Service Delivery Models for Educating Young Children with Special Needs (page 2)

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Jul 20, 2010

Center-Based Program Model

Children are brought to a central location to receive services in center-based programs. The services provided will vary depending on the number of staff and the resources of the sponsoring agencies. In some programs, professionals provide the majority of direct services to the children and offer regular conferences to their families. In others, parents come to a center where they are guided through intervention activities with their children while professionals act as facilitators or models. Some programs offer information, training, or social sessions for families that may involve siblings and/or extended family members on a regular schedule. Recommended practices for center-based programs include the following (Sandall et al., 2005):

  • The physical setting should be safe, clean, barrier-free, and accessible to children to promote independent play and learning.
  • The ratio of adult staff to children should be such that it maximizes safety, health, and the promotion of goals.
  • Isolated support services, such as speech-language therapy and physical therapy, should be avoided unless identified child and/or family needs cannot be met within family routines.
  • Materials and toys provided should be developmentally appropriate.
  • Activities should stimulate children’s initiations, choices, and involvement/engagement with adults, peers, and materials.
  • Team members should communicate regularly with other staff and families.

The services offered in center-based programs vary based on the child’s age, the needs of the child and his or her family, and the resources of the providing agency. For example, infant-toddler center-based programs tend to offer a variable attendance schedule, with few requiring daily attendance. Preschool center-based programs tend to require regular attendance.

Center-based programs provide many advantages for children, families, and professionals: (1) a consistent, prearranged program for both children and families; (2) opportunities for children to interact with other children the same age; and (3) the provision of most services, including therapies and occasionally transportation, at the center. This model also has some disadvantages: (1) the difficulty of accommodating the needs of individual children and their families in groups, (2) the prospect of limited interaction with children without disabilities, and (3) the gap in services during the summer months.

Home-Center Program Model

Some states offer a combination of home- and center-based options to families. For example, family members may choose to have services provided for their preschool-aged child in a preschool or daycare program for children with typical development and to have the child also receive home visits. When home visits are offered in conjunction with center programs, visits usually occur about once a month.

Financial considerations and geographic location often dictate whether center-home programs are available. Due to limited financial resources and restricted access to trained professionals, some localities are limited in the range of service delivery options that can be offered. Despite this, professionals still make every effort to individualize services based on each child’s characteristics, abilities, and health as well as his or her family’s preference and needs.

Itinerant Teacher Model/Inclusion

In this model, an ECSE teacher serves as an inclusion specialist, supporting infants, toddlers, preschoolers, and primary-aged students. Young children with disabilities who receive instruction in general education settings receive it from itinerant ECSE teachers (Raver, 1980). In fact, nearly 50% of school-aged students with mild disabilities are served with this model (IDEA, 2004). Despite a growing reliance on consultation as a primary support for ECE professionals, there is little agreement in the field on a particular approach or set of procedures to guide the consultation practice (Sadler, 2003).

In general, itinerant services combine direct services (e.g., work with the child in the child’s setting) and collaborative-consultative services (e.g., work with another professional in the child’s setting to support that professional in better including the child). Many early childhood special educators describe their itinerant teaching activities as involving the following:

  • providing direct services to children through individualized classroom routines,
  • coaching/consulting with ECE staff on how to address children’s IEP objectives during the remainder of the week,
  • providing emotional support and encouragement to ECE classroom staff, and
  • serving as a resource for information and other services for ECE staff and families.

To support general education staff in meeting individual children’s goals and objectives, itinerant teachers may help staff develop the organizational strategies needed to systematically build objectives for children with special needs into the curriculum and the schedule (Raver, 2003). Further, environmental adaptations to maximize a child’s engagement in all activities in the classroom might need to be discussed and arranged. Commonsense interventions such as permitting toddlers and preschoolers to participate in only one learning center at a time may help them experience more productive interactions with that center, rather than moving from one center to another without an apparent purpose. ECE staff may need guidance in how to improve the social-communicative environment for a child. For example, by requiring a preschooler to use picture cards and words to request center changes, the teacher is structuring a way for that child to increase communication and problem-solving skills. Itinerant teachers demonstrate and reinforce general education staff members’ use of specific strategies for teaching developmental skills. By encouraging staff to wait five seconds before offering assistance (called time-delay), for instance, communicative responding in some toddlers and/or preschoolers may increase (Wolery, 2001).

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