It's no secret that Oia has a significant expressive language delay. Her verbal communication skills are in the ballpark of 1 yr old. She has roughly 30-35 words that she is consistently able to articulate and relies heavily on gestures to address her wants and needs to those around her. Gesturing is a fairly new skill for her which has made our lives a little bit easier, as one can only imagine. Pointing is another one of her very new skills. Developmentally, babies learn to isolate one finger and point by 12 months old. Oia is just shy of her third birthday and is finally perfecting a good point.
Oia's gestures are important to us and we view them as a step forward in her communication. We are also thankful Oia even has the ability to 'speak' to us in such a way. CP can rob a kiddo of many functions, even a simple hand or arm movement, so I consider ourselves fortunate that Oia can point at what she is talking about or tap a chair to indicate that she wants you to sit beside her. Sometimes the gesture may be a tap on Rob's head after she's just handed him a hat indicating she wants him to put it on. Sometimes the gesture may be gently pushing you in one direction as she is 'telling' you to come with her. Sometimes she cups her little hand around your chin to turn your head in her direction because she wants you to look at her or she has something very important to show you. The gestures are little tugs at our heart that make us smile with pride because she has found a voice through her hands; and quite frankly, because she can do it at all.
On the other hand, kids don't view Oia's gestures the same way. I respect that. Preschoolers are very egocentric and most have little to no room in their world for others. This is why sharing is so hard for preschool aged children. However, being egocentric is age appropriate.
Which leads me to this...
I picked Oia up from school today and when she saw me her faced washed with relief and she began to cry. She threw her little arms up and wanted me NOW. She pointed to the door and uttered a "go, Mommy, go" through a couple of tears. Not the same face I got on Monday. She wanted to go home. Her teacher told me that she began to get a little fussy about 30 minutes prior. Then, she proceeds to tell me that Oia has been "touching" kids a lot. So excuse my indecent mind but I asked, "What do you mean by touching?" She tells me Oia has been pulling on kids, tugging on their shirts, and even "annoying" them and specifically shares with me two classmates who had had their fill of Oia today. I was frozen for a minute, not really believing that she was having this conversation with me. Then, she tells me that if Oia does this type of thing to the wrong kid, she'll end up getting hit (I think the word she used was "decked" but I'm not certain as her words made me numb for a moment.)
Really? I wanted to say in reply Did I really hear you correctly? Here's a news flash for ya...My daughter is trying to socially engage herself in a new environment with new people, without the help of people she knows AND without the appropriate language skills to do so. She is doing the best she can. In Oia's world, pulling on a classmate translates to "Hey, come play with me!". What's so wrong with that?
And the kicker in all this is that I specifically mentioned in her IEP meeting last week how Oia communicates through gesture and that I was concerned how her peers would perceive this. They assured me this was typical behavior and no big deal in this classroom as teaching social skills was a major focus in preschool. So, I expressed this fact prior to school starting and she still had the audacity to bring it to my attention today on only the 2nd day of preschool and act as though this is a major problem. The part that has made me sick all day is that apparently they are not allowing this behavior. They tell me that Oia gets very hurt and cries when they tell her "No". This equates to Oia as not being allowed to talk her classmates because essentially talking is what she is doing through gestures.
I'm upset. Actually, it makes me sad for Oia. She is in a classroom where differences should be embraced, not punished. I can guarantee Oia has NO IDEA what she is doing wrong, and truthfully, it's not wrong. There are many ways to communicate and I would hope that any adult working in Oia's classroom would take the time to turn such a situation into a teachable moment for the classmate that is being "annoyed" and let this be a time to teach compassion. Inform peers that Oia doesn't 'talk' like everyone else and she is trying to play too. She is not trying to hurt anyone but instead being curious and hopeful to make a new friend. I also would hope that the adults are modeling the desired behavior by providing the words that Oia should use instead during these interactions rather than tapping one's shoulder and "annoying" someone.
This is a special education environment. Oia's only means of communication shouldn't be an issue on Day 2 of preschool. Maybe in Kindergarten or even later, yes, but not right now. I feel a meeting is in order.