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Monday, May 31, 2010

A Sensory Kindergarten Year

Trying to peel back the layers, bit by bit, remains one of my greatest challenges as the parent a bright, spirited adoptee who also has sensory processing disorder. I promised y'all last week that I would share the details of our end-of-year conference with the Tongginator's kindergarten teacher. The husband and I feel so proud of all that the Tongginator accomplished... one year ago my nerves shivered and shook whenever I contemplated all-day kindergarten. I mean, sure, the Tongginator successfully navigated preschool after a few bumps and bruises, but 2.5 hours a day, even five days a week, in no way compares to a child with sensory processing disorder keeping it together from 8:30 AM until 4 PM every! single! day!

But oh, how the Tongginator surprised us with her ability to adapt and adjust. We weren't without challenges, of course, but she truly tried her best and endeared herself to the best kindergarten teacher in the world, Ms. Confetti. Ms. Confetti shared with us the Tongginator's kindergarten report card this past Thursday, showing how our six-year-old Tongginator received ALL CDs, which is a good thing, y'all. CD means Continually Demonstrating... as opposed to PR for Progressing and NI for Needs to Improve.

Ms. Confetti especially commented on how very much the Tongginator has improved in regulating herself.

This past fall, the Tongginator melted down regularly, especially when she was unable to figure out how to answer an academic question of some sort. But now? Most of the time the Tongginator is able to ask a peer or her teacher for clarification or help. She tends to calm herself and rarely melts down. And her frequent bathroom accidents have also been cut by two-thirds. She's come a long, long way in her emotional maturity. She's always thrived socially, but her independence and emotional regulation continued to be a huge struggle until this past year.

She's still "young" in comparison to her peers, but she's catching up!

(And - considering the fact that many experts suggest that adoptive parents should calculate their child's emotional age using the date of adoption rather than the date of birth, I'd say the Tongginator is doing wonderfully.)

Ms. Confetti articulated just one academic concern... and she's not really sure if it should be a concern or not. I know many of y'all will gasp when I share this, since you know what an amazing reader is our Tongginator, but... she might need some help in this area at some point. We aren't sure. Because the Tongginator is so far ahead of her grade level (testing at a fourth grade level for decoding, and a late second grade level for comprehension), but... but... she might be struggling in comprehension for more reasons than just development and maturity.

It might be a sensory issue.

The Tongginator's teacher doesn't really know for sure if it is a problem yet, since the Tongginator is still so young. Things may improve with time. However... however... the Tongginator's progress in this area is slow... much slower than any of us expected. She began kindergarten testing at a middle-of-second-grade level and is now, nine months later, at an end-of-second-grade level. That doesn't mean much, considering how young she is, except that the root of the problem appears to mostly lie in the fact that the Tongginator is unable to visualize what she reads.

She reads the words... and can't picture what they are describing in her mind.

And now that her books don't include pictures, she's feeling a bit lost.

I don't know if this is technically a sensory issue or not, but I DO know that I also have sensory processing disorder and I struggle to visualize, too. It's one of the main reason I loathe science fiction and fantasy books. I absolutely! cannot! see the pictures the authors paint with their words. So... we aren't seeking professional help yet or anything. And we definitely aren't panicking. But I WILL be working with the Tongginator on reading comprehension this summer, to see if we can help her along in this area.

And we'll see how it goes.

For those of y'all who may have preschool-aged little ones with sensory issues, who may be fretting about kindergarten, I thought I'd share a few tips and tricks that worked for us.
  • Write a letter to school administrators this spring, requesting a teacher who creates a more structured environment.
  • Volunteer in the classroom as much as possible in order to keep open the lines of communication with the teacher.
  • Figure out how to better meet your child's sensory diet during before- and after-school hours. For example, we bought a play set with swings just before school began when we learned that the school playground did not have swings. Because trips to the local park were gonna be few and far between with our new schedule.
  • If the teacher seems open to it, share with her resources about sensory processing disorder. We gave Ms. Confetti a copy of The Out Of Sync Child. And she read it!
  • Work with the faculty and administration if your child appears to require a 504 plan or an IEP.
  • Make sure school clothes are as comfortable as possible.
  • Pack healthy lunches from home, with as few preservatives, sugars and dyes as possible. Because school lunches? Are typically NOT healthy... no matter what they try to tell you.
Any other suggestions for navigating elementary school with sensory processing disorder? If so, I'm all ears. We are only one year into this and we were blessed with an AMAZING kindergarten teacher. Yet again, I'm nervous for next year. I hope the Tongginator's first grade teacher can meet the high standards Ms. Confetti set.

