When i entered Kindergarten I was already reading on a 2nd or 3rd grade level, could write, knew all my letters, could count pretty high and do basic addition. I was also socially awkward, clumsy, and super bored by the class. The kindergarten teacher took stock of the situation and decided I was developmentally delayed, and had me assigned to a special ed class. My mom found out over a year later, based on something I said. She went down to the school, raised hell, and had me actually tested, at which point they offered to skip me a grade or two based on my test results. This would have been pretty disastrous, actually, as I hadn’t actually learned anything in that year or so. She pulled me out of that school and enrolled me in a (private, religious) school at my grade level, where I was incredibly behind in math and remained so until Geometry class in high school, where for the first time I had a teacher who encouraged me and didn’t dismiss me as just a girl (literally, I got a lot of “well, of course you don’t get this, you’re a girl” and “oh well, you don’t really need to know this, you’re a girl.”). Skipping a grade or two with that level of math deficiency? Ugh. Horrible idea.
Nikola has asthma. It’s mild, and it’s cough variant, so he’s never had a classic wheezing panicked asthma attack. Instead, he gets this weird cough that to me is very distinctive but most people don’t notice it as unusual. He takes montelukast/singulair every night and uses a rescue inhaler a few times a year. For instance, we gave him a dose before bed tonight because he has a cold, so it was kind of a preventative thing. He may not have needed it, but you know. It might help him sleep better. His teacher is aware that he has asthma, and when he had his sinus infection, she called me to get him early one day because he had an asthmatic coughing fit in class. It wasn’t a big deal, and if I hadn’t told her I’d be near by and to call me, she probably wouldn’t have and just would have informed me of it at pick up.
She told me that because he has asthma he’s eligible for a 504 plan.
The term “504 plan” refers to a specific section of the Americans With Disabilities Act prohibiting discrimination of special needs students from federally funded schooling. It covers accommodations like peanut-free lunch rooms or tables, wheel chair ramps, ASL interpreters, special keyboards, and similar. Since he has asthma, which can require medication and can be triggered by specific things, he may need accommodation. So the school social worker, school nurse, his teacher, and I sat down at a meeting to discuss his needs.
I got a written notice and had to sign a form saying I consented to the meeting before the meeting was even scheduled. Once I signed the form, I was given an appointment date and some paper work about what a 504 plan is, and some confidentiality information. The meeting went well and everyone seemed on the same page about providing Niko with the best care they could. The school takes asthma really seriously and all teachers and staff have been trained in asthma care and on dispensing asthma medication from a variety of inhalers. I stressed that he had COUGH VARIANT asthma and so doesn’t have typical wheezing etc and everyone seemed to know what I was talking about. They talked about potential accommodations he’d get during the full day program next year, including when he’s in gym class (eg, be able to take a break from physical activity to catch his breath, being able to get water as needed).
While in the meeting, I brought up some concerns I had about his speech (he has trouble saying sh, ch, f, v, and some r sounds. For instance, he says “doll” and “girl” in very similar ways), and about some fine motor difficulties he has with his hands/fingers. His teacher said that upon me bringing it up, she remembered that he had some fine motor issues but since the kids are so young, they mainly focus on pincer-grasp motions which he’s great at (he is) and she was quick to reassure everyone that while he doesn’t consistently hold a pencil in the “correct” grip, he also doesn’t hold it in a fist. IE, it’s not super serious but they can look into it. So they arranged to have an informal session with the school’s speech therapist and occupational therapist to assess his speech and fine motor skills.
They were really responsive to my concerns and I feel like the meeting was a positive thing.
I know that a LOT of people have difficult and stressful 504 and IEP meetings, but I’m super happy at how ours went. Part of this, of course, is that his accommodations are super minor and, at least so far, don’t cost any money. But I got the feeling that the school he’s at is very concerned with extending educational opportunities to all students to the best of their abilities and meeting every need they can.
And, of course, the meeting made me think of my early education experience and the high handed way that a single teacher decided I had special needs and, without consulting or informing my parents, had me shunted into a classroom where I did nothing but pet bunnies and watch film strips. We weren’t even allowed to use safety scissors. Times have changed and there’s a lot more legal protection for kids and parents. But the more closely I look at Niko’s school the happier I am with it. It really feels like his teacher, the staff, have his best interests in mind.