January 6, 2016

Getting Speech and Occupational Therapies After Age 3

M2 aged out of early intervention therapy a few months ago. The early intervention provided her with in-home speech and occupational therapy once a week, alternating. Once you hit age 3 though, that all goes away. Boom. Diagnosis or not, needing help or not -- Third birthday? GONE. Then what happens? The child still needs therapy, that need doesn't magically go away. What is next? Where do you turn?

At that point, the therapy goes through the school district. I never even knew that until M2 was going to need the help. The catch is: Getting the therapies isn't automatic. The child has to qualify based on the district's specifications (each does things differently) and it's a long process. It all starts with a call to the school district to tell them your child is aging out of early intervention services. Just because your child may be diagnosed  by a doctor with ASD or he/she has been getting therapy, it doesn't mean the school district will automatically agree that it's needed. They look at things from more of a school functionality aspect. If the issues won't later interfere with schooling, the child won't qualify.

Since August, I've been taking M2 for all kinds of testing to see if she'd qualify to get into the therapy provided by the school district. There were all kinds of hoops to jump through. Speech, cognitive, psychology, behavior, on and on the testing went. Once all the evaluations were finally complete, I met with the team to discuss what they'd determined. Then, we met to discuss what the best next step for her. I spent months worrying about what would happen if the team didn't say she qualified. A and I, along with her early intervention team, knew without a doubt that in order for her to progress she needed to get into the school district's program.

Without it, we didn't now what we would do or what would happen with M2. A private speech therapist and OT alone wouldn't cut it for what her needs are. Plus, those therapies run $150 plus a session and often (like in our case) are not covered by insurance to the extent needed, if at all. Her early intervention team said we had one big thing in our favor: Our school district has the absolute best programs for special needs kids around. It is the most understanding, willing to work with parents and eager to actually help the kids. That didn't stop me from worrying. Every meeting, evaluation, phone call -- anything -- I pleaded M2's case, advocated for her and fought to ensure she'd get the services she needs.

I was lucky that the team working with her saw everything I do and agreed wholeheartedly with everything I said and suggested. In the end, the school district agreed with her autism diagnosis, gave her that diagnosis for school purposes, and agreed that she has a severe speech delay that must be addressed. Her vocabulary, motor planning and clarity simply aren't there. All agreed that she'd need to extra help through the programs the district offers to get her ready for kindergarten. It was all enough to get her into special needs "preschool."

It's called preschool because it goes through the school district, but really, it's speech and occupational therapy twice a week for an hour in a group setting along with one-on-one speech therapy six times a month. The idea is to address the issues she has, expose her to more kids and get her ready to enter kindergarten in a few years.

Her "class" is made up of four or five other special-needs kids. With three teachers and a speech pathologist on hand at all times, it's as close to one-on-one as you can get! During the hour, the teachers work with the kids on things like sitting down to eat, interacting appropriately with peers and adults, sitting in a circle, following directions, playing appropriately -- I honestly don't even know what all she'll be doing yet! With all the time it took to set everything up, M2 has only had two sessions before the holidays started.

Eventually, she'll move up into a larger group then into a group that is a mix of special-needs and typical children. It's a ladder process to slowly get her to where she needs to be, based on her own needs and timeline. As she progresses, more learning and and preschool-type activities are added in addition to the therapies.

We wrapped up her early intervention therapies a day before her birthday and started the preschool therapy two days after. Depending on how she does, I'll most likely be finding a private speech therapist to work with her a few times a month as well. Her previous speech therapist (whom we loved) said she sees the most improvement with kids who have the school district provided therapy and private as well. Setting that up is going to be our next adventure.

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