Academic journal article International Journal of Education

Early Childhood Special Education: Insights from Educators and Families

Academic journal article International Journal of Education

Early Childhood Special Education: Insights from Educators and Families

Article excerpt

Abstract

Programs and services designed to meet the needs of young children with disabilities have increased substantially in recent years, often times without evaluating how effective the programs and services are at meeting the needs of children and families. This study sought to investigate how principals, teachers, and parents perceived how Early Childhood Special Education (ECSE) programs across 31 schools in a large, urban city in the United States (US) meet the needs of young children and their families. Thirty principals, 45 teachers, and 301 families participated in the investigation. Overall, all stakeholders identified the programs' structure, personnel, and home to school connections as strengths. They also believed that ECSE programs were an appropriate place for young children with disabilities. Families and teachers indicated satisfaction with the frequency of communication; however, both families and principals still wanted to see an increase in communication between home and school. Areas needing improvement included critical elements needed in ECSE programs related to human resources, increased funding, and appropriate adult-child ratios. Implications for practice are discussed.

Keywords: early childhood; special education; family; students with disabilities

1. Introduction

Although most children served by special education programs in the United States (U.S.) are between the ages of six and 17, young children with disabilities are being identified with increasing frequency. Meeting the education needs of this population is a priority for the U.S. government, departments of education, and universities as seen in the U.S. government's commitment to a variety of initiatives that enhance the capacity of states, local educational agencies, and service providers to locate, identify, assess, and meet the needs of all children (i.e., "Good Start, Grow Start") (USDOE, 2002). With the increase of children with disabilities served through early childhood special education (ECSE) programs and services, more focus needs to be directed at evaluating the quality and effectiveness of early childhood practices in meeting the needs of young children with disabilities and their families (Dunst & Trivette, 2009). According to Miller (1992), "service development undertaken in reactionary haste to meet legislative mandates may disregard the long-standing wisdom of our field and result in the continuation of fragmented program practices that offer little in the search for integrity of service delivery in early intervention" (Miller, 1992, p. 324).

The recognition of the importance of ECSE programs has been noted and shaped by history, legislation, research, and our views of child development. Quality in programs have been noted to run along a continuum focusing on classroom dynamics and interactions, classroom structure, staffing characteristics, professional development, administration and support services, and parent involvement (Buysee & Hollingsworth, 2009). Exemplary ECSE programs should be integrated, comprehensive, normalized, adaptable, peer and family referenced, and outcome-based in addition to delivering high quality services and providing supports to children and their families (Sandall, Hemmeter, Smith, & McLean, 2005). According to the Division of Early Child's (DEC) Recommended Practices (Sandall, Hemmeter, Smith, & McLean, 2005), high quality in programs in reference to services must be stressed since these programs can make a positive difference in the development and lives of young children and their families. Strong emphasis should also be placed on the process of learning and development, and not just the end products; developing a universally designed curriculum framework that is flexible and comprehensive; working collaboratively with families; and embrace the practice of heterogeneous grouping that meets a variety of ability levels and individual needs (DEC, 2007). …

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