Preschool Abuse, or IEP Tyrant!

Every day I hear from moms who feel like their preschools are scaring them into believing there is something wrong with their little children.  In my opinion, this is an abuse of authority.  While most people would be so glad to have a top-notch school with excellent staff and resources, there is one negative thing that often comes with this great package: control.

I personally live in a state where the public school’s control is appalling.  Teachers are allowed to teach homosexuality to first graders without notifying their parents first, prophylactics are given to high schoolers, homeschoolers are weeded out, state testing is crazy, and the DSS is called on cue for anything.  I believe in School Abuse.  But to see authoritarianism at the preschool level is more disturbing.  And it happens all the time.

Schools that can afford to have resources and experts often end up usurping parental control. When you are dealing with little children, however, this is unacceptable. A teacher can frighten a parent into thinking their three-year old has a major disorder just because he or she shows some of the symptoms. They have a panel of experts there to test and diagnose, and then the child is put on an IEP with a label until they can convince everybody that they don’t need it (i.e. never!). The IEP is a legal agreement so you can’t just cancel it or take it lightly… it is the manual that now comes with your child unless you refuse services (which in itself makes you feel like The Awful Parent). Incidentally, multiple labels can be applied, which is often the first step towards kiddie medication.  If you reject the IEP or labels, then the school can view you skeptically, as if you were negligent, and challenge you if necessary.  More likely, the kindergarten teacher will just try again to get your child on an IEP by pointing out everything he or she hasn’t mastered yet compared to the other kids.  You have to deal with this community and this school board as long as you live there, and you become tainted goods.

Who wants to go through that?

Most parents are afraid to stand up against a preschool staff of experts, usually because they themselves are worried that the experts might be right. What if their child IS autistic? What if they have some other developmental problem? We’re not experts, so we don’t know. And we’ve all heard for the last decade or two that children who get a diagnosis before they turn 5 (or 3) turn out fine whereas children who don’t have no hope! So the media frightens, experts confirm, and schools overdiagnose.  These types of things frighten parents into ceding control to a preschool… and then to elementary school, middle school, and high school… there is no easy way out ;-)

I am not making this up.  I am good friends with the special education teacher for the high school in our area.  I have sat in on many of her classes, and she has told me stories first hand of how kids get on this path from age 3.  The child is unruly or has a learning disability, the parent doesn’t know what to do, then the school becomes the parent.  The child is shuffled through the system with all kinds of diagnoses, growing up into them, and then signing their own IEPs when they have the legal right to.  Teachers, parents, and kids are stunted by these diagnoses on paper.  Now most of the kids I saw did have disabilities and/or some problems, but they were mostly slight or behavioral… “misfits” who didn’t talk or look you in the eye, probably had ADD, no study skills, and a below average reading level.  Most of them you could imagine being the three-year old who wouldn’t “integrate.”  They were NOT the handicapped group you think of when you think of the state so graciously helping special ed kids get an education (which should be commended).

In my own son’s journey down this path, the preschool special ed teachers themselves were excellent. I am not writing this to discredit teachers or special education. I have several friends and two family members who are in the field, and I completely understand their care, concern, and liberty in taking care of special needs. However, as a mom, I maintain that it is completely unacceptable for a group of unknown experts to make me fear what’s wrong with my child. And then to provide the program and solution for me to ease my fears, as if they can handle it from there. This is precisely what happened when we went down the public preschool path with my first son. (And then had to consider it again with my second son.)

There is so much fear out there!

The special education services my child received were good. And he started developing more typically, which was relieving. But the whole experience made me feel so out of control, inadequate, afraid to parent, etc. I was supposed to know my child best and be his advocate, but it was clear that the public school staff were just feeding me a line when they said those things… they didn’t want me to ask questions or get involved beyond visiting the class if I wanted to. They came to my house every month to see if there was anything obviously wrong about it/me, they asked me to implement some of their learning props at home, they failed to call or email me about what was going on (a necessity when you’re sending off a three-year old that doesn’t talk!), and they ignored behaviors we felt were unacceptable. They had me come in for meetings with their directors where they said scary things to motivate me to sign the IEPs, they discouraged me from refusing services when my son turned five (telling me I could have a lawyer present if I wanted), and they threatened me that if I moved him to another school and tried to mainstream him, that everything might look rosy for awhile but then he’d probably take a turn for the worst in third grade when things get substantially harder… after all, that’s what happens to special needs kids who don’t get their special needs met!

