How is Early Childhood Intervention Provided?
Special education and early childhood education are separate entities, yet they are intertwined. We cannot fully understand one without considering the other. To a large extent, both special and general early education aim to provide high-quality educational experiences for young children. They may both be derived from the disciplines of child development and education, but the specific instructional techniques used may be somewhat different. Special education tends to offer greater direction and more explicit instruction in specific skills.
The best-known early intervention programs straddle the line between general and special education. Most of the students for whom they are designed have not been identified as having disabilities, although they are at risk for later identification if they do not receive effective instruction. Thus, these programs are focused on primary and secondary prevention. That is, they are intended to prevent learning disabilities from emerging and to correct learning problems that have been perceived.
Popular Early Intervention Programs
Three early intervention programs are particularly well known nationally. All are designed to provide prevention and early intervention for young children who are at high risk for school failure (Vaughn et al., 1997).
Project Head Start
Perhaps the most visible historical link between general and special early childhood education is Project Head Start. In the 1960s, the federal government launched Head Start with the intention of addressing the needs of preschool children from low-income families for educational experiences prior to their entry into kindergarten (Zigler & Styfco, 2000). Head Start remains one of the most popular government social programs, and its basic premise—that early educational intervention can prevent school failure and related developmental problems—remains the foundation for other early childhood education programs serving children at risk.
Although Head Start is not focused on children with disabilities, these children may be identified and served in the context of Head Start classrooms. However, federal legislation separate from Head Start now requires early intervention programs for preschoolers with disabilities, and these children may be served in a variety of environments. Most often today they are served in the context of integrated preschools attended by both normally developing and developmentally delayed children. Often, these programs are concerned with the emergence of a variety of difficulties, including emotional and behavioral disorders, attention problems, hyperactivity, and learning disabilities (see Redden, Forness, Ramey, Ramey, & Brezausek, 2002; Redden, Forness, Ramey, Ramey, Brezausek, & Kavale, in press; Serna, Lambros, Neilsen, & Forness, 2002; Sinclair, 1993).
Reading Recovery is a program imported from New Zealand (Clay, 1985; Pinnel, 1990). It requires special teacher training in how to provide individual tutoring for low-achieving first-graders. The tutoring sessions last for 30 minutes, and a typical session involves the following:
- child rereading a familiar book
- teacher analyzing the reading by keeping a running record
- letter identification activities, if necessary
- child writing a story, with emphasis on hearing the sounds of words
- putting together a cut-up story
- child becoming acquainted with and reading a new book (Vaughn et al., 1997, p.320)
The success of Reading Recovery depends not only on having a well-trained teacher who knows how to assess reading skills and teach those the child needs, but also on having enough such teachers to provide individual sessions with all the students who need them. Although Reading Recovery has strong proponents, others caution that it is expensive and largely unproven (go to www.TeachingLD.org and click on Reading Recovery).
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