Effective Practices for Preparing Young Children with Disabilities for School
Over 50 years of research on children with many types of disabilities receiving a range of specialized services in many different settings has produced evidence that early intervention can: (1) ameliorate, and in some cases, prevent developmental problems; (2) result in fewer children being retained in later grades; (3) reduce educational costs to school programs; and (4) improve the quality of parent, child, and family relationships. Much of what we know about early intervention effectiveness is drawn from this diverse historical base of information.
More recently, researchers have begun asking a more rigorous and differentiated question: For whom and under what conditions is early childhood intervention most effective? This more sophisticated question focuses on the effects of various interventions for specific groups of children relative to the type of program they received. Data from well-controlled research studies indicate that young children with disabilities (e.g., Down syndrome, autism, cerebral palsy, sensory impairments), and those who evidence biological (e.g., low birth weight, premature) and environmental risk factors make significant gains on both qualitative and quantitative measures of development when provided appropriate services. The involvement of their parents in reinforcing critical skills in natural contexts is an important factor associated with the magnitude of the child's progress (Guralnick, 1989).
In addition to encouraging parent involvement it has been found that the most effective interventions are those that also:
- occur early in the child's life,
- operate from a more structured and systematic instructional base,
- prescriptively address each child's assessed needs, and
- include normally developing children as models.
Programs with these characteristics produce the most reliable, significant, and stable results in child and family functioning (DeStefano, Howe, Horn, & Smith, 1991; Hanson & Lynch, 1989; McDonnell & Hardman, 1988).
The "Best Program" Depends Upon the Specific Needs of the Child
Conceptually, the fields of early childhood and early childhood special education promote the incorporation of instructional goals and curriculum content into normally occurring routines in the home, preschool, daycare center, and kindergarten settings (Bredekamp, 1987; Rainforth & Salisbury, 1988). Recognizing that children with special needs require efficient, effective, and functional instruction directed at achieving socially and educationally valid outcomes (Carta, Schwartz, Atwater, & McConnell, 1991), it is important that practitioners identify the nature of each child's needs and the extent to which accommodations and supports will be necessary for each child to be successful. Instructional arrangements, curriculum content, and instructional procedures can and should be varied to coincide with the intensity of each child's learning needs. Such accommodations increase the likelihood that children with special needs can be included in a vast array of typical classroom activities.
While many state and local agencies are still grappling with the issue of what kind of service delivery models they will endorse, it is clear that the special education and related services needs of young children with identified or at-risk conditions can be appropriately met in settings that include normally developing children (e.g., daycare, typical preschools, Head Start, regular classrooms) (Guralnick, 1990; Hanson & Hanline, 1989; Templeman, Fredericks, & Udell, 1989). Integrated settings have, in fact, been found to produce higher proportions, rates, and levels of social, cognitive, and linguistic skills in children with disabilities than segregated settings (Brinker, 1985; Guralnick, 1990).
Reprinted with the permission of the Education Resources Information Center.
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