Identifying Preschoolers with Special Needs
Beginning when a child with an eligible disability is 3 years old and until he or she reaches age 21, the child has the legal right to special education and any necessary related services. As we have described, agencies may have been providing services to children from the time they were infants. When the children turn 3, however, this is no longer an option; public schools must provide services. If the child has been in a Part C program, the law requires a smooth transition between the early intervention program and the preschool program.
In general, professionals often find it difficult to accurately determine if a young child has a disability unless, as we have said, the child shows clear physical characteristics or indicators that suggest a disability. These characteristics are usually associated with conditions such as cerebral palsy, visual disabilities, hearing impairments, severe intellectual disabilities, or multiple disabilities. Aside from such indicators, professionals must rely on developmental lags and behavioral characteristics that might suggest that the child has a condition such as autism or an intellectual disability. The younger the child is and the less pronounced the developmental lag, the more challenging it is to make a definitive determination. This is primarily because there is the chance that the child will outgrow the delay. But because we don't know if this is going to occur, and we do know that the earlier we can intervene when a child has a disability, the better, then the accuracy of early identification is always a critical issue. For an example of this dilemma, examine the information that we provide about a child who may have a disability in "Can You Help Me with This Student?" What do you think? Does this child have a disability? How would you have reacted if you were the child's preschool teacher?
Part C services for infants and toddlers might not include children such as Jeremy, simply because when such a child is younger, professionals cannot always reliably determine that he or she has special needs. As the child gets a little older, however, the needs become more apparent, and he or she is likely to be served in a preschool program. Children who are good candidates for preschool programs will show risks primarily in two areas: communication delays and challenging behaviors. There are also certain sociocultural factors that suggest a child may be at risk for later delays.
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