When your child nears the age your school district sets as the starting point for kindergarten -- most likely, five years old -- it's time again to think in terms of transition. For most children with special needs, this will mean a transition from a preschool program to a kindergarten program. It may also involve a transition from a partial day to a full day, from one school to another, or from one type of educational plan to another.
This transition can be as big as deciding that your child no longer requires special-education services and is ready to move on to a mainstream class without classification. Or it can be as small as deciding that your child isn't quite ready for the big time yet, and will benefit from another year in the familiar setting of preschool.
You'll be helped in making this decision by an IEP team that should include your child's teacher and therapists, a learning consultant, a social worker, and a school psychologist. Your child will likely receive another thorough evaluation, and a formal classification for special education if that's the route that seems appropriate.
Before you offer your opinion on that, make sure it's an informed one. Ask to see some of the options available to your child. Visit a mainstream kindergarten classroom and really think about how well your child would fit into that environment. Do the same for a self-contained kindergarten classroom, or one with inclusion teachers available. Ask how placements would differ for different possible classifications, and view those options. If an out-of-district placement is suggested, or is something you would like to pursue, visit those classrooms as well.
If it's possible to talk to your child about what he or she likes and dislikes about preschool, find out if there are any preferences as to where or who he or she would like to be with. Have an honest conversation with your child's teacher, too, about the strengths and weaknesses of your child in various situations, and find out what the teacher recommends and why. The teacher is second only to you in time spent with your child, and probably has a good sense of what other classrooms are like and how they have worked out for other students.
This is a big, important transition, to be sure, but it's not a disaster if you don't get it exactly right the first time. It's not unheard of for students in regular education to delay kindergarten a year, or take it over if a little extra maturity is needed. Once you've made the decision as to where your child should go at age five, stay on top of the situation. Be open to the possibility of changing things that aren't working or adjusting a placement that was either too ambitious or not ambitious enough.
As your child starts formally on the long road of schooling, you start on the long road of school advocacy. Those are both scary things, but filled with opportunity as well. Prepare to make the most of it.