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Children's Medical Services - Special services for children with special needs
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Infant Toddler Development Training
Module 4, Lesson 1

Best Practices in Infant and Toddler Curriculum for all Children - DEC and NAEYC

Services for infants and toddlers with special needs have realized other shifts especially in the role of the primary service provider. Assessment is more ecologically based, functional, and linked to programming. The primary service provider of an infant/ toddler with special needs is now taking on more of a consultant or coach role to families and caregivers. In so doing, this provides those who are with the infants and toddlers everyday the needed skills and adaptive tools to embed learning goals into everyday routines, activities and places. This is much the same general way families and caregivers scaffold (support and encourage) infants/toddlers who are typically developing in play and daily living routines, but with added attention to details, specific language, additional sensory (taste, touch, smell, hear, see) stimulations, additional repetitions and time, and often adaptive or support materials (See Early Steps Service Delivery Policy and Guidance, 2004)

Child swingingOther trends in both fields directly meet the dynamic changes in our culture and are also based on the advent of more research on appropriate practices, medical advances, and information on how the brain works (Shore, 1997). The NAEYC's first edition of DAP provided a more discrete view on what practices were and were not appropriate. NAEYC has shifted from an either-DAP-or-not-DAP way of thinking about practices for young children and rather considers a wide range of practices. These practices include both direct adult guidance and practices that are child-centered in which children make choices and direct their own learning. The most recent edition of DAP illustrates situations in which directive assistance from adults is necessary for a child's success (Bredekamp & Copple, 1998). ECSE shifted from exclusively using rigid, controlled and adult-directed instructional practices to include the use of naturalistic (DAP) practices, so that children develop the same self-sufficient functional outcomes as their peers who are typically developing. In contemporary practices, more similarities among the fields of Early Childhood, Special Education, and Compensatory education can be found than differences. All children are children first, before the consideration of their special needs or economic disadvantages. Many of the same policies and practical strategies related to DAP can apply to ALL infants/toddlers with adaptations for individuals' development and culture (Bredekamp, 1993, Gonzalez-Mena, & Bhavnagri, 2000).

Below are some of the commonalities (Bredekamp & Copple, 1998; McWilliam, 2000; Noonan & McCormick, 1993; Ostrosky & Sandall, 2001; Sandall, McLean, Smith, 2000; Woolery & Wilbers, 1994;).

Child playing in sandbox
  • Play-based learning in small groups, rather than one-to-one instruction
  • Small group activities are preferred to support social competency development
  • Objectives for activities are to support learning and development, however the IFSP objectives for infants/toddlers with special needs that are embedded into everyday routines activities and places should allow for more specific, identified, and defined goals
  • For infants/toddlers with special needs, the focus is on interactions rather than end products, similar to DAP
  • Adult responsiveness to the child's interests and needs, supporting learning through scaffolding with least intrusive strategies considered first and working towards more intrusive as needed
  • Assessments in both DAP and ECSE are to be more natural and in context with the child's regular functions, play, and daily living activities.
  • Children are actively engaged in learning and participate as fully as possible in decision-making
  • Both DAP and ECSE practices recognize the importance of children's families as their child's first teacher, yet ECSE practices extend the roles of families to advocacy and other direct roles in their children's lives.

While there are similarities in EC and ECSE practices, three fundamental differences between the focus of the EC and ECSE best practices should be considered (Davis, et. al, 1998; Johnson & Carr, 1996):

Baby eating
  • EC tends to provide more child-centered versus family-centered services. Both DAP and ECSE practices recognize the needs for professional training of caregivers for out-of-home care, yet ECSE recognizes the need for families with infants/toddlers with special needs to have specialized training as well in planning and implementing activities.
  • Further ECSE care and education also assumes more skilled professionals, such as physical therapists and other health professionals may need to assume roles in program planning, implementation, and adjusting.
  • EC best practices (DAP) assume that the development of the child plays a more central role in exploration and motivation while ECSE provides for the fact that there is more variation in individual infant/toddler with special needs motivation and skills to exploration. Infants and toddlers with special needs may need more direct support, encouragement, and reinforcement to balance a child's less developed motivation through exploration. Infants and toddlers who are low-responders due to disabling factors, may have difficulty initiating an activity (i.e. does not see the activity or does not recognize the value of a toy) or may not have accessibility to an activity (i.e. low muscle tone for grasping).

We know that without guidance and support, the caregiver or parent may not realize how to make adaptations for a child with special needs in everyday routines, activities, and places, (Johnson, Christie, & Yawkey, 1999): Below is a list of suggestions.

  • Spaces - less crowding, more soft items, tape on floor to know where to sit, and tables high enough for wheel chairs
  • Time - flexibility to allow for child's natural rhythms or extra time to complete a task
  • Transitions - these are specific and predictable with ample warning when making a change to another activity or daily routine
  • Materials - interesting to each child, pieces large enough to hold, Velcro adaptations to help play toys stay in place, knobs on puzzle to ease access of the pieces, and another adaptation to make a toy accessible
  • Directions - some materials have more concrete signals of the intent of use for infants/ toddlers ready for directions, more specific verbal, visual, or tactile prompts can be used to illustrate the toy's use
  • Special Designed Assistance - child may benefit from adult or peer modeling of a task, verbal guidance or physical support such as touching/ tapping or laying the adults hand over the child's to illustrate the task
  • Special Positioning - child may need to be moved and use specialized equipment (e.g., positioning board or chair to stand, sit, lie on a particular side in order to participate in the play).
  • Assistive Technology - high or low tech devices can be used to facilitate children's communication and interactive skills. For basic Assistive Technology information, Abledata is the premiere source. It contains over 19,000 listings.

The latest revision of DEC Recommended Practices in Early Intervention / Early Childhood Special Education (Sandall, McLean, Smith, 2000), reflects the connection between DAP and young children's special needs and provides research-based guidelines for families and professionals in seven topic areas:

  1. Assessment
  2. Child-Focused Interventions
  3. Family-Based Practices
  4. Interdisciplinary Models
  5. Personnel Preparation
  6. Policies, Procedures, and Systems Change
  7. Technology Applications

These provide general guidance on practices for services for children birth to age five.


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