It's what I'm praying for.


AwesomeCloud and family said...

She was reading at a second grade level when she entered kindergarten? Wow. Wow.

I'm still waiting for my kid to talk. He'll talk someday. He's going to Cornell whether he's completely average in every way or not. (Kidding. Somewhat.)

Shanna said...

Thanks so much for this post. Our little guy will be entering kindergarten with huge sensory issues and unintelligible speech. I shudder at the thought....

*Peach* said...

Congrats to your sweet daughter for a great year, and thanks so much for this post and the recommendtions.

aamayna said...


It sounds like she is doing amazing! We are in full day daycare (9 hrs) for 3 days. Our dd is doing fine, but I am dreading going up to the preschool room...more kids, less nurturing by default. Any tips here would be welcome! We don't have processing disorder, but do have other similiarites in attachment issues as the Tongginator.

Also - our therapist mentioned possible troubles with reading comprehension at around the ages of 6 - 7. Has to do with the PI brain and halting language when coming to this country. I have tucked it i the back of my brain jst in case. Article below.


bethee said...

We've got our son in FT PreK/Daycare. He's also seeing an OT for his sensory issues (adopted from Russia @ 12 mos.in 2006). He's made remarkable progress with the OT and would HIGHLY recommend it. Its really made a huge difference at home, school and play.

Wendy said...

Hey there,

Email me if you want to talk more about the reading concerns. I would love to chat with you about them. Early literacy is my absolute love. I taught kindergarten for 10 years and just recently started teaching 1st. I'm also a reading teaching, who comes across the issue you describe often among early word decoders like your daughter. What you are describing is quite common in kids who have amazing visual memories like your daughter but who are not developmentally ready to process higher level text (which is why they are reading at lower comprehension levels than their actual decoding level). I have some recommendations, if you're interested. If you check out my teaching website at www.thebuzz125.blogspot.com and click on the FAQ about reading link on the top, you can get an idea of what I'm talking about.

I sure wish I lived in your area...because I'd love, love, love the Tongginator in my 1st grade classroom! Sounds like she had an awesome kindergarten experience thanks to a great partnership between Mrs. Confetti and you, her first and most important teacher!

Aus said...

Great post TM - adn proud of T too (if I may be so bold!) Way to go T - great work!

And I'm moved to think that who better to parent a child than one who knows? I'm just sayin....

And finally - our personal thanks to your family for your sacrifice...without men and women like them we wouldn't be free enough to make comments like this...thanks....

hugs - aus and co.

Tisha said...

Great post TM. I wish I had had all of this info before our guy started kindergarten. Here are some additional things that are implemented in Sloan's class (3 kiddos with Sensory Processing, one with ADHD and one with high functioning Autism) and SHOULD be allowed in any classroom with an IEP.

* Replacing regular school chairs with therapy ball and/or therapy ball chair. This allows for needed movement to help focus and regulation. 3 kids in Sloan's class use these.

* Silent fidget items. Available online at most OT websites. This keeps busy hands occupied when required to sit still.

*Gasp, gum! Gum often helps concentration and regulation. Sloan's teacher passes out gum during math when high concentration is necessary.

* A trampoline. (This one probably not possible in most schools) When someone is needing a sensory break, there is a trampoline right outside the door where a kiddo can go for a few minutes. An alternative is having the child "run an errand" for the teacher with a backpack full of heavy books. This helps calm the system much as a weighted vest or blanket would do.

I have lots more if anyone would like to email me too. tishamcdonald@comcast.net.

Thanks for posting this TM. It is wonderful that you are helping others with the challenges the Lord is allowing in your life and the life of your precious daughter.


Anonymous said...

I just want to let you know, I have zero ability to visualize. Nada. Zilch. i just canNOT do it. Never have been able to. But I am a VORACIOUS reader. My peers actually tease me for how much and how fast I read. So it definitely is possible. I just focus on plot-driven books and avoid scenery descriptions (Lord of the Rings, anyone?) Good luck with your sweet girl!

