Hand to Hold's Official Blog: Written by Parents for Parents

Transitioning From Early Intervention to Special Education Preschool

Even though we knew our son would benefit from special education services, we still weren’t prepared for the bittersweet heartbreak that came with hearing the words “Your child qualifies for special education preschool.”

If you asked me three years ago how I felt about my preemie starting preschool, I would not have been able to answer. Three years ago, doctors told me that my son born at 23 weeks gestation only had a 4% chance of healthy survival. I always kept hope that my son would be ok, but three years ago, it was hard to think about my son’s future because it was too scary.

Fast forward to now…we just celebrated my son Jaxson’s third birthday! It hasn’t been an easy road, but we know how lucky we are to be here. Jax has worked really hard to beat the odds he was given at birth and he is looking forward to starting school this fall.

Jax has made incredible progress thanks to Early Intervention (EI) services through our school district. Because of Jax’s low birth weight and the fact that he came home on oxygen support, he has been receiving home-based physical, occupational, and speech therapy through EI for most of his life.

The EI staff was like having our own private “what to expect” book. I had gotten used to being surrounded by highly-educated professionals whose jobs were to help me identify problem areas and come up with at-home activities and solutions to help Jax succeed.

Over the years, we identified areas in which Jax struggles, such as attention and focus, receptive speech (or understanding), and sensory processing. We knew these things would impact him in a school setting and we knew he would need support in school to continue making progress.

I was nervous when the EI staff started talking about the transition to school. Could my baby really be ready for preschool!? Plus, EI services are only available until a child turns three years old, so we would be losing our EI team and starting with a brand new team of therapists and teachers. It was going to be a BIG transition!

Jax was given a variety of standardized tests including the Bayley Scales of Infant and Toddler Development and the Child Development Inventory, to measure his skills and identify areas in which he could use support. He was also evaluated by the school’s Other Health Disabilities coordinator because he has chronic medical conditions that affect his learning. (States have different requirements and procedures for children to qualify for special education services; check with your state department of education for more information in your state.)

Our Early Intervention team prepared an in-depth summary of the results and helped us come up with specific goals for Jax to work on during the school year. This document is called an Individualized Education Program (IEP). The IEP outlines the services Jax will receive in special education preschool this fall.

Reading the results on paper was like a punch in the gut – our son is almost three years old, but he’s functioning at a 15 – 16 month level in some areas.

As parents, we’ve worked hard to make sure that Jax has what he needs to grow and learn. I quit my job of 13 years to stay at home with him and be his full-time teacher and advocate. He receives therapy regularly. We are intentional with our playtime and often incorporate therapy and teaching strategies into our everyday routine.

It was hard not to take it personally.

But, we remember how small he was when he was born and how hard he fought to live and we are in awe of his progress.

micro preemie baby in NICU

While I am sad that my child has delays, I know where Jax excels – he loves making people laugh, he is constantly exploring and being curious, he shows empathy – these things will take him far in life. He is so much more than a child with developmental delays.

Jax is going to love preschool! He will meet new friends and learn and grow. He’s is going to be just fine.

Me on the other hand? I still don’t know how I feel about my son starting preschool. It’s hard to believe he is old enough to get on a bus and go to school by himself. I never believed people when they said that time flies – until I had a child that taught me just how precious time really is. The future is still scary, but now I’m cautiously able to imagine what it holds for my son.

Preemie and special education teacher walking into special education preschool.

My preemie and his special education teacher walking into preschool.

Andrea Mullenmeister About Andrea Mullenmeister

Andrea Mullenmeister (MN) is a stay-at-home-mom for a little adventurer. Jaxson decided to meet the family while they were on vacation! After a terrifying helicopter ride, Jax was born at 23 weeks 3 days weighing 1lb 8oz. He suffered from severe ROP, humongous inguinal hernias, Bronchopulmonary Dysplasia and severe hyspospadias. After 93 days in the NICU, Jax came home. He is a happy and mostly healthy toddler with only minor issues. Andrea volunteers on a parent advisory council for "Jax's" NICU and shares their story to give other parents hope. She writes about the life of her micropreemie at An Early Start. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.


  1. Laura MaikataLaura Maikata says:

    I am right there with you! Like so many of your posts, this applies almost word for word to our son. So glad that services continue for both of them, and it is so good to have so many people helping our littlest ones grow and be the best they can be. Your a fab mom.

  2. Hi Andrea,

    Thank you for sharing your story. I am also the parent of a sweet baby who was born early. I also happen to be a speech-language pathologist, and I have had the honor of being on the other side of the door when someone like your awesome Jaxson walks into school for the first time. Though I cannot speak for all educators, I can tell you that, for me, I take my responsibilities to heart. I hope you find comfort in knowing that your Jax will find joy in his fellow peers, discover ways to communicate his wants and preferences and revel in the daily fun that exists at school. And, at the end of the day, he comes home to a Mama who obviously is his biggest fan and advocate. Sending you loving thoughts and good vibes for a fabulous school year.

    • Phuong – THANK YOU for your comment. It’s comforting to hear from the therapist’s side. I know my son is in good hands, but it’s such a huge difference from Early Intervention services! It’s a lot to get used to, but Jax is going to do great – thanks to his teachers and therapists like you.


  1. […] through our state’s Early Intervention program. I wrote an article about our experiences with Early Intervention and the transition to special education preschool on Preemie Babies […]

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