ERIC Identifier: ED358675
Publication Date: 1993-06-00
Author: Salisbury, Christine L. - Smith, Barbara J.
ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education Reston VA.
Effective Practices for Preparing Young Children with
Disabilities for School. ERIC Digest #E519.
Over 50 years of research on children with many types of disabilities
receiving a range of specialized services in many different settings has
produced evidence that early intervention can: (1) ameliorate, and in some
cases, prevent developmental problems; (2) result in fewer children being
retained in later grades; (3) reduce educational costs to school programs; and
(4) improve the quality of parent, child, and family relationships. Much of what
we know about early intervention effectiveness is drawn from this diverse
historical base of information.
More recently, researchers have begun asking a more rigorous and
differentiated question: For whom and under what conditions is early childhood
intervention most effective? This more sophisticated question focuses on the
effects of various interventions for specific groups of children relative to the
type of program they received. Data from well-controlled research studies
indicate that young children with disabilities (e.g., Down syndrome, autism,
cerebral palsy, sensory impairments), and those who evidence biological (e.g.,
low birth weight, premature) and environmental risk factors make significant
gains on both qualitative and quantitative measures of development when provided
appropriate services. The involvement of their parents in reinforcing critical
skills in natural contexts is an important factor associated with the magnitude
of the child's progress (Guralnick, 1989).
In addition to encouraging parent involvement it has been found that the most
effective interventions are those that also:
occur early in the child's life,
operate from a more structured and systematic instructional base,
prescriptively address each child's assessed needs, and
include normally developing children as models.
Programs with these characteristics produce the most reliable, significant,
and stable results in child and family functioning (DeStefano, Howe, Horn, &
Smith, 1991; Hanson & Lynch, 1989; McDonnell & Hardman, 1988).
THE "BEST PROGRAM" DEPENDS UPON THE SPECIFIC NEEDS OF THE
Conceptually, the fields of early childhood and early childhood
special education promote the incorporation of instructional goals and
curriculum content into normally occurring routines in the home, preschool,
daycare center, and kindergarten settings (Bredekamp, 1987; Rainforth &
Salisbury, 1988). Recognizing that children with special needs require
efficient, effective, and functional instruction directed at achieving socially
and educationally valid outcomes (Carta, Schwartz, Atwater, & McConnell,
1991), it is important that practitioners identify the nature of each child's
needs and the extent to which accommodations and supports will be necessary for
each child to be successful. Instructional arrangements, curriculum content, and
instructional procedures can and should be varied to coincide with the intensity
of each child's learning needs. Such accommodations increase the likelihood that
children with special needs can be included in a vast array of typical classroom
While many state and local agencies are still grappling with the issue of
what kind of service delivery models they will endorse, it is clear that the
special education and related services needs of young children with identified
or at-risk conditions can be appropriately met in settings that include normally
developing children (e.g., daycare, typical preschools, Head Start, regular
classrooms) (Guralnick, 1990; Hanson & Hanline, 1989; Templeman, Fredericks,
& Udell, 1989). Integrated settings have, in fact, been found to produce
higher proportions, rates, and levels of social, cognitive, and linguistic
skills in children with disabilities than segregated settings (Brinker, 1985;
GENERAL PRINCIPLES TO HELP GUIDE THE SELECTION OF
Five general principles can be used to guide the selection of
effective practices: least restrictive environment, family-centered services,
transdisciplinary service delivery, inclusion of both empirical and value-driven
practices, and inclusion of both developmentally and individually appropriate
Least Restrictive And Most Natural Environment
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (PL 99-457) states that children
should be placed in the least restrictive environment or the most natural
setting. This is not simply a placement issue, however; the method of providing
services, regardless of setting, should allow for maximum participation in the
"mainstream." Despite the limitations that a disability might place on a child's
and family's ability to lead an ordinary existence, good services should promote
the potential for "normal" rather than "disabled" routines by providing fun
environments that stimulate children's initiations, choices, and engagement with
the social and material ecology. Programs should focus on preparing children for
the next, less restrictive, environment.
A second principle is that service delivery models should (a) recognize that
the child is part of a family unit; (b) be responsive to the family's
priorities, concerns, and needs; and (c) allow the family to participate in
early intervention with their child as much as they desire (Bailey, McWilliam,
& Winton, 1992). Services that previously might have been geared almost
exclusively toward children must have the flexibility, expertise, and resources
to meet the needs of other members of the family as those needs relate to the
child's development (Public Law 99-457). It is strongly recommended that service
providers give families choices in the nature of services; match the level of
intensity of services desired by the family; and provide center-based services
close to where families live.
