Preschools help prepare special-needs children

August 15, 2010

Many are prepared thanks to their preschool programs.

Many parents of children with disabilities feel preschool programs with special education services are the key to their child's future.

The Barbara Vick Early Childhood and Family Center on Chicago's Southwest Side is one school that is making it possible.

"This school has been absolutely phenomenal for both of my children," said Kerry Sloyan.

"It's done phenomenal things for my own kids, but I've also seen what it's done for other kids in the area and to not have this resource would be horrible," said Kerry Esselman.

"I love that this play-based - I love it - a blended classroom," said Ann Cook. "I love that they incorporate all the services in the classroom."

Kerry Sloyan, Kerry Esselman and Ann Cook each have more than one child with disabilities at Barbara Vick's.

Sloyan's 5-year-old Blake and 4-year-old Aiden have autism spectrum.

"Blake, one of his conditions is called dyspraxia... Blake has to learn how to do every single thing that you do with your muscles, things that come very naturally to other children such as, you know, jumping, even just up in the air, going on a swing or going down a slide," said Sloyan. "His younger brother Aiden also has quite a few social issues; just since he's been coming through the doors here, [he] has grown tremendously."

Esselman's son Patrick is five and has speech delays with sensory issues. Her 3-year-old daughter Kelly also has speech problems and some physical delays.

"He came in, he was very nonverbal, he wasn't able to interact with other children, and he's leaving here and has a whole vocabulary that he never had," said Esselman.

Cook's 5-year old Nicholas has sensory issues and speech program. 3-year-old Max has speech delay and anxiety disorder.

"Nicholas was very frustrated when he first started here, but after being here for several months, he learned how to communicate more," said Cook. "He used to put his hand up to me - I'm not talking - or he would stomp his feet, and he would shake his arms and walk away."

"Max has a lot of anxiety issue where he has a lot of fears and that holds him back a lot, but that's why he's been evaluated for more services," said Cook.

Principal Cathy Lawton is proud of the success of her students.

"The preschool programs, I always think of them as the part of the iceberg underneath the water that we really work on development of social, emotional skills," said Lawton. "We work on the development of a curiosity and an interest in learning, we work on the development of how to get along with other people, and that's critical."

Like many schools, they have weathered the storm over budget issues.

"We are fully funded for another year - all our positions have been re-funded," said Lawton. "This is really the third year in a row that we have had a question of whether or not we would be funded. It's difficult for teachers. It's difficult for families to make plans."

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