Strategies for Including Children with Special Needs
The key to successful inclusion is to create an atmosphere of acceptance. Children with special needs have the right to be cared for and educated with their peers. In compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) all child care programs must accept applications from all families, regardless of a child's needs. Programs must attempt to include any child unless it would be a hardship financially, or would require them to significantly change their program.
Here are some suggestions to make this experience successful for all involved.
- Remember that children with special needs are children first! Your experience working with children is the most valuable tool you bring to the situation.
- You do not have to be an expert or have a degree in special education to care for a child with special needs. You must be willing to learn about the specific needs of the child in your care. You must also be willing to consider changes to your program which would improve the child's experience.
- The best source of information is the child's parents. Frequent communication with them is extremely valuable. Ask about their child's specific needs, information they have gained through assessments or doctor visits, helpful books or research articles, and strategies and routines they use in the home.
- Designate a staff contact person for the family to make sure there is frequent communication between home and the child care provider.
- Encourage staff to attend workshops and take advantage of training opportunities.
- Work with the child's therapists.
- Make home visits to promote continuity between the school and home settings.
- Hire someone to consult with your program about the child's needs.
- Hire an extra staff person as a personal aide to the child.
Take advantage of the many organizations and sources of information related to special needs, education, and inclusion. You can find some of these resources on the 2-1-1 LI Database.
The Center for Children with Special Needs also has informative articles for both parents and child care providers.
Activities Related to Special Needs
- Include activities that are appropriate to the needs of all the children in your group.
- When choosing books, photographs, dolls, or other materials, make an effort to represent people of different ability levels. You could have a dollhouse in the dramatic play area that has a wheelchair ramp. Another idea is to hang a poster of the American Sign Language alphabet on a wall in the classroom.
- Adapted tools like paintbrushes, scissors, or utensils can be used by all of the children.
- Having visual symbols around the classroom and a visual representation of the daily schedule addresses many learning styles. This is good for all of the children.
- Lessons like "Similarities and Differences", "Likes and Dislikes", or "All About Me", can open up discussions about special needs. For example, make a chart about "What we are working on" and ask each child to contribute ideas. One child may be working on learning to tie her shoe and another child may be working on turning his wheelchair.
- Exploring the individuality and differences of the children in your care helps to create an atmosphere of acceptance.