[Autism] Transitioning to the Public School District

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

About a year and a half ago, I explored the option of transitioning Mason out of the private preschool that he's in now to the public school district's special education preschool. I basically saw zero dollar signs and thought "YES!". I mean, same education with zero cost? Sign me up. I inquired about what it would entail, talked to some people at the district, even got mailed the packet of papers that I'd need to fill out, and then... ultimately decided that the time wasn't right. At that point, Mason was just about three years old and I didn't feel comfortable with the plan that would happen. I think I was a little quick to jump the gun and say no, but at the time I didn't feel comfortable with him going to a whole new school for four hours a day then taking a bus BY HIMSELF to a whole new daycare center. It just seemed like too much and I didn't feel comfortable with my baby on a bus - alone. Of course I'm sure they wouldn't be like "bye, go walk to the bus alone", someone would have walked him to the bus and on to the bus and strapped him in and then I'm sure take him off the bus, but just knowing I couldn't be there, no. So we dropped it.

Then, around June of last year, I decided to revisit. I emailed my contact at the district and asked what I'd need to do to get the process started. She basically told me I'd need to fill out that packet and drop it off at the district's special education office. So I did. This was around June 16th or 17th - right before they closed for summer break. She told me that I probably wouldn't hear back from anyone until late August/early September when they got back to school and I said that was fine, at least I got my paperwork in.

So then I waited. All summer.

Right before we left for our Northern California vacation at the end of August, I got a call from someone at the district asking when we could come in for our intake meeting. This meeting would basically be a meeting telling us what the process would be, answering a few questions, and them giving us our assessment dates. We scheduled it for the day after we got back from vacation, September 7, 2016. Everything went great in the meeting, we got our dates for our assessments to come back, and we went on our way. Our first assessment was scheduled for October 12th. As we were walking out, of the BIG KID elementary school, I almost wanted to cry. How is my BABY old enough and big enough for big kid elementary school?!?! Well, I know it's not kindergarten (yet!), but going to the big kid school just gave me all the feels - for lack of a better term.

October 12th came and I was super nervous. I really had no idea what to expect. Everyone thus far was SUPER nice and helpful, so I don't really know what I was worried about, more fear of the unknown I guess. We got there and the school nurse greeted us. She said we were going to start with her and then move on to the assessment. So we went into her office and she did a quick check up on Mason to check his vision and his hearing. She started off by asking if we'd had those tests done before and we said yes. The hearing one always goes HORRIBLY because he HATES the headphones they make him wear (to test for all types of sounds and to test one ear over the other) - with a passion. He cries and rips them off instantly. Without the headphones, he does great. But headphones, not so much. Then they tried to test his vision at his four year old check up in July and it was a sh*t show. They basically wanted him to stand on this line and cover one eye and read the eye chart. Right. Do any four year olds actually do that? Anyway, she said she had a different way to test his hearing and his vision, and I was so excited. She did the vision first. She had Seth sit in a chair next to him and I stood behind her to get Mason to look in her direction. She zapped this machine and pushed a button and BAM. Done. Say what? Yeah, it was that fast. It came back saying "refer" (to a ophthalmologist). I questioned it a little and she said she'd try again. Same results. So I guess we need to take him to the eye doctor (which we later did - more on that later). Good thing we don't have vision insurance on him currently. (insert eye roll here). Though I can't say that I'm REALLY that surprised, he does hold the iPad pretty close to his face. But anyway, then she did the hearing test. Mason sat in the chair again, only this time alone. Seth and I stood on the other side of the room and he looked at us while she shook different toys behind him. He'd have to turn and look the way of the noise and that would show if he could hear or not. He passed this test!

At this point, Seth and Mason went into the other room while I stayed and answered some questions for the nurse. She had his file and was going over it and just asked me basic questions like if he was full term when he was born, if I had any complications, when he was diagnosed with autism, etc. When I was done answering her questions, I met up with the boys. When I got to the other room, Seth was answering a questionnaire and Mason was answering questions too. Seth's questionnaire asked things that you had to rate on a "always, often, sometimes, never" scale. Questions were things like "calls others names", "puts on his shoes alone", "uses a fork to eat food", etc. Basic things just to see what developmental level he was at. Mason was answering questions like "which one is the number" when give the choice between a number, a letter, a pound sign, and a question mark. Or things like "follow the pattern" when given a picture of blocks in the pattern "top row : black, black, black" and "bottom row : yellow, yellow, yellow" and he had to put down the blocks in that order. Or things like a picture of a top row with square, square and then bottom row with square and then a question mark and he had to point to the correct picture of what would match -  a square, circle, a heart, or a star. Mason was very cooperative and answered all their questions (not necessarily correctly, but without protesting).

