Special needs learners are a special population of learners in our programs. Thanks to the self-advocacy of those with disabilities, as well as the advocacy of their parents, friends, and educators, our country has slowly evolved to be more responsive to the diverse physical, social, and cognitive needs of young children with disabilities.

Due in large part to enhanced screening systems, as well as increased awareness of age-appropriate milestones among parents and educators, more children are being diagnosed with disabilities or Special Health Care Needs (SHCNs). As early childhood educators, one of our many responsibilities is to contribute to early intervention by monitoring child development and supporting parents to make referrals if concerns are identified.

Your ability to recognize developmental delays is a critical part of the early intervention process, and can have life-altering impacts on the children you care for. When disabilities or developmental delays are identified early in infancy or early childhood (the time at which the human brain is most malleable) interventionists can utilize appropriate strategies to help children form critical neural connections and strengthen existing skills. While children who are diagnosed later in childhood may still benefit from targeted interventions, the impact of these efforts is likely to be less substantial.

As a teacher, you have received training on many aspects of child development, and likely have an understanding of developmental milestones for the ages that you serve. However, specific coursework in the area of exceptional learners/special education will benefit your career in several ways. Through specific training/schooling on this topic, you will:

Understand the types of screening methods used to identify delays in different developmental domains
Learn how to effectively partner with parents to share your concerns and to learn about their perceptions/experiences with their child’s development
Learn referral procedures, including screenings, referrals to state Part B and Part C EI agencies, observations, PPT meetings, and IEP/IFSP development and utilization
Understand laws protecting students with disabilities, as well as your responsibilities under those laws
Explore how to individualize learning experiences to meet the identified needs of students with identified or suspected delays
Learn how to embrace the differences of your students, and to create environments that reflect your commitment to and respect of students with disabilities.

These skills are valuable to your teaching and are desirable to employers. As students with disabilities are entitled to a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE), Inclusion has become the ideal to which programs and educators strive. According to the CDC, “inclusion means understanding the relationship between the way people function and how they participate in society, and making sure everybody has the same opportunities to participate in every aspect of life to the best of their abilities and desires.”

Under this philosophy, students with disabilities are encouraged to participate in school settings with non-disabled peers to the farthest extent appropriate and possible.
As inclusive classrooms become the standard, it will become an expectation that all teachers know how to work with students who have disabilities, and that they have training or college coursework to verify they have these skills/understandings.

We highly encourage any early childhood educator – regardless of role – to engage in training and/or coursework to enhance their knowledge of special education!

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