Thursday, April 22, 2010

Occupational Therapy Evaluation: What Part of "I'm 2" Don't You Understand?

[This is Part I of the occupational therapy (OT) evaluation experience. For Part II, the report and slightly scary obsession with hugging, click here.]

The saga of our 2 1/2-year-old son John's evaluations for special services from the school district continues. I waited to write about the occupational therapy and psychology evaluations until we got the reports back from the evaluators. But the paperwork hasn't changed the initial conclusions, which included: occupational therapy evaluation, strike 3.

It was between the educational and occupational therapy evaluations that I started to seriously look into homeschooling. By the time this evaluation was over, I'd already signed up for the newsletters of two local homeschooling groups. That's how much this process is pissing me off.

The Evaluation: Your Son's Kindergarten Experience Will Suck -- for His Teacher

Actually, I'd thought the occupational therapy (OT) evaluation went much better, not borne out by the evaluation reports. But then I have a much longer acquaintance with John's personality and tantrums than the evaluator does. The evaluation was still, stupidly, an hour long, but it's all interactive--playing, basically. He did very well for about 35 minutes, did everything he was asked. Then he stopped playing along. The evaluator snuck that look onto her face and immediately asked that question I have learned to hate: "Is this typical, that he'll not want to do directed play anymore and will just stop cooperating?"

What could I say? Yes. Specifically, if I'm in the room, yes. If he's without me, say at daycare, he will do everything he's told. I pushed a little harder with her and asked if they really expected kids of his age to finish these [extremely long] evaluations. She said at least with OT, when they start moving from table activities to floor stuff, probably most kids will be fine continuing to play along because the activities change. With her, she didn't say "attention issues," but talked about the "ability to engage in non-self-directed play" for long periods.

In other words, do what they're told when they're told to do it. Speaking with several other early childhood workers in various parts of the country, I learned several things. One is that it's ineffective and inappropriate to start looking for attention issues at the age of 2. Everyone I spoke with, including two Soviet kindergarten teachers (who used to have parents trying to bribe them to get their kids into their classes) were shocked to hear of anyone expecting a toddler to "pay attention" to directed activities for longer than 20 minutes.

I also learned that about 75% of children will be able to happily finish the hour-long evaluations. At first this number surprised me, but when I think about the bulk of humanity ... well, let's just say that people who change the world, for better or worse, are more likely to come from the other 25%.

For John, a massive meltdown ensued while the evaluator looked on disapprovingly. Are these poor kids not allowed to get bored and tell people to piss off? Why would anyone continue doing something they don't feel like doing, if they don't understand why they're being asked to do it? Isn't that part of the definition of insanity?

I talked with our service coordinator about my concerns yesterday and she, although an admirable person in many ways, talks the party line: "In a classroom setting he needs to be able to sit and follow instructions, and pay attention to what's being asked of him. If there are attention issues, trust me, you want to find them early." In a classroom setting! Which is years away! What part of "he's 2 not 5" don't you understand? I feel like I'm talking a different language.

I notice, by the way, that not a single evaluator has asked how well he does with self-directed play. I'd be way more concerned about a kid who is unable to entertain themselves for an hour, than I would be about one who refuses to be told how to play for the same amount of time.

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