Special Needs - Including Children with Special Needs in Child Care

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The unknown can often be frightening.  We may have concerns about safety, time, cost, liability, other children, and our own abilities or inadequacies.  Often, the things we worry about turn out to be easier than we thought and even enjoyable and rewarding.  This is often, if not usually the case when working with children with disabilities, especially when you have the support and information to make it as rewarding as it can be.  Fortunately the support and information is available in abundance in the United States, and especially for certain age groups.  Collaboration is often the key: with parents, programs, therapists, schools, sometimes medical professionals, and others, working together well, success and a more rewarding experience for everyone can often be achieved in even the most difficult situations.


I have had a disability my entire life (and have worked with people with disabilities most of my life) and as I get older more personal disabilities are being adding to the list.  All of us, if we live long enough, will personally experience some type of disability.  While I acknowledge my disabilities and do my best to take appropriate care, I am much more concerned with strengthening and expanding my abilities and what I can do than what I can not.  All children have commonalities and differences. All children need safe and nurturing care.   All children have strengths and areas where they need additional support, training, and encouragement.  This page, and the pages linked from here will provide you with, information, tools, and resources that will help most children, not just children with disabilities.

Most of what we learn to do through life, we have to be either taught or we learn on our own.  Some subjects are easier and some are more difficult for everyone.  We are not all the same.  Some children with disabilities need additional support and instruction to help them learn the things they need to know and do in order to be as successful and independent as possible.



Though it talks specifically about promoting social and emotional development of children, the Pyramid Model is useful for all children and is a good way to conceptualize what we can do to be supportive of children in care.

Please review the Pyramid Model.   

Please also some additional information about The Teaching Pyramid.   

Please familiarize yourself with both the Pyramid Model and The Teaching Pyramid.


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The Child Behavior page on this web sites provides information about environment so I won’t spend additional time focusing on that element here except to remind of a couple of important rules.  Keep the environment safe and use the environment to provide cues as to how we should behave and what we should do in that environment.  Though it is preferable to use a different space or room for these different environments and activities, it is possible to create a different environment in the same space with lighting, smells, music and props.  Other pages also talk about keeping to a schedule and using music and picture cues to help with transitions to help prepare the children for the transition,  help them know what to expect, and to help children with the actual transition.  When I talk about music on other pages, my reference is primarily to recorded music; however, songs that you and the children sing together, in many situations, are more supportive and instructive to children.  As I’m sure you know, children especially love songs with activities. (Please check out a few of the linked pages)

Music and movement can also help to create the physiological change that I talk about on the Stress Management page.  Remember the first rule, always keep it safe.  One simple activity is to play music while children dance.

Songs can also help teach important lessons to children.
Please read some of the information from at least one of the linked websites.


Here are some additional resources
Preschool, Early Children, and Kindergarten Songs: Songs that Teach Elementary Concepts to Young Children:

You probably have other examples of great songs for children.

Music, books, toys, and food are also great ways to introduce children to other cultures and include children from other cultures in your child care.


Don't worry, young children are rarely critical of the singing voice of anyone they know loves them. 

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You may be asking yourself, ' but what about children with physical disabilities?'
Almost all children love music and movement including children with sever physical disabilities.
If you have questions or need information, support, possibly even assistive technology, consult with an early intervention professional.  In most places this information and support comes with no charge to you or the family.

Another activity that can be rewarding, therapeutic, and instructional is simple theater.  Children with or without disabilities can participate and learn a great deal about social norms, interactions, and feelings from children's theatre.  It doesn't have to be difficult or fancy, it can be as simple as using some improvised props and acting out a favorite children's story. 


Please read: The Power of Reader's Theater.   (Some of the additional links may be of interest to you as well)

Here are some additional suggestions from Building Blocks for Teaching Preschoolers with Special Needs 2nd edition

"Modify the physical environment to promote participation and engagement for all children"

"Modify the social environment to promote participation and engagement for all children"

"Modify materials so that all children can participate in program activities"

"Modify procedures so that all children and participate in activities"

"Identify and incorporate children’s preferences into activities"

"Use special or adaptive equipment to increase children’s levels of participation"

"Use adults to support children’s participation and learning"

"Using peers as natural socially-motivating models and sources of support"


This may be a good time and place to talk about supports that may be available. 


The US Federal: Individuals with Disabilities Education Act provides for services for children with disabilities in the United States.  This act is divided into two primary parts.  Part B is for children from age three to 18 or 21.  Part C is for children from birth to three.  All states and territories in the United States provide services to these children.  I talk about ways to identify these children and access services under Child Development.  Under Part C of IDEA, the federal government mandates services be provided to these younger children in their Natural Environments.  This includes homes, child care settings, and other places that this child would likely be with or without a disability.  Because of this, for children birth to three, there may be professionals who can and would love to come to your child care setting to help you better help an eligible child.  This can include coaching you in things that you might do, providing some kind of assistive technology, helping you to modify the environment, and helping to develop accommodations for children so they can more fully and safely participate in activities.  Eligible children with disabilities and whose parents choose to access these services will likely have an Individual Family Service Plan (younger children under Part C) or an Individual Education Plan (older children under Part B).  These plans are developed in IFSP or IEP meetings.  The parent has the right to invite anyone they would like to attend.  Parents with children in these programs may never think to invite their child care provider.  You may want to offer to the parent to attend if you can.   If you do attend, let the team know that you would welcome someone to come to your child care to help in the ways mentioned above.  If someone is able to come, the amount of time they are there and how often will depend on the situation.  You may also want to ask the parent to sign a release with the agency, school, or provider, so that you can communicate with them about issue where they may be able to help you and the child.  Even if you are not able to attend the IFSP or IEP, ask for the communication and support mentioned above.  Some parents may prefer not to sign a release and want information to only go through them or in their presence.  In some situations, outside services and supports may also be available for older children. 


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Teaching Specific Skills to Everyone
Remember that part of the pyramid is teaching. There are a lot of fun ways to teach young children, here are a few.

Children with special needs, also need fun!

Your local library can be a great resource.  If your library does not have a particular book or music you are interested in, they can often get it through inter-library loan.


Remember you need to clearly teach children what you want them to do, the lessons often need to be repeated over and over again in fun and creative ways.  Teaching the same lesson through songs, books, example, consistency and roll plays, and then consistently reinforcing when they do what they need to do (or sometimes even when they approach doing what they need to do), can be very powerful.  Note: there are lots of ways to reinforce, most of the time just a “good job sharing Johnny” or a hug or a “thank you for …” (always with a big smile) are sufficient.

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For children in Idaho, as well as many if not most or even all states and many countries, there are substantial resources to help children with special needs succeed in an inclusive environment with typically developing peers.  This is almost always the best place for children to learn and develop when the appropriate resources and supports are provided.

Please review the following Inclusion Tip Sheet Index from ConnectABILITY

You don’t have to click on and read all the links but know they are there should you need the information.



INCLUSION: Including Children w/Physical, Social/Emotional, & Intellectual Disabilities in Childcare <title>Special Needs - Including Children with Special Needs in Child Care

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