By Corrie Pelc
Meeting Their Needs
Finding the right preschool for children in which both they and their parents feel comfortable and safe can be a long and tiring process. But when the child has a special need that requires being met, the search can become even more harrowing.
“I think that parents do run into a lot of difficulties a lot of times trying to find child development services for their kids,” says Karen Baas, assistant director of early intervention services at the child development services agency Kidango in
“There’s a lot of fear and anxiety that child development staff show when taking children with special needs and a lot of them just don’t have experience with kids with special needs, so I think that’s where the fear and anxiety come from. And once they get used to a child with special needs or they’ve had some experiences, I think a lot of those fears melt away, but for a parent I know that it can be quite challenging.”
Frank G. Bowe, Ph.D., professor in the department of Counseling, Research, Special Education and Rehabilitation at
When it comes to finding a preschool for a child who has special needs, in most cases the preschool supplements an early intervention program, explains Peg Hughes, early childhood special education program coordinator with the department of Special Education at
But how can parents decide whether they need to place their child in a standard preschool or a special needs-oriented facility? According to Craig Roberts, executive director of Beginning Steps in
However, Baas mentions there are positives to both special needs settings and standard preschools. “With specialized programs, those are going to provide specific treatment or specific training to a child’s development, physical or medical challenges, whereas the child development programs provide a natural learning environment and there’s also the big advantage of having typical peers surrounding them,” she says. “There’s advantages to both specialized settings and typical child development settings and the two settings really go hand-in-hand and special needs kids benefit from having both components in their lives a lot of times.”
And if a parent of a child who has special needs wants to enroll them in a standard preschool, finding a facility that is willing and able to take children who have special needs is becoming easier in the Silicon Valley area thanks to a new training program from the Child Care Coordinating Council (4C’s) that teaches childcare providers how to include children who have special needs into their classrooms.
“The premise of the training is that for a child with special needs, 95 percent of their issues are the same as any other child, but the other 5 percent those services can be accessed elsewhere or those resources can be brought into a typical preschool setting,” explains Theresa Campbell, director of TLC Cupertino, who completed the 4C’s training. “The training mostly was giving ourselves – a typical preschool – access and information as to how to access services. If a particular child presents themselves with a particular need, then we were given the resources through that training on who to call, what resources are out there and step-by-step what to do.”
For teacher Kathryn Randle of Community Preschool in
Tips to Go By
So whether parents plan to place their child in a special needs-oriented setting or a standard preschool, what do they need to know and ask about?
“A parent who has a special needs child would start off with the same questions that a parent of a typically developing child would have,”
Additionally, parents need to think about what their child’s special needs are and have to have a comfort level with the school’s staff, Roberts says. “Parents of kids with special needs, especially the younger kids, want to be guarded with what their kids are going to be doing and so they need to feel warm and fuzzy that the staffing is adequately able to deal with their child’s special needs in all areas, from outside free play to classroom time,” he explains. “And in some cases special needs are medical concerns – feeding tubes and things like that – and so they need to be able to have confidence that can be taken care of.”
When visiting preschools, Hughes advises parents to bring their child’s special education teacher with them. “Part of their job is to work with (the child’s) providers so they can spend as much time and coach, teach and collaborate and go in and model and demonstrate little ways to work with kids,” she explains. “They’re the best resource for actual instruction to the (preschool) provider.”
Bowe also advises parents to talk to others in a similar situation. “Families have told me over the years that they really value what they learn from other families,” he says. “That’s why professionals try to put them in touch with local, state and national parent groups. The family members need to know what their rights are, what is and is not available and what is and is not realistic to ask for. A lot of that they learn from other families.”
But most of all, Randle tells parents to not be afraid to talk to their child’s teachers about the child’s special needs as communication is the most important thing you can use. “A lot of times parents are afraid to share their information with the teachers for fear that their child’s going to be labeled,” she says. “They should take that fear away because if you hide something from the teacher, they’re not sure what’s going on and they may not be able to help your child unless they know what’s going on. I think teachers have changed their attitude over the years and I think today we know a lot more than we did say 10 years ago. I know I certainly do.”
Assessing Infants and Preschoolers with Special Needs, by Mary E. McLean, Mark Wolery and Donald B. Bailey, Prentice Hall, 2003.
Birth to Five: Early Childhood Special Education, by Frank G. Bowe, Thomson Learning, 1999.
Children with Special Needs in Early Childhood Set, by Lola Gorrill and Bev Strom, Delmar Learning, 2003.
Educating Young Children with Special Needs, by Louise Porter, Chapman Paul Publishing, 2002.
The Inclusive Early Childhood Classroom: Easy Ways to Adapt Learning Centers for All Children, by Patti Gould and Joyce Sullivan, Gryphon House, 1999.
Parents and Schools: Creating a Successful Partnership for Students with Special Needs, by Thomas M. Shea and Anne M. Bauer, Prentice Hall, 2002.
Widening the Circle: Including Children with Disabilities in Preschool Programs, by Samuel L. L. Odom, Paula J. Beckman and Marci J. Hanson, Teachers College Press, 2002.
Community Childcare Coordinating Council – (4C’s)
Fremont/Union City, 510-790-0655. Castro Valley/Hayward/Newark/San Lorenzo/