Saturday, February 21, 2009

"Kindergarten By 6"

I recently had the honor of speaking with Dr. Kathleen Feeley, an expert in the field of educating children with special needs. Specifically, her expertise lies in the areas of Autism and Down syndrome. For much of our conversation, we were discussing the practice of mainstreaming and inclusion. Involved in the Down Syndrome Advocacy Foundation, she informed me that their recommendation was to have children with Down syndrome attend kindergarten by the age of six. I was a bit surprised by this, and so relayed to her a conversation I had with the "immediate past president of SEPTA" in my town. Without ever meeting my boys or even inquiring about their level of functionality, this person told me that my boys would spend at least 2 years in kindergarten. She automatically assumed that my children would require at least that educational assistance. To be honest, I was a bit taken aback... offended... unimpressed... angry... and a few other emotions I won't go into. I mean, who was she to dictate what my children would or would not need educationally? She'd never even met them! Interestingly, Dr. Feeley had nearly the same message but explained things differently.

By law, our special needs children are entitled to a free and equal education up to the age of 21 years. In the grand scheme of education, mastery of primary skills -- language, the alphabet, numbers, reading and writing -- is critical to move on to bigger and more complex skills and concepts. That said, Dr. Feeley suggested that rather than packing on all those extra years of learning (as needed) on the end of our children's educational careers, parents should consider putting at least one of those "extra" years up front in pre-school so that these critical primary skills -- the building blocks that all education rests upon -- provide a stronger foundation upon which to build all future knowledge.

I totally buy into this premise! (Did you see the light bulb go on?)

I have always been open-minded about a child repeating any grade as necessary according to their needs. Admittedly, I've also been hopeful that this might not be necessary given my boys' consistent performance in the borderline delayed range. I have lauded parents who had their academically struggling "typical" children repeat a grade at a young age to help ease the child's burden and boost critical skills early on. So why would I be less willing to do so for my special needs children? The notion that I would push them forward when they are performing in the borderline delayed range just to keep them with their same-age peers is absurd. But, that is how I was thinking... I guess.

After speaking with Dr. Feeley, I've concluded that it would be most beneficial for my boys to repeat at least another year of pre-school to ensure the building blocks of all subsequent learning are strong. I'm not sure of the significance of repeating 3-year-old pre-K when they're 4 or 4-year-old Pre-K when they're 5. That has yet to be determined. But, I suddenly find myself committed to the logic of the "Kindergarten by 6" concept. Easing Brian's and Michael's burden, giving them that extra time to strengthen core skills by repeating, is a phenomenal idea. I don't know why I hadn't thought of it! Perhaps I was so caught up in keeping up that I neglected to think about my sons' individual learning curves, educational achievements and needs.

Truly, my conversation with Dr. Kathleen Feeley was an eye-opening experience and one that has eased my mind with regards to the educational decisions I face in the very near future for Brian and Michael. As a matter of fact, the immense stress-relief she provided by calling and having that conversation with me, absolutely makes her my Angel Amongst Us for this week.... But, that's another post!


  1. Your post has made me think as well....hummmm I dont know what the future holds for us, but I may just go about it a little differently now reading your post. Makes sense!

  2. Stacy - This woman is testing using ABA methodology on children with DS with great success. Something I am hoping to look into for the boys (with her). I'm attending a conference on Educating Children with Down Syndrome at CW Post College here on Long Island in March. The conference details can be seen on the website.

  3. Help please: I will be working one on one this school year with a DS kindergarten boy, who I will not meet until the first day of school. I am a bereavement specialist and have also been a 2nd grade instructional asstistant for the past 7 years. This is a traditional back to basic school, with no classroom talking. The children sit in separate desks. I don't think this is the right place for a DS child, but I want to do my best to help him learn. Any help, suggestions would be appreciated! respond to

  4. Whew. Such a relief to read this. I am homeschooling all my kiddos, including my 5-year-old with Down syndrome. And I'm just thinking to myself, considering how slowly we are moving in counting and number recognition, etc., I just don't see him flying through kindergarten in a year. I'm just now realizing that when public schools say, "He is on grade level," they are not really meaning they are on grade level with their typical peers. They are on an adjusted grade level taking their special needs and cognitive impairment into account. It makes WAYYYY more sense to stay in a subject until mastery is acquired than push them through the system and hope they are gleaning something of value. Our kids are capable of so much if we can only meet their special needs. Keep on pressing for answers and not being satisfied when pronouncements are made that don't really make any sense. We need to not just advocate for our children's needs, we need to advocate for each other, and share what we're learning. Thanks for doing your part.