When developmental delays are severe at an early age, a disability can be easily detected. However, identifying a disability for children under the age of 5 can be rather difficult when the condition is mild to moderate. Every child grows at a different pace. Some children show slow development in speech, while others are slow in gross-motor development, such as crawling and walking. Therefore, the diagnosis of disabilities must be done by licensed medical doctors or special professionals. The diagnostic assessment and determination of disabilities are provided by Regional Center (RC) and school districts. Translation in a different language may be requested if English is not the native language spoken. One can also hire a licensed translator.
Special education is required by law in the U.S. Public schools work with local hospitals and Regional Centers to identify children with disabilities and those at risk for disabilities and to provide the education necessary. Unlike preschool programs where special education is provided only to those with disabilities, early childhood special education can also cover potentially high risk children who may develop disabilities later in their development. The key factors for developing disabilities in high risk children are premature and/or underweight infants, teenage pregnancy, health of mother during pregnancy, and various family environmental issues. All of these factors above are considered when determining an early intervention program. Therefore, when developmental delays are observed even without significant disabilities, it can be very helpful for a child if immediate contact is made with Regional Center and/or school district for an evaluation in order to receive early intervention services.
Need for early childhood special education programs:
- Early intervention and special education can provide a critical phase in development and the foundation for transitioning to academic programs in kindergarten.
- It can prevent or reduce potential disabilities developing among high risk children by providing education programs/activities as well as clinical therapies custom-tailored to the individual child.
- Family support programs educate parents for better understanding and acceptance of their special child and how to stimulate further his/her development.
- Reduces number of special children with disabilities in the institutes, increases the potential employment among disabled adults, and minimizes the cost of special education for special children at an older age.
Early childhood special education provides 3 different services in general:
- Family centered model
- Clinic centered model
- Family and Clinic centered model
A Family centered model is typical for kids between 0 and 2 years old. A special therapist or interventionist will assist each family and guide parents in providing special education services. This may include play therapy or stimulating program/activities for the child’s development
A Clinic centered model provides early education at a center or clinic with other 3~5 year olds. Typically, parents will take their children to the clinic or center and receives special education services along with other parents and their children. Depending on the needs and condition of the child, a licensed interventionist and/or therapist may come to the family home or a mix between family and clinic centered models can be considered.
Recently, causes of disabilities have been increasingly attributed to unstable emotions and environments, rather than heredity and/or known diseases. In these cases, the relationship between parents and special needs children can play a greater role in their development. Considering the recent increase in the diagnosis of autism, appropriate early childhood education centered around the development of social and communication skills can minimize the impact of disabilities when children move into academic programs and adulthood.
Therefore, early childhood special education does not focus on differentiating typical and special needs children. It rather emphasizes stimulating communication and tries to provide ample social experiences which maximize development and helps to prevent disabilities at early ages. Since the mother plays a vital role in the early development of children between 0 and 3, she must in effect become a great teacher for her special needs child and learn proper special education and parenting skills. Parents need to proactively educate themselves to learn about their children’s needs and to practice and follow through on what they’ve learned.
Autism Society of America: http://www.autism-society.org/
CDC | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
Information in English and Spanish.
First Signs: http://www.firstsigns.org
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