At a very early age, a child's individual strengths and weaknesses reveal themselves to parents and teachers. Some are better readers, and others are great at math. But what to do when a child doesn't seem to be achieving the social and educational milestones of their age group? Although it is true that some kids only need a little push or some time to "get back on track," this is not the case for children with special needs.
Social, cognitive, emotional and physical needs differ from child to child. If they're not addressed early enough, the situation can snowball into a much greater problem later on in their lives. That's why assessment and evaluation must start in early childhood, specifically in pre-school.
"Observing, documenting, and assessing each child's development and learning are essential processes for educators to plan, implement, and evaluate the effectiveness of the experiences they provide to children," notes the National Association for Education of Young Children. Screening assessments are used to identify children with disabilities or individualized learning or developmental needs. This preparation must happen in early childhood before children start formal education.
This is a delicate intervention, of course: many of the "solutions'' to teaching challenges posed by learning disabilities, mental health conditions and environmental factors further separate the student from their peers and the school's normative activities. Therefore, teachers and parents need to work together to ensure that early intervention is done correctly and does not traumatize the child. Each state offers specific programs for early intervention, which should always be accompanied by the evaluation of medical professionals.
Here are some strategies that aid learner development that educators can implement in the classroom:
Use Games and Toys
Toys are some of the first items that young children have that belong to them. Teaching them to share their toys with others, take care of them and put them away when playtime is over can be a big lesson in discipline, responsibility and empathy.
Educators can use games of all sorts to integrate and develop social and physical skills, such as consent and clear communication. In her paper "Intervention Strategies for Pre-School Students with Special Needs," Gloria H. Zucker writes: "enrolling young children in activities such as Gymboree, Mommy and Me, or Kindergym, and any additional parks department options, can provide interaction with a mainstream environment and possibly the opportunity for the child and the parent to make new friends."
Focus on Spoken Language
Developing oral language skills should be the first step to avoid future literacy problems. Specifically, the skills of expanding vocabulary, word knowledge and phonological awareness — like hearing, understanding, and manipulating the sounds of a word — are critical for a child's development.
As a strategy, Gloria H. Zucker advises to "engage the young child in talking about anything and everything. Conversation should be varied and constant with new and interesting topics brought up daily." Zucker also notes that young children are "virtual parrots" and will imitate conversations, words and situations that they see and hear around them.
Bullying is a huge problem for students of all ages, and it can start as early as pre-school when teachers, sometimes with the best of intentions, single out a student with special needs. Celebrating all children's achievements is important and makes kids feel like they're seen for who they are. Having the class collectively acknowledge the achievements of their peers with disabilities can be a precious learning moment for all.
Likewise, communicating with parents and caregivers on particular goals for a student helps set measurable parameters for the child's development.
Have a question or concern about this article? Please contact us.