As leaders, a critical task you face is meeting the needs of every child in your program. Some children you serve will have special needs, including delays or disabilities. You will need to have an effective support system in place for addressing these special needs, one that includes communicating and collaborating with experts and providers in your communities. This section will outline ways that your site/campus-based leadership team can effectively support the identification of children with delays or disabilities as part of your data-informed plan for improving language and pre-literacy instruction.
Some children with delays or disabilities will have been identified and/or diagnosed prior to entering an early childhood site. For those children, continuous collaboration and communication among staff, parents and families, medical professionals, and service providers are essential. Part 2 of this lesson will talk more specifically about creating a successful plan for collaboration after children’s needs have been identified.
In other instances, a child may show signs of delays or disabilities that have not been identified. For example, a teacher may notice that a child is not able to grasp things with his fingers and/or manipulate toys even though he is past the age range for acquiring this skill. Another child may not be moving beyond the babbling stage of language even though she is over two years old. Although most early childhood sites do not have staff members qualified to diagnose special needs, you and your staff can be important partners in the identification process. Your staff can benefit by gaining knowledge about (1) how to use data from screenings, checklists, and observations effectively and appropriately; and (2) how to communicate helpful resources to families during the identification process.
Identifying needs, delays, or exceptionalities can be especially challenging with young children, particularly infants and toddlers. Your staff will need to use developmental screenings, checklists, family questionnaires, and observational notes to understand the specific needs of children and to determine the best classroom practices to meet those needs. Staff who are well trained in collecting and reviewing these forms of data can become helpful partners in the identification of specific delays or disabilities. The first step, therefore, in creating a system for meeting children’s special needs might be to plan professional development on how to use screenings and checklists effectively. You may also want to provide staff support on how to observe children and write observational reports.
Note: You may also review the Assessment component lessons for more information about using these assessments to support the identification of special learning needs.
After receiving professional development, staff members will become more astute observers and will be better able to make observational notes as soon as they suspect a child’s need for special support. Observational reports should contain important information, such as a description of the child’s behavior that is possibly of concern, the times at which that behavior occurs, and the situation(s) that lead up to and follow the behavior. This link provides an example of an observational tool.
After a staff member administers a screener, completes a checklist, or uses the observational tool to gather information, he or she will have data that could help your team during the process of describing and identifying a delay or disability. At this point, you will also need a clearly defined process for communicating this information to families. The site/campus-based leadership team will need to establish expectations for staff whose data raises concerns about possible delays or disabilities. It is important that staff understand how to begin collaborating with families, administrators, and other personnel to move forward in the process. Staff and leaders will play key roles in making referrals for special services after needs are identified. Review the resources in the To Learn More section for information about the appropriate steps to take when identifying children’s needs and referring children for special services.
Often, the first step in guiding parents and families to pursue further evaluation of a developmental concern about their child is to encourage them to contact their pediatrician to discuss the concern. (For information about how to communicate with parents and families, including an example script, see Lesson A4—Special learning needs.) In many instances, families will have an established relationship with a pediatrician they see on a regular basis. Your teachers need to know how to communicate observations to families and how to become supportive collaborators as they address concerns with their pediatrician. A pediatrician or other professional evaluating the child, for example, may appreciate reading a copy of your staff’s documented notes and/or checklist results as part of the evaluation process.
Remember that if members of your staff are asked to send written documents to an outside professional or talk with an outside professional about a child by phone, you must obtain formal, written consent from the parent(s) before doing so.
Sometimes families will not have a relationship with a pediatrician; they may need resources for forming a relationship with a medical provider who can follow up on possible delays or disabilities requiring medical support. The Texas Health and Human Services Commission provides information about Medicare/Medicaid for families who have children with disabilities. In addition, the websites of the two organizations below may be helpful resources for families during and after the identification process:
Early Childhood Intervention Services (ECI) is a statewide program for families of children age 0–3 who are experiencing disabilities or developmental delays. ECI supports families in helping their young children reach their potential through developmental services. ECI provides evaluations and assessments at no cost to families to determine eligibility and need for services. Children need no formal diagnosis for referral to ECI. Children may be referred for an ECI evaluation by a pediatrician or other developmental professional, including teachers. Children may even be referred by parents. If you are working with a family who does not have a regular pediatrician, you can make a referral directly to ECI on the child’s behalf, provided the parent is willing for you to do so.
The Partners Resource Network (PRN) is a nonprofit agency that operates the Texas statewide network of Parent Training and Information Centers (funded by the U.S. Department of Education, Special Education Programs). This agency helps families to
understand their child’s disability;
understand their rights and responsibilities under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA);
obtain and evaluate resources and services; and
participate as team members as they work with professionals to plan services for their children.
In Part 2 of this lesson, we will discuss ways you can effectively collaborate with experts and providers in your community to meet the specific needs of your children.
TO LEARN MORE: To learn more about language delays or disabilities in young children, you may want to review the following resources.
Texas Project FIRST offers a general guide for children age 0–SE that includes information about navigating the special education process, accessing supportive community services, and finding more specific resources for different delays and disabilities.
The Texas Education Agency provides a list of many specific disabilities and their symptoms, instructional strategies, accommodations, and resources.
The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) provides information about speech and hearing development and delays in children.
Additional resources from Early Childhood Intervention (ECI):
“Parent Handbook” provides guidance for parents and families regarding the intervention process and their rights.
ECI Videos explain the services of ECI, parent and family rights (in English and Spanish), and why parents and families are important in interventions.