Program Objectives for Educating Young Children with Special Needs
Although programs for young children with special needs are committed to supporting children so they may realize their potential, programs for infants, toddlers, preschoolers, and primary-aged children have specific objectives that reflect the needs of children, and their families, at a particular stage of life.
Intervention with Infants and Toddlers
Infant-toddler intervention and early intervention are terms used to describe a cluster of services made available to children, and their families, from birth to their third birthday who are at risk for or who have developmental problems. The earlier these services are begun, the better, since a child’s age at the start of services has been found to be a significant variable in predicting cognitive progress (Lee & Kahn, 1998). Unfortunately, this does not always occur. For example, a study of infant-toddler services in North Carolina conducted by Buysse, Bernier, and McWilliam (2002) found that the mean age of entry into infant programs was 17 months, still later than desired for most children.
Despite some differences in philosophy, characteristics, and service options, most infant-toddler programs have these three broad program objectives:
- to provide information, support, and assistance to families dealing with the needs associated with their child’s development;
- to build parental confidence as the primary facilitator of their child’s development and the principal advocate for their child; and
- to promote interactions between family members that encourage feelings of competence and enjoyment.
Studies of parents’ perceptions of infant-toddler programs suggest that parents highly value the services provided. Programs that provide technological knowledge and skills and emotional support have been rated as most beneficial by families (Wehman & Gilkerson, 1999).
Intervention with Preschoolers
Preschool intervention is a term used to describe a variety of services provided for children who are 3 to 5 years of age and who manifest developmental delays or have an established risk condition. The majority of preschool programs provide services directly to children at centers. Most preschool programs have these five broad program objectives:
- to support and promote a child’s development of cognitive, fine and gross motor, adaptive, social/emotional, and communication skills so that child can participate more effectively in the next setting;
- to expose a child to preliteracy skills that will increase the child’s chances of participating in the general education curriculum;
- to build and support social competence;
- to promote developmentally appropriate independence so a child may more fully participate in family, school, and community life; and
- to prevent or minimize the development of future problems and disabilities.
Intervention with Primary-Aged Students
Intervention with children with special needs in kindergarten through third grade (ages 5 through 8) is called early childhood intervention. With the parents’ permission, the child is given a multidisciplinary team evaluation to determine if he or she needs special education supports to be successful in school. The child who is deemed eligible for special education services may be served in a general education classroom, a resource room, a self-contained special education classroom, or a combination of these. Most programs for primary-aged students with disabilities in general education classrooms and resource rooms have these two broad program objectives:
- to offer appropriate curricular and instructional modifications (e.g., less material, different expectations) and accommodations (e.g., alternative acquisition modes, such as having material read to child) so the child is able to participate in the general education curriculum (Jitendra, Edwards, Choutka, & Treadway, 2002)
- to offer team support to the child, the child’s family, the general education teacher, and other professionals serving the child.
Programs for primary-aged children with special needs in self-contained classrooms have these three broad program objectives:
- to foster the child’s potential in the cognitive, fine and gross motor, adaptive, social/ emotional, and communication areas.
- to promote the child’s independence, self-determination, and self-advocacy skills.
- to develop the child’s social and academic skills, which encourage his or her inclusion in school and community.
Programs for infants, toddlers, preschoolers, and primary-aged students may have slightly different service models depending on the state, the staffing resources, the child’s age, and the school system.
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