What to think about as you consider a special needs kindergarten
A young child with special needs in a regular classroom often finds him/herself as the only “problem” in the class; always needing extra help; always the different one. In a special needs kindergarten, your child is not different or special; he/she is just one of the kids – free to develop a “can do” attitude.
As a parent of a young child, you yourself may be learning about special needs. 18.5% of American children under 18 are special needs students. That doesn’t mean they aren’t smart, talented, or capable. Just that they have specific challenges that a typically-developing student wouldn’t face. Special needs kindergartens should understand that special needs students are children first, with all of the needs, desires, and feelings of children without disabilities. They are more like other children than different. Their disabilities are inconveniences that keep them from enjoying full lives, and therefore must be overcome or compensated for so that they can grow and move out into the world.
There are four major types of special needs
- Physical – Muscular Dystrophy, Multiple Sclerosis, Chronic Asthma, Epilepsy, etc.
- Developmental – Down syndrome, autism, dyslexia, processing disorders.
- Behavioral/Emotional – ADD, Bipolarism, Oppositional Defiance Disorder
- Sensory impaired – Blind, visually impaired, deaf, limited hearing.
Some basic concepts
IEP (or Individualized Education Program) is a legally binding document spelling out what special education services your child will receive. And IEP Includes classification and accommodations.
Classification: One of 13 different disability classes that qualify for special education services. Including: visual impairment, speech and language impairment, auditory impairment, deaf/blind, Autism, developmental disabilities, multiple disabilities, orthopedic impairment, specific learning disabilities, emotional/behavioral disorder, traumatic brain injury, multi-sensory impairment, and serious health impairment.
Accommodations: a change in timing, presentation, formatting or setting that will allow the student to complete normal classwork.
Modifications: an adjustment to an assignment or to curriculum content so that a special needs child can work successfully within the curriculum outlined for normally developing students.
Best kindergarten special education programs should have the following aims
- To provide the highest quality of educational and therapeutic programming available to children.
- To nurture and challenge each student on his or her own level in all developmental and curricular areas.
- To instill in each student the positive self-image and love for learning.
- To support parents in their growing understanding of their children’s needs and abilities and in their quest for the best learning environment for their children.
Evaluate special needs kindergartens using the following criteria
- Maximum student: teacher ratio of 6:2 for toddlers, 8:2 for preschoolers
- Provides a highly structured environment to maximize learning for students who need external structure.
- Manipulates the learning environment to ensure success.
- Teachers are trained and experienced in special needs and normal child development
- Emphasizes self-concept development to facilitates an “I can” attitude.
- Facilitates the development of character traits such as patience, compassion, and an acceptance of human differences and similarities.
- Receives input from a speech therapists and physical and occupational therapists, recreational therapists and early childhood specialists to ensure that each student is progressing to his/her potential.
- Parents’ opinions are valued and they are treated with respect, concern, compassion and gentleness.