On October 19th, we had the second assessment and similar questions were asked. Mason was again very cooperative and only got distracted by the toys in the room a couple times. Overall, he was very agreeable. He actually blew Seth and I away with some of the answers that he knew. At one point, he had to get five wrong in a row to be done with that activity and he'd get four wrong, and then know the answer. Some of the questions were at a level way higher than something he should know, so the test went on a little bit longer than anticipated. Because he was so agreeable during assessment one and two, those latest a little longer than an hour (the scheduled time frame) because he was answering the questions so well. Because of this, they cancelled assessment three. At the end of the second assessment, they gave us a questionnaire to give his preschool teacher, which she would then mail back to them and they would use as a part of their assessment. This questionnaire was very similar to one that Seth and I answered in the first assessment.

As a part of the whole process, the autism specialist came out to our house to observe an in-home ABA session. She came on October 24th and stayed for a half an hour. Mason's ABA therapist didn't know if she was looking for anything specific, so he just conducted the session like normal. They played cars for the majority of the time and transitioned to another activity at the very end of the observation. Overall, Mason is very agreeable during sessions, but I do wish she has observed him attempting to use the potty since this is the only time that he protests during session (or ever really), just so she could have gotten the whole picture.

Also as a part of the whole process, one of the IEP team members (I believe the special education teacher) went to Mason's school to observe him there also. She happened to be there during their playtime and she saw him interacting with the other kids and he even came up to her to show her a Lego tower he built.

On November 1st, we had the IEP meeting. I will admit, I was nervous. This was a meeting with EVERYONE and I truly didn't know what to expect, so it made me nervous. The special education teacher was there, the psychologist, the speech teacher, the autism specialist, and my contact at the district (I forget her technical title). There were 5 of them and 2 of us. As soon as the meeting started though, I felt more at ease. They went over the reports and basically didn't tell us anything we didn't already know. The conclusion of the whole thing was that Mason didn't qualify for the special education preschool (for lack of a better way of explaining it - they deemed him too high functioning for the preschool and said that he wouldn't gain anything from being there - which is good!) but they did recommend that he get speech services and had a whole slew of goals to go along with that. They did recommend that we switch the preschool that he is at from where he is now to a mainstream preschool. (We later looked in to it and decided against it for various reasons.) We decided not to sign the IEP at this time (you can do that) because I wanted to go over it with Mason's preschool teacher, his speech therapist, and his ABA supervisor. I also had a speech language pathologist friend look it over. A week or so later, I contacted the school with some questions and instead of answering them through email, we scheduled a follow up meeting on November 16th.

November 16th we went for our follow up meeting, they answered our questions, and we signed the IEP. They turned in our request to start speech therapy with the school district and said that they would call us to schedule a day to start speech.

Somewhere in there was Thanksgiving break and the school was closed for a week.

Sometime the following week, the speech therapist called to schedule a start date. I believe this was on November 29th. I missed the call and called her back the next day. She said Mason could start on December 1st. This was like 3 days before one of my work events and I said that wouldn't work, so we agreed on Tuesday, December 6th, the following week Tuesday.

On Tuesday, December 6th, Mason started his new speech class (more on that in another post). That afternoon, he had his appointment with the ophthalmologist as well (more on that in another post). It was a big day for him!

We opted to continue his speech through the place that he was going which went through our insurance. We had already reached our out of pocket max in co-pay payments for the year, so it was technically "free", so we thought we would finish out the year and then not continue in January. December 30th was his last day of speech services through our insurance.

To summarize, here is the timeline.

June 16th/17th-ish, 2016 -- apply for special education program through the school district

August 29th-ish, 2016 -- get a call to schedule our intake meeting

September 7, 2016 -- intake meeting

October 12, 2016 -- assessment #1

October 19, 2016 -- assessment #2

October 24, 2016 -- in home ABA shadowing

October 25, 2016 -- (would have been) assessment #3 (cancelled since he did so well on the first two)

November 1, 2016 -- IEP meeting

November 16, 2016 -- follow up IEP meeting, signed IEP

November 21-25, 2016 -- Thanksgiving week, school district closed

November 29, 2016 -- get call to schedule speech

November 30, 2016 -- returned phone call to schedule speech, scheduled start date

December 6, 2016 -- first day of new speech class

December 30, 2016 -- last day of speech services through our insurance

All photos are from October 12th, after Mason's first assessment.
He was so excited to be at the big kid school!

