Integration of Special Needs Children

pkp_ma_mn_playdough_jewelry.jpgThus far little has been said about special needs children. This omission is deliberate for two reasons. First, our program, the kinds of activities, equipment, and materials available, are likely to sound very familiar to most readers. We arranged lesson plans in units which, for the most part, are typical areas of any preschool program. We intend our Curriculum Guide to be useful to any preschool program, even though all the children enrolled fall well within normal developmental ranges.

Program: Secondly, the basic prerequisite for integrating handicapped children into a ‘normal’ preschool program is a good on-going program for normal children. Although the Curriculum Guide describes activities for only about a third or our time with the children (project and group time), in no way do we intend to imply that this is the only important period of the day or the only time that learning occurs. Our rationale in detailing project and group activities is that a teacher’s habitual observations and awareness of each individual child will generalize to all aspects of the program. The perceptions acquired during the periods when children are involved in planned activities will enable the teacher to be sensitive to children’s needs and to see or create opportunities to meet these needs throughout all of the daily activities.

Teaching Skills: By using this Curriculum Guide, a teacher should be able to improve his ability to observe a child’s strengths and emerging skills. He should be able to analyze the many processes involved in an activity and see its potential for fostering language, motor, and cognitive development, as well as self-reliance and peer interactions. These teacher skills extend to all areas of the program and provide a framework for an individualized, integrated curriculum.

Staffing: Children with special needs require more attention than their peers. Attention translates into more teachers in the classroom and more planning time outside of class. True, the quiet, withdrawn child may not demand attention by being disruptive. Nevertheless, he/she needs help in order to develop skills and to become capable of participating more fully in the program. 

We have found it useful and often essential to have a teacher who is responsible for helping incorporate exceptional children into activities. This support is especially important during project and group times. 

Special needs children need to be involved in projects since this is a time for building skills. Children with sever delays are likely to avoid those activities in which they most need experience and practice. By drawing these children into appropriate projects, we can provide the learning experiences they need and at the same time help them learn to succeed.

Participation in group time may well be impossible for some children, especially those with language delays. Following the plot of a story or a sequence in a game may be beyond them. For these children a preview of a group activity—singing songs, hearing a story, or practicing the game beforehand—will give them greater knowledge and security in a group situation.

Assessment and Planning: Planning is important to any program, but it is the key to effective work with special needs children. In order to know what activities to offer and what kind of performance to expect from a child, we must be thoroughly familiar with his level of development in important areas. The Assessment list is designed to provide this necessary information.

Unlike the standardized I.Q. tests, assessment does not produce a score, mental age, or percentile rank. The assessment profile shows only what skills the child has now, and what skills he or she will probably need to learn next. Most items in the assessment list show the chronological age or age range at which most children acquire the skill. This information is useful in determining the severity of the problem: Should we worry? A lot?

A child’s initial assessment will provide a basis for planning. But the child’s development does not remain static (we hope). Periodic review noting new skills as they are acquired, and basing new plans on this re-assessment, guarantees that the child’s time, as well as the teacher’s time, is well spent.