I have a question about placement with my four-year old son. He is currently in a private preschool 3 days a week with 5 other children. It took him 6 months to warm up and start communicating within select school settings. We did start him on a low dose of Zoloft in March. Since then we’ve seen expected changes where he talks more and feels more comfortable in familiar settings. About two and a half weeks after he started the Zoloft, I watched him perform in a sing-a-long at school. He was singing and doing hand movements. I cried the entire time. I never thought this would happen. He didn’t ever sing in class prior to the Zoloft.

He still has issues with separation anxiety but he has a friend that makes the transition easier.

In August he may have an opportunity to attend the same school that he will attend for Kindergarten. His older 7-year old brother attends there currently. The preschool class at the public school is for ESL and low income children. My son would not qualify for either of these however the ARD committee could recommend placement there because of special issues – SM. My son currently goes to this public school twice a week to see the counselor one on one and to work with the speech teacher. We’ve had very limited success, maybe because there are no other children involved.

I spoke with both of the public school preschool teachers and I sat in one of the classes. Both teachers told me because of the ESL there are several “shy” children in the classes. They said there are also outgoing kids which makes for a good socialization mix. The kids at this age level are not pushed. In fact a teacher may notice that the child knows his ABC’s because they quietly say the ABC’s while they work on a puzzle by themselves. The teachers seem to understand shy children and make appropriate accommodations. They seem to have that “motherly instinct.” One of my questions was, “Would my child be a target if he is unable to communicate?” Good behavior is expected and the teachers watch and help guide children that are learning how to share, etc. The class sizes are 19-20 with a teacher and an aide so the child teacher ratio is ten to one.

My question is do I leave my child in his 3 hour, 3 day a week “safe” class at a private preschool or do I try the public school in this ESL/low income preschool class in the same school where he’ll be in Kindergarten? It’s half a day five days a week.

I am VERY concerned that he’ll condition himself to be mute if I don’t push him in appropriate ways. I want to move him along in a nice but productive way. He’s been in 2 different schools and in each setting he had a 6 month warm up time before he could really do regular activities with other children. I would hope that if he went into the public preschool class he would have his warm-up time there and in Kindergarten he would excel at his natural pace.

Is it better to leave him alone and let him be safe in this small private preschool for another year? Should we push him to progress in a public school with kids that have similar issues? Thank you so much for your advice! I value your opinion!


You have presented an interesting dilemma here. However, let me explain my perspective based on experience working with so many children in your child’s age range. Your child is YOUNG. The advantage is that as he begins to emerge as a verbal communicator he will begin to see himself this way often and in many different settings as much as possible.

I also take the stance that if a child has SM without other learning issues or severe emotional problems that I assume they will OVERCOME their anxiety. I therefore try to mainstream as much as possible focusing on lowering anxiety and building communication skills (nonverbal, transfer into verbal, verbal).

Therefore I would NOT recommend placing a child in a special preschool class that specializes in special needs If a regular classroom can meet his needs. Meaning, if he is comfortable in his present school and class AND the school is accommodating to helping him. Helping with pairing him with buddies, working one on one, working on communication progression, etc…then why move him at this time?

He will need to move into K the following year anyhow and many of the children with special needs may not go with him anyhow, so he will need to meet new children and build rapport anyway. WHY not focus next year in a safe and comfortable environment where he can continually progress communicatively…and build the confidence

If his sibling is in the school where he will be going to K, then by all means involve your son in the school as much as possible to get to know the school. Try to meet other moms with kids in PreK who will be in your son’s grade in K and work in getting to know them OUT of school to build the rapport and comfort. Also, since you have the ability to be in the school, you can observe different teachers and perhaps get involved early next spring with picking and choosing his teacher for K and specific children to be in his class (this should be part of the 504 or IEP Plan, that YOU be involved in choosing the teacher. and he should always be placed with children he knows)

Then, when he transfers to K, he will be comfortable in the environment, know some kids and be with the teacher of your choice…(whom he got to meet ahead of time, perhaps while she is setting up her new class for K). I hope this helps you.

My experience is to focus on the positive knowing he will overcome SM if the correct approach is taken…and to help your child be as comfortable as possible as much as possible….so he sees himself as a communicator. He will just grow with his skills, especially since you will be accommodating his needs!

Dr. Elisa Shipon-Blum