Here in Pennsylvania, our preschool options have been more limited (although it seems that our grade school options have been increased). Little Dude isn't profoundly affected enough to qualify for state- or county-sponsored preschool. He isn't potty-trained, so most private preschools can't touch us with a ten-foot pole. And the private schools that are set up for autistic kids are out of our price range.
Our early intervention team helped us find one private preschool that would take him, but we ultimately decided it really didn't make sense to put Little Dude in a preschool that isn't explictly trained to work with kids with autism. It seems unreasonable to expect a regular preschool teacher to handle Little Dude and all his
So our plan was to keep trying story time at the library to give him some semblance of structured environments, and work with him on his self-help skills at home and in Speech and OT through Early Intervention.
The skill I picked to work on is putting on his own jacket. That seems like something that would be handy to know in Kindergarten. The thing is, when you start explaining how to put on a jacket, it starts to seem wicked complicated. The lay-it-down-and-flip-it-over-the-head thing is not working. He ends up with a jacket stuck on his head and freaks out. I'm already failing in my home-school preschool plan.
The other day, I dropped off my friend Sandra's little girls at their preschool. It's where the Peanut Butter Kid went; it's a preschool in a high school. It's part of an early education class for high school students that are interested in becoming teachers; they work one-on-one with the preschoolers. Because the costs are offset by the high school, it is extremely affordable. The Peanut Butter Kid loooooved it, and when Little Dude was a baby we thought we'd send him there eventually, too.
Obviously, it's a preschool for typically-developing children. It is so completely not set up for special needs; toilet independence is understandably an absolute requirement.
While I was dropping off Sandra's girls, I decided to pick the brain of the teacher (the grown-up, not a high schooler) on how to teach Little Dude how to put on a jacket.
She had no idea. She only gets kids who already know how to do that kind of stuff. But she was interested. She offered to talk to the autism support teacher at the high school and make me laminated visual-cue posters.
Embarassed, I assured her I wasn't looking for her to solve our problem; I just thought she might know a simple trick to teaching kids how to put on a jacket. We chatted some more about our situation, and then she made the most amazing offer.
She is letting Little Dude attend the preschool, with me in attendence as well. Basically, I get all the resources of the preschool, and Little Dude gets focused, structured one-on-one time with me. He'll also get to work with one of the high schoolers. In exchange, I'll be coming in (without Little Dude) during some of the high schoolers' classtime to teach them about autism, special education, and special needs.
I am overjoyed. The teacher? Is gold. She wants to learn more about autism. I brought in some books about autism and sensory processing disorder (thank you, Hartley Steiner) and she was all kinds of excited to read them. I will obviously now do anything for this woman.
And seriously? The opportunity to teach budding teachers about autism is a-may-zing. I can tell them that my wish is that teachers help kids in the areas where they need help, but also focus on what's awesome about them. I can tell them how grateful we are to the first special education teacher Little Dude had; she set the tone for him to like school. I can tell them that every single person with autism is unique, and that they are not all goddamned Rain Man.
The preschool itself is an opportunity to help him develop more tolerance to noise and commotion. (It's a huge room, with 20 preschoolers and 20 high schoolers.) It will give him a semi-structured something that is not in our house. He'll get to work with a teenager. It will also give his early intervention team a place to observe him "interacting with peers." (Side note: Bahahahahahahaha! "Interacting with peers." Riiiiight.)
I am so grateful. Grateful for this outside-the-box solution that just fell into my lap. Grateful that I am a stay-at-home mom, my other kids are in school, and I'm able to do this with him. Grateful that a teacher wants to learn about autism and is willing to open her door to our family.