It was crazy!

All of a sudden, my life was turned upside down. My child was given a label and a price to fix his label. And i was willing to pay that price because I wanted him to talk so bad. I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself if I’d said, “No, I don’t think he’s that bad. I’ll keep him at home another year and see…” but then he’d turned out to have a “real problem” and needing to be held back. What kind of mom could consider that?!

So I was a victim of Preschool Abuse.

When it came up the second time around with my next son, I was wiser. I skipped the school services route and found a private therapist. This experience was much better, but it was still full of icons and fear. What if he was four and still hated swings?  What does it mean that his stuttering is getting worse?  First he only needed occupational therapy. Then they added physical. Then he started regressing and crying so they wanted a neuropsychological exam. And all this for a borderline kid… not a classically disabled child but for an anxious and sensitive one with some motor delays. It really was over the top but I liked his therapist too much to quit. Plus, I was wiser.

From the feedback I hear on this blog, and from some friends of mine, I believe I am not alone in this experience. I believe many moms in their nice neighborhoods with their nice public schools are going through the same thing.  Mostly this is a first-time mom trap, but not exclusively.  I am eternally grateful for the civil servants in my area, but when those lovely  benefits turn against me to work fear into my heart about my children, I am not a happy camper. And I am certainly not happy when the childraising expert elite (many of whom have not even HAD children of their own yet!) try to talk to me about my child as if they had given birth to him.  Parents need to be bonded to their children completely, and not scared into doing somebody else’s will. Their agenda needs to incorporate professional feedback when it comes to possible developmental problems, but the medical establishment out there has gone overboard… and developmental or psychological handicaps ARE part of the medical establishment now. Your pediatrician, your kid’s teacher, the speech pathologist on staff, the directors of the public school, the media… all are on the bandwagon now. And once the foot is in the door for you to give your authority over to those people, who all know more than you to be sure, you are likely to keep ceding that authority again. You’re likely to feel like your kids are completely out of your control, and you’re just hoping that by the grace of God, they’ll somehow get through it and become successful adults.

This “hang on” approach is not healthy. Boundaries should be permeable but are absolutely necessary.  So when it comes to Preschool Abuse or Expert Abuse, I encourage you to reject it. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, but protect your kids like the mother bear you are. Everyone will be better off for it.

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6 thoughts on “Preschool Abuse, or IEP Tyrant!

  1. As a pre-school teacher let me assure you that MOST PRE-SCHOOL Teachers do not even have a degree! In order to teach at the pre-school level most states require a GED or High School diploma and 6 months of experience! APPALLING YES! To add insult to injury State Law requires only 12 hours of training a year!!!
    Pre-school teachers ARE NOT Doctors and therefore have NO RIGHT diagnosing YOUR child. Next time your pre-school teacher tries arm side doctoring on your child ask for their license in medicine. Better yet ask them if they have a Bachelor Degree in teaching first!

  2. Thank you-

    I am going through this with my son. The school system blatantly rejects my son’s medical diagnosis and treats me as if I am in denial. That because he has some behaviors that could be twisted into autistic behaviors he is clearly autistic despite his nuerologist, pediatrician, ENT, and private speech therapist stating the opposite- that he fears people will treat him autistic and the intervention for that is harmful to my sons psychological and social development. We want to pull him out, they anger us so much- but they prey upon our fears and worry. I am so tired of people trying to pathalogizing every move my son makes and judging us as parents. We are already struggling, they do not help at all. Our only expectations from the school at this point is they provide him the opportunity to play as a 3 year old, nothing more.