Transdisciplinary Service Delivery
One model for increasing the opportunity for family members to make
meaningful decisions and participate in early intervention is transdisciplinary
service delivery (Raver, 1991). This model involves team members sharing roles:
each specialist helps other members to acquire skills related to the
specialist's area of expertise. This requires both role release (accepting that
others can do what the specialist was trained specifically to do) and role
acceptance (accepting that one's job can include more than what one was
specifically trained to do). Transdisciplinary service delivery encourages a
whole-child and whole-family approach, allows for the efficient use of the
primary interventionist (i.e., the child and family do not always need to see
many different specialists), and fosters skill development in everyone.
Inclusion of Both Empirically and Value-Driven Practices
Empirical research has shown that practices should include such features as
adult:children ratios that maximize safety, health, and promotion of identified
goals; barrier-free environments; and environments that promote high levels of
engagement. Practices guided by values include having someone available to speak
the family's preferred language; basing communication with family members upon
principles of mutual respect, caring, and sensitivity; making environments safe
and clean; employing clinic-based services only when they are identified as the
least restrictive option; and giving opportunities for the family to have access
to medical decision-makers.
Inclusion of Both Developmentally and Individually Appropriate Practice
"Developmentally appropriate practice" (DAP) refers to educational methods
that promote children's self-initiated learning (Bredekamp, 1987) with emphasis
on individualization of services in response to children's characteristics,
preferences, interests, abilities, and health status and curricula that are
unbiased and nondiscriminatory around issues of disability, sex, race, religion,
and ethnic/cultural origin.
The reality of today's society is that any child, on a given day, may be a
child with special needs. Recognizing this fact, it is important that local
preschool and early education programs tailor curriculum and instructional
practices to fit the diversity represented in their classrooms. Adapting the
"standard" to fit those who may not fall within expected margins is a strategy
necessary for effective teaching and learning and one that enhances the
likelihood that children will feel and be successful.
Bailey, D. B., McWilliam, P. J., & Winton,
P. J. (1992). "Building family-centered practices in early intervention: A
team-based model for change." Infants and Young Children, 5(1), 73-82.
Bredekamp, S. (Ed.)(1987). "Developmentally appropriate." Washington, DC:
National Association for the Education of Young Children. ED283587.
Brinker, R. P. (1985). "Interactions between severely mentally retarded
students and other students in integrated and segregated public school
settings." American Journal of Mental Deficiency, 89, 587-594.
Carta, J. C., Schwartz, I. S., Atwater, J. B., McConnell, S. R. (1991).
"Developmentally appropriate practice: Appraising its usefulness for young
children with disabilities." Topics in Early Childhood Education, 11 (1) 1-20.
DeStefano, D. M., Howe, A. G., Horn, E. H., & Smith, B. (1991). "Best
practice in early childhood special education." Tucson, AZ: Communication Skill
Guralnick, M. J. (1989). "Recent developments in early intervention efficacy
research: Implications for family involvement in P.L. 99-457." Topics in Early
Childhood Special Education, 9(3), 1-17.
Guralnick, M. J. (1990). "Social competence and early intervention." Journal
of Early Intervention, 14(1), 3-14.
Hanson, M. J. & Hanline, M. F. (1989). "Integration options for the very
young child." In R. Gaylord-Ross (Ed.), "Integration strategies for students
with handicaps," (pp. 177-194). Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes.
Hanson, M. J., & Lynch, E. W. (1989). "Early intervention: Implementing
child and family services for infants and toddlers who are at-risk or disabled."
Austin, TX: PRO-ED.
McDonnell, A. & Hardman, M. (1988). "A synthesis of "best practice" for
early childhood services." Journal of the Division for Early Childhood, 12,
Rainforth, B., & Salisbury, C. L. (1988). "Functional home programs: A
model for therapists." Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, 7(4), 33-45.
Raver, S. A. (1991). "Strategies for teaching at-risk and handicapped infants
and toddlers: A transdisciplinary approach." New York: Macmillan.
Templeman, T. P., Fredericks, H. D., & Udell, T. (1989). "Integration of
children with moderate and severe handicaps into a day care center." Journal of
Early Intervention, 13(4), 315-328.
This digest was developed from selected portions of the following
"DEC Recommended Practices: Indicators of Quality in Programs for Infants and
Young Children with Special Needs and Their Families," 1993. Reston, VA:
Division for Early Childhood, The Council for Exceptional Children. Stock No.
Salisbury, C. L. (1990). "Providing Effective Early Intervention Services:
Why and How?" Pittsburgh, PA: Allegheny-Singer Research Institute, ED 340160.