There are obviously more details than what I shared, but I don't want to share too many personal details on the internet. If you're in a similar situation or would like more details, please comment below or email me directly and I'd be happy to share more.

Overall, I'm very happy with how things have worked out. Mason has been doing AMAZING with his new speech class and has been thriving at his preschool. I know we made the right deacons and I feel confident that we did what is best for Mason at this time. Now, we wait for our transition to kindergarten meeting and I grab a box of tissues because I can't believe that my baby will be going to kindergarten in the Fall!


  1. Wow! Tha tis quite a process, but it sounds like it was the perfect choice for Mason! You and Seth are so amazing. The way you two grab hold of everything and just steamroll it over with grace and love is the best thing! Mason is a lucky little boy!

  2. It's such a process, isn't it? Zachary has an IEP also and it was such a thing to get it started! But once it's in place things should go very well! I love the pictures interspersed with Mason running towards you!

  3. Wow, that's crazy. I know a good friend had to go through the same thing and is now at a charter school which also has IEP for her son, and she said she's been impressed with the fact that she hasn't had to fight tooth and nail for everything. Mason is such a great kid and deserves the best, which you are providing!

  4. What a process! Getting IEPs for my students always was, too! I'm glad you found the right places for Mason and that this gives him a good kickstart when he begins Kindergarten!

  5. Gosh, there are so many steps. You and Seth amaze me with all the work and time and effort you put forth. Mason is so unbelievably lucky to have such a devoted set of parents. You guys are amazing. Mason has been given all the best tools, and he's thriving SO much!

  6. We still have a year of Pre-K because of Connor's late birthday and for once, I'm so happy that he has a October birthday. I am not ready for him to be gone all day at school just yet.

    I love reading the process. I have no clue what's involved in a process like this but it seems that you and Seth have it done. Kudos to you for being such amazing advocates for Mason.

  7. IEPs are so. much. work. I'm so glad you are finding what works bets for Mason! :)

  8. He looks SO happy! I'm so proud of him- and you!

  9. Wow. You guys the best advocates for Mason. I'm so proud of you & Seth & of course, Mason!

  10. Sounds like a lot of research and work and you guys are doing an awesome job. My nephew, while not autistic has some sensory issues. He too was denied the public school services other than speech. He didn't meet the criteria for the "average" kid but was too high functioning to be one of the kids with special needs. So he's doing the same as Mason... private preschool with speech through the public school.

    And I can't believe Mason will be starting kindergarten too! Noah still has one more year because of a November birthday. Is it common to hold summer birthdays back by you? Our cutoff date is 10/1 and summer birthdays are often held back. Kindergarten here is full day and rather intense, so maybe that's why.

  11. So exciting friend! I know that must have been quite the process and it probably felt like it took forever but it was totally worth it, right?! You guys are doing an amazing job.

  12. He'll enjoy being in a mainstream school. I've had a few autistic kids in the junior high classes I taught...they try really hard to do their best and love being with other kids. But, kindergarten! Wow! My oldest will be doing preschool in the fall....he'll turn three in July...and I can hardly believe it!!!!!

  13. It took me two days to read this- so much good info! Where to begin? So the school district now covers all of Mason's speech sessions? That is awesome! Talk about taking a load off of you. And Mason (and you) like the speech therapists? So many awesome transitions are happening and Mason is doing so well. I bet your mama heart is just bursting with pride!

  14. Mercy, what a process! But, all worth it for that sweet and precious little boy. I'm so glad the speech lessons are going.

  15. I'm not sure how he is old enough for Kindergarten yet...this fall?? the one coming up?? after summer?? Too fast

    1. I also meant to say like...yay! I'm glad he is doing so well with everything!

  16. So happy everything went so well!! Mason is going to have the BEST time!!

  17. I continue to be impressed with how much of an advocate you are for Mason! It sounds like you know him perfectly and what he is & isn't ready for. So glad he is thriving in his new place!


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