Anonymous said...

Oops, sorry, it won't let me leave my name. Eileen at www.givingherallshesgot.Wordpress.com

Sharie said...

Way to go Tonggu family! You made it through year 1. Sounds like Little T has come a LONG way and it isn't easy.

Amelia starts Kindergarten in the fall - she'll be one of the oldest as she just missed the cut-off by 3 days, I wouldn't have sent her anyway as she wasn't ready; she is now. I had her end of the year preschool conference on Friday and was so happy to learn that she can now sit and do an activity - that was a HUGE challenge for her at the beginning of the year.

Now her biggest challenges - tattling (Argh!) and answering questions when it's not her turn, ("But mama I know the answers"). She's going to be the know it all that tells on everyone if we don't get a handle on it!

The Source said...

Email me when you have a minute. My SPD child? Same issue with reading/visualization when he was small. 1st and 3rd grade teachers were HEAVEN SENT in getting him over it!

Dawn said...

Over the summer, try reading books that have been made into movies - specificially, movies that stay very true to the book. After reading the books slowly, discuss what she's reading (maybe at the end of each chapter?)and ask her to tell you what she thinks has been described. (Example: Little House on the Prairie, The Long Winter - ask her to describe what the snow storm might have been like. Prompt her only a little if needed, perhaps with things she's actually seen - like the storms you experienced this past winter.) Then, allow her to watch the movie. Stop often if needed to discuss what you're watching. Part of your discussion can include things that are also different than what she imagined.

My daughter didn't have sensory issues but she did have trouble imagining/comprehending what she was reading when she was first learning. One of her (best) teachers suggested we do this over the summer between 2nd and 3rd grade. In a lot of ways, it "flipped a switch" for her. It was like she finally comprehended that the words were more than just words and were actually describing scenes and events.

Hope this might help!

happygeek said...

The nerves? About sending your child to all day after just half-day for 2.5 hours? That's what I'll be having this summer. In Alberta K is half-day and reading is taught in grade 1.
You can talk me down from the ledge in August.

Chasing Dreams Photography said...

Whoo hooo!!!! Lot's of improvements!!!! Livi as you know is SPD....and ADHD. Livi goes to LD for reading. She has issues of course in reading but hers is mainly in processing...my son Kenny had the same issues. Processing is a tough one but there are lot's of programs out there to help. Livi is very visual so we make sure that her instructions are all visual. With reading it helps to have her cut out pictures that are all out of order...then she puts them in order and reads the story line...also text to speech is a big help!!!!
Happy you shared SPD the more we educate the more that people will understand our children : )

Annie said...

Sounds like she is doing great, TM. Some of the things we do with our sensory 1st grader is we pick out his clothes the night before so we don't have any clothing battles in the a.m., I also let his teacher know about his clothing issues as the weather gets cooler because sometimes going without a coat is better than him having a complete meltdown right before school. Transitioning from warm weather to colder weather is always hard - long pants, sleeves and coats.

Kayce said...

A great year was had indeed! Congrats to all of you for accomplishing kinder! I'm a little in shock though that the year is already over.

You've done a wonderful thing for Tongginator by being her advocate which is what the A means when you say your A MOM. Kudos TM!

3 Peanuts said...

Will had sensory integration issues too. I say HAD because by almost 13 he seems to have outgrown them. But he had a cushion that he used to sit on at school that REALLY helped him. Chewing gum (with special permission) also helped him in grades 2-4.

Will was in private school from most of elementary so he never had an IEP and now he is thriving without any interventions at all:)

Sounds like little miss T is doing very well. I wonder if the picture processing is just a matter of one area of development being so far ahead of another. Abstract thinking (what it takes to visualize those images) does not develop this early even though her reading skills seem to be amazing!!!


Elizabeth Channel said...

Wow--so many good suggestions! We have used bookadventure.com for several years to work on comprehension over the summer. It's free, too! I also have a child who reads way ahead of the curve and now is exclusively in long chapter books. Reading each book twice has really helped him with comprehension. I haven't done any research on this, but feel like it's fairly common for these early advanced readers to hit snags with comprehension...

CC said...

wonderful suggestions. Especially giving Ms. Confetti the out of sync child. And YEAH that she read it. Hopefully at the beginning of the school year?