  3. These comments are what is appalling. As the Director of a 5 star child development center, both the parent who originally wrote this letter and the so called “teacher” who responded really raise my ire. It is COMPLETELY unfair to generalize programs, just as it is unfair to generalize children. Don’t you have anything better to do?

  4. Wow, Lisa. I have found the information on this sight very helpful. I do not find the author’s comments appalling in the least bit. Perhaps if you were on the other side of the fence you would understand better. She is not generalizing children or programs at all, quite to the contrary. I am not sure why you would take her comments to mean that your specific program is sub-par. She is referring to a specific experience and one that many other people who come to this sight have been going through. We are thankful for her help and experience. She is also quite educated in child development and is very qualified to provide the information on this site. As far as the other teacher’s comments, all she was saying is that preschool teachers do not have the right to diagnose a child. I am sure that being at a five star preschool you know this is true. However, you would be surprised how many people I know have received a diagnosis from someone who was not qualified to provide one (a preschool teacher or EI provider) and was needlessly worried once they found out what the real issues were from a qualified professional. This is happening every day to people and it should not be. If there are concerns with a child, the parents should be referred to someone who can provide a diagnosis or help, but the preschool teachers should not provide their opinion on what the issues may or may not be, they simply aren’t qualified to do so. As far as your last question, frankly, I am wondering the exact same thing about you, Lisa.

  5. I, myself, am going through a very upsetting situation with my 4 year old preschooler. Or his “teacher” I should say. Before preschool my son had never been to daycare or any “structured” school environment. This was explained to the teacher beforehand and she said, no problem, he will be fine. He goes 1/2 days and after the 2nd half day I got a call from her stating that my son doesn’t like to sit still during story time and went on and on how he just wanted to play with the toys in the room when she called the kids over to do something. (Gee I would do the same thing if I were 4 and went to a new place with so many bright, new, different toys all around) needless to say she said that in her years of teaching she has seen “kids like him” before and thinks it would be in his best interest to see his pediatritian to be tested for A.D.D. I was furious. I was speechless then said, with all due respect, you have come to this conclusion after spending 7 hours with my son. Not one on one time for 7 hours since there are 15 other kids???? She has labeled him already.
    She stated at his conference that she is so very concerned for him and that he might not go on to kindergarten since he can only count to one. This child counts to 30!!!!! She said she asked him to count for her and he just looked at her with a “blank” stare. I am so frustrated.
    I told her that I am against putting my son on meds and that he needs time to adjust and I believe she is just not very friendly with him. He is the most loving child. He can spell his first name, last name (it’s a hard one) and can write the first 3 of his name so far.
    She pointed out that “all of the other students” can already write their names. There was not one thing positive that she put on his conference report. I take that back, she put HE likes to go out to play. Unbelieveable.
    I am so afraid that this can affect how he thinks of school when he is getting “time outs” so much at school. She doesn’t allow him to go out to the playground with the other kids when he gets in trouble and he sits and cries.
    I am all for him listening and doing what he is supposed to at school but not when he seems like the outsider and the “bad” kid.
    I guess I just don’t want her to break his sweet little spirit. I wonder how many parents hurry and get their little kids pumped up on meds that they might not need because of some glorified day care provider who in my opinion seems to want to have a room full of children that are like tiny little comotose robots and they don’t have to work too hard.
    I am not sure really how to approach this. For my son’s sake I will talk to his doctor, and I know what he will say…….are you serious? She’s wacked out of her mind.
    Thanks for reading, I am thinkin that I needed to get that off of my chest.

  6. We had a similar experience with our then two-year old at his last preschool. The teacher claimed there was a “kink in his brain”. Gross. It’s a relief to find this article. HOWEVER, the author’s comment about “teaching homosexuality”: What?!! First off, What are they teaching? That was a vague, if not judgmental, statement. When in reality the teacher was probably merely stating a fact that men can love men and women can love women – basics. Which by the way, there is NOTHING wrong with. I mean crap, what if one of the author’s four kids is gay? Hopefully she’ll be fine with it. Yikes.

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