Northwest NEWS

February 1, 1999

School

A special place for special kids

swing

Sorenson students Cali and Andrew share a swing in the school's physical education room.
Photo by Kaari Davies.

by Kaari Davies

   For a parent, there is no greater joy than seeing a child take his first step or hearing her first word. Imagine that joy and multiply it by ten to understand the joy that parents of special needs children feel when their kids achieve these same milestones. Although bittersweet at times, the emotions are no less significant.

   There is a place in Woodinville where new milestones are met and surpassed daily. Tucked away behind City Hall on 175th in a complex of old brick buildings, Sorenson Early Childhood Center provides care and special education to ninety children with a full spectrum of needs--from very mild speech and learning delays to severe developmental disabilities. In addition, the school provides early education for 62 typically-developing, low-income children through its Head Start program. Sorenson Early Childhood Center serves students between three and six years of age and is part of the Northshore School District.

   For many of the families at Sorenson, the joys of development have not come without a few headaches and challenges along the way. Four years ago, at age one, our daughter Cali started having seizures--at first only a few per day, and eventually 75-100 daily. By age three, when she entered Sorenson, Cali had begun losing skills, including her ability to walk, grasp a toy and swallow thin liquids.

   By the time Cali was four years old, she had been on eleven different anticonvulsants, all without success, until we reluctantly agreed to try a twelfth medication suggested by her neurologist. Within weeks, Cali's seizures were brought completely under control, and all of the skills she had lost began returning. Surprising everyone, including her doctors, Cali started developing new skills. Throughout this long odyssey, our whole family has been bolstered by the extraordinary care, therapy and special education our daughter receives at Sorenson, as well as the support we gain from other families at the school.

   The level of professionalism and the credentials of the 12 teachers, three speech therapists, nine part-time physical therapists, and 13 instructional aides at Sorenson is impressive. Among them are several advanced degrees in special education-related disciplines and expertise in autism, hearing and vision impairments, cerebral palsy, Downs syndrome, language, and communications disorders, among others. But perhaps the staff's greatest gift is their ability to connect with these special kids, find hidden potentials, and adapt the curriculum to each individual child.

   When Isaac, a child born with Downs syndrome, entered Sorenson three years ago at age three, he could not speak and had very limited communications skills. Isaac was placed in a classroom where he was given many different tools for communicating, including messages recorded on a machine that he could activate by touch, sign language, a picture exchange system, and speech therapy.

   Isaac has made remarkable progress at Sorenson, thanks to the dedication of his family, teachers, and therapists. Today, Isaac has several spoken words and a full vocabulary of sign language. He can repeat the whole alphabet and count to ten on his fingers. He has also mastered his colors and shapes. Next year, Isaac will move on to an inclusive kindergarten class in the Northshore School District.

   Andrew, a typically-developing four-year-old, came to Sorenson's Head Start program last fall. Although bright, Andrew was having difficulties enunciating his words. His attempts to be understood in either English or Spanish had become so frustrating for him that he began having angry outbursts and had reverted to pointing to things, a form of communications used by much younger children. After only five months in Head Start, which has included speech theraphy, Andrew's language skills have improved, along with his behavior.

   Despite the many success stories at Sorenson, not all children attending the school make the kind of improvements we would all wish for them. For these children, Sorenson provides an environment where the children are safe, treated with respect and cared for like the beautiful fragile souls they are.

   For our daughter Cali, the road ahead is not clear. She has a long way to go to meet the requirements of independent living, which is the hope of most parents with special needs children. Like every child at Sorenson, Cali is a "work in progress." One thing is certain, the care and commitment she receives each day at Sorenson takes her one stop closer to her full potential.

About the author: Kaari Davies is a resident of Woodinville and the mother of a special needs child attending Sorenson Early Childhood Center.