This year, I decided to go ahead have Charlotte evaluated at the preschool screening, mostly out of curiosity. I naively went into the screening assuming it would be a somewhat pleasant experience. After all, I knew perfectly well that Charlotte would not qualify for extra services. I wasn't going to come away from this worrying about Charlotte possibly being autistic, and I was fairly confident there wouldn't be any surprises for me.
Sadly, despite Charlotte falling well within the normal range, it really wasn't a very positive experience, especially for me. First of all, when the social worker sat down with me to go over the results, all she focused on were the things Charlotte couldn't (or wouldn't) do. Not once did she mention a strength or even assure me they don't expect kids to get everything right. Seriously, by the end of her little monologue, I was convinced that my daugher did indeed need therapy, that was how focused on the negative she was. It wasn't until the very end that the lady finally told me that Charlotte was normal, but by then I had heard so many criticisms, it was hard to latch onto that one brief statement.
I came out of the meeting feeling slightly shell-shocked and more than a little defensive. I mean, how dare they lombast my child's abilities that way? The more I thought about it, the more unrealistic it seemed to me. I mean, some of the things they expected of my child seemed laughable. Having been a teacher, I understand the limitations of standardized testing. I know that they are designed just to see where on the continuum of "normalcy" kids fall. So, I understand that there will be questions on the test that seem excessively advanced. Still, there were so many things about this test that surprised me, things that display a total lack of understanding of children. Allow me to share:
**While Charlotte can identify most of the basic body parts (arm, hand, belly, and even chin) she couldn't identify her knuckle. Never in a million years would I have even thought to teach my kids where their knuckles are. And my three year old is supposed to know this? Just seems a bit advanced. Now if they had asked my lovely daughter where her vagina was, she would have aced THAT question!
**At least twice, the social worker mentioned that Charlotte was too wiggly during the evaluation.
I wish I could go back and ask her exactly what she means by that. I would also love to know just how many other kids were deemed "too wiggly." She's THREE!!!! Isn't she supposed to be wiggly? Seriously. I cannot think of a single non-wiggly three-year-old; it makes me think of the scene in "Uncle Buck" where Buck is meeting with the principal and says, "I don't think I want to know a 6-year-old who isn't a dreamer or silly heart, and I sure don't want to know one who takes her student career seriously." And I will add that I don't want to know a three-year-old who isn't a wiggler.
**Apparently, at one point Charlotte got bored with questions, like what does a thermometer do and instead declared, "I want to play."
OK, so first of all, what three-year-old knows what a thermometer does? That one really surprised me. Secondly, Charlotte had been in this testing for over an hour. Is it really out of the ordinary that a little kid would get bored with this much testing?
**Charlotte didn't do too well on the self-grooming questionnaire that I filled out and I am sure a big part of that is she isn't potty trained, which frankly, is all my fault. What did surprise me on this section was that Char should be blowing her own nose with no help and without being told to do it. None of my kids have ever shown any interest in blowing their noses. They would be far more content to wipe them on their sleeves, if I let them. And judging from most of the kids I see at church and the library, they don't seem to be in the minority on this one.
**Charlotte wouldn't cooperate on the vision test, which bothered me until I found out why. In order to do the test, one of Charlotte's eyes had to be covered. Oh, and I forgot to mention that I was not in the room with her at any point during the evaluation. So, my daughter would not let a complete stranger cover one of her eyes. And the tester told me that this could be a sign that Charlotte has a vision problem. It didn't ever occur to her that actually, having a stranger cover your eye might be a scary prospect for a little kid.
Interestingly, while we were waiting for the social worker, I heard a tester tell a dad that he needed to come into the room because his son (who was at least a year older than Charlotte) wouldn't cooperate during the vision test. Apparently, Charlotte is not the only one freaked outby people touching her eye.
So, now, according to the tester, I need to spend the next week practicing this with Charlotte so she can come back and actually cooperate on the test. Yes, I am supposed to figure out a way to make my kid allow me to cover her eye while we play games. As if I don't have enough to do, what with feeding, cleaning up after and teaching my kids to blow their dang noses.
There's more, but I won't bore you with the details. This experience just really underscored to me the shortcomings of our public school system. You cannot test a kid for an hour and get a really accurate idea of what the kid knows. I understand that we just don't, at this point, have any viable alternatives to this sort of testing. Still, you would think that in dealing with small children, the evaluators would be a bit more understanding and realistic. At the very least, they could point out where your child is excelling and not just focus on the weaknesses. Because, as was repeated in my Special Ed graduate seminar, you never get the whole picture when you just focus on a kid's weaknesses. You have to include the strengths to really begin to understand the child.