Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Preparing Professionals to Serve Infants and Toddlers with Handicaps and Their Families: An Integrative Analysis across Eight Disciplines

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Preparing Professionals to Serve Infants and Toddlers with Handicaps and Their Families: An Integrative Analysis across Eight Disciplines

Article excerpt

Preparing Professionals to Serve Infants and Toddlers with Handicaps and Their Families: An Integrative Analysis Across Eight Disciplines

From an historical perspective, the care of young children has not always been viewed as a task that requires a great deal of academic preparation. The recent growth in services for young children with disabilities, however, has stimulated widespread interest in the special knowledge and skills needed to provide effective and supportive services to infants and preschoolers and their families (Bailey, 1989; McCollum & Thorp, 1988). The passage of Public Law 99-457 has intensified these concerns as state agencies, professional organizations, and university personnel preparation programs seek to develop reasonable standards and effective educational programs to prepare early intervention personnel.

One characteristic that differentiates early intervention with infants with disabilities and their families from services for older children is the involvement of professionals from diverse agencies and multiple disciplines. Though the configuration of services may vary across states and communities, families will interact in some way with professionals from the disciplines of education, psychology, medicine, allied health, public health, and social work. What expertise are these professionals likely to bring to these interactions? In the context of a research institute on infant-care personnel preparation, this question was addressed in two ways. First, a series of surveys was designed to document the extent to which entry-level students from diverse disciplines receive preservice (university) education to prepare them to provide services for young children with disabilities and their families. Faculty from eight disciplines-- nursing, nutrition, occupation therapy, physical therapy, psychology, social work, special education, and speech-language pathology--collaborated to develop a telephone survey of entry-level university programs in each discipline.

Second, a multidisciplinary working conference involving key leaders within each discipline was held to discuss the survey results and make recommendations for changes. The survey and conference results are reported in a series of discipline-specific papers (Bailey, Palsha, & Huntington, 1990; Cochrane, Farley, & Wilhelm, in press; crais & Leonard, 1990; Holditch-Davis, 1989; Humphry & Link, in press; Kaufman, 1989; Simeonsson & Brandon, 1988; 1989). This article summarizes and integrates the findings across the eight disciplines and discusses policy implications of these data for increasing the availability of professionals with expertise related to infants and toddlers with disabilities and their families.

METHOD AND PROCEDURES

The purpose of the surveys was to document the core curriculum provided for the typical student in each of the eight professions. The surveys explored key areas, such as normal and atypical infant development, assessment and intervention with infants and families, and the coordination of disciplines and services needed to work with infants and families.

Instrumentation

A team of faculty and graduate students from each discipline jointly developed a telephone survey. The team determined the survey content by identifying broad areas of competence deemed to be important in infant intervention. Each faculty member analyzed the wording of questions to determine that the wording was appropriate for his or her specific discipline. The team then developed a pilot version of the survey instrument and tested it by calling one university program from each discipline. After receiving feedback on potential problems in format or content, the team made minor modifications in the instrument. The final version of the instrument addressed the following information:

1. Basic program demogrphics (e.g., availability of graduate or undergraduate programs, average number of graduates per year, number of credit hours required for graduation). …

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