first thoughts were "what kind of parent with a normal child would want to send their child to a school for special needs?" so of course I had to ask when we visited the school. The response was that often the normal kids were big brothers or sisters of a younger sibling with challenges and/or twins where 1 child is ok, and the other is not.
Our first visit to this school and to the other special needs school was a bit shocking. Its definitely hard to see kids with syndromes such as Downs, physical disabilities or anomalies, autism, behavioral issues etc., little walkers and wheel chairs, snoezelen rooms and adapted toys and equipment in the classroom. We constantly questioned whether this was too extreme for Lauren and whether she was a good fit. And I guess all I can say is we don't know. What we do know is that she needs help in her development and that all the kids in this room do too. Some, more than others and some, in more ways than one. So rather than turn a blind eye and hope she'll turn out "ok", we chose to send her to a special school to get her the help she needs. It couldn't possibly hurt her and would most definitely help her. Definitely the label "special needs" is a sucky label to wear, especially when your child is so young, but if she's gotta ride the short bus, then she's going to ride the short bus. Whatever bus that is going to get her to a school that will care about her and help her grow should be all that matters.
So Lauren's first day of school was last week. As she sat having her breakfast, wearing her blue jeans and sweatshirt for the first day of school, wincing and smiling at me over oatmeal - I realized that she is growing up. She is starting nursery school, special needs or not, its a school, and I'm super excited about this new journey she is about to embark on. I'll post pictures soon!