Our son turned five in April, so we knew that this fall he would be headed to kindergarten. That’s what 5-year-olds do, after all. They go off to kindergarten with their peers. Did you know that kindergarten lasts all day now? It’s not just a few short hours like when we were kids. That means that my 5-year-old with autism would be in school all day, then go to his center-based therapy for two hours to continue developing his life skills and social skills. It’s a big commitment for a little fella who, my gut told me, may not be ready to handle the transition.
We went through the IEP process, anxiously filling out paperwork and sitting through an extremely detailed meeting with school staff. If you’ve never experienced an IEP meeting, it’s an emotionally exhaustive process of hashing out every one of your child’s deficits in a two-hour time span. Thankfully, we left feeling confident that our boy would be supported in this new school environment by a team that genuinely wants him to succeed.
The summer progressed and we noticed an increase in behavioral problems at home and at his center. He hasn’t displayed his problem behaviors at the center before. They started to see non-compliance, object aggression, elopement, and an increase in feeding-related issues. Our son’s amazing therapy staff started working diligently to collect data and create programs and behavioral plans to address it all. I felt fear and anxiety creeping in as the start of the school year got closer each day.
That’s when I found out that, in Wisconsin, children do not need to start school until age six.
Would our decision have been different if we’d known? We probably would have wanted him to start school with his peers at age five. However, I felt immediate relief upon hearing about this. He didn’t need to go to kindergarten if he wasn’t ready.
While C’s behavior typically cycles, this current trend doesn’t seem to have an end in sight. The days have been challenging, and the nights have been long. In close consultation with his therapy team, we chose to delay kindergarten for a year. C will benefit from another year of intensive ABA therapy for autism. His center is finally starting to see the behaviors that we need to address most. He will have another year to learn social skills, personal skills, communication skills, and behavioral skills. He will have another year to grow and thrive in his center-based therapy environment. Next year, he’ll be one of the older kids in his class and instead of feeling behind, maybe he’ll have a bit of an advantage. With everything that our son overcomes on a daily basis, I think a little extra advantage is a great asset.
It was not an easy choice to make, but I’m glad that we chose to delay kindergarten for a year. I think it’s the best thing we could have done for him right now. And you know what? When we told him about it, he sighed and said that he was happy he gets to stay at his center. Sometimes the hardest decisions have the best results.