In Texas, if your child is under the age of 3 years-old when they get a diagnosis, they are often referred to early childhood intervention (ECI) services. This was the case for us. Casey had multiple medical issues and she qualified for all the different therapies that ECI provides: physical, speech, occupational, vision, and even developmental/play therapy.
A few months before Casey turned 3, ECI started to prepare her to transition to public school. At the age of 3, services are moved from ECI to the school district. It took us a long time to get comfortable with the ECI therapists, and we felt like we were finally seeing some progress with Casey. The idea of losing all the therapists who had worked so hard to know her and to start over with an entirely new team was devastating.
We quickly learned there was much more to it than just a new team.
The schedule was very different. Instead of being all year, the school therapies are only offered during the school year. They do have some special programs that add 6 weeks over the summer, but regardless, you will have a gap in services. Also, the special summer services are typically done by therapists other than the ones you see during the school year.
Another change: The ECI program was focused on overall function and social skills. The school therapists were all focused on getting my child able to access the school and finding ways for her to do the school work. This new goal took some time to get used to and understand.
I have a lot of friends with healthy children. They cry and freak out when they send their 5-year-olds off to kindergarten for the first time. Here I was with a medically fragile 3-year-old entering the school system. I had no intention of sending Casey off to school when she turned 5, much less 3. I had to learn an entirely new vocabulary in order to advocate for Casey in school meetings.
Luckily, Casey’s doctors wrote letters explaining that she was too fragile to attend school so that we could keep her services at home. The therapists understand that not every child is going to be an independent adult and that some kids don’t need to focus on accessing the school. They still had to have a percentage of their goals targeting school functions, but they worked with us to do what was best for Casey.
To keep our non-school goals moving forward, and to keep services in place during the year, we added a third-party therapy provider as well. We tried some out of the house, but having therapy come to Casey always seemed to work best for her.
There are a lot of therapy providers in Texas that can provide services to children at home. There are also programs in place to help get these services to the children that need them. You can search for grants in your area, and reach out to the agencies to see the different programs they currently work with.
It is very scary to make the transition from ECI to school when our babies are only 3. The trick is to be prepared. Just do your homework to know what options are out there, and talk to other parents.
If you go in prepared, you will be able to work with your school for what is best for your child. They really do care and want to help.