One thing I'm learning about our journey to next year's preschool placement is that it is dependent on so many different variables. I feel like we are caught in the middle of two worlds and I am struggling to understand what exactly is the best place for Christian. This whole process has also brought me back to the reality that Christian is indeed deaf, and despite his amazing progress and language skills, his disability has the very real possibility to impact him academically, socially, and emotionally.
Our family goal has always been for Christian to start his Kindergarten year at our neighborhood school. I've always looked at this goal, and then decided to work backwards and take the steps that I would need to get there. Every decision that we have made as a family regarding Christian's hearing loss has had this goal in mind. All of these decisions have been crystal clear and easy to make, from our decision to implant, our family communication strategy, and of course placing Christian in the program at the school he currently attends. Now, this decision for next year's placement is my greatest unknown. We have been in this protected bubble while attending Christian's current school. While a mainstream environment with typically hearing children making up 85% of the school's population, Christian has also had access to an audiologist on-site, SLPs in the classroom, and of course being in an academic environment that focuses on language and literacy. Knowing that we are not going back next year is terrifying to me. What will we do?
I have a list of about 5 neighborhood preschool programs in our area that we will visit and look into. 3 are parish based schools, one is a private learning center, and the other is an outdoor based program. The only thing they all have in common is that they are MUCH less expensive than our current placement. Some are co-ops, some are not. Some are play based, some are more academic. Some have great facilities, but so-so teachers, and others have fabulous teachers, but horrible facilities. As far as I know, Christian will be the only child with hearing loss in any of these programs. He will not have access to SLPs. There is no audiological support. Some of these classrooms have HORRIBLE acoustics.
Then, there is the county preschool option. Which, I am not excited about, nor do I think it is a good fit for Christian...as of now. I want Christian to be educated with his typically hearing peers, and the county program segregates the hearing loss children into their own preschool classes. While different modalities are taught in different classes (oral kids in one group, TC in another, Cued in another, ASL....), these kids don't even get to interact with hearing children during recess. The last thing I want is Christian ONLY with kids with hearing loss. However, I know that the teachers in the classroom are experts in hearing loss, and that Christian will have access to SLPs in that school. The county audiologist is housed in that building.
And in the middle of all of this, we are going through putting together our IEP with our county. Should we decide to not attend the DHOH preschool, at the minimum, we will receive an itinerant teacher....we hope. What this teacher can and cannot do is a mystery to us.
I wish I knew exactly what program would be the best fit for my little guy. He IS a super star. He HAS defied all the odds and his progress is amazing. We need to place him in a program that fits his needs and will help him succeed. I just don't know what the answer to that is. Yet.