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P-3 Early Intervention (0-3)
 
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For a number of reasons, some infants, toddlers and preschool-age children may need access to special education services before they enter kindergarten. They may have an identified disability or developmental delay, or they may be at risk for a developmental delay. Any aspect of a child's physical, mental or emotional development that may interfere with his or her ability to benefit fully from regular education services can qualify a child for special education. Prevention and early intervention are key to helping children develop to their full potential.

Prevention
Lead poisoning, malnutrition and prenatal exposure to drugs and alcohol are known causes of developmental delays in young children. Eliminating these and other environmental hazards through increased public awareness and improved prenatal care can reduce the occurrence and severity of many disabilities, such as fetal alcohol syndrome, mental retardation, and social and behavioral problems.

Other disabilities that cannot be prevented can be identified at birth. When these conditions, including certain metabolic disorders and hearing loss, are detected and treated early, their effects can be mitigated and a child's social, emotional and educational outcomes can be improved greatly.

No matter the disability, early detection and appropriate intervention are essential to improving outcomes for children.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 1997 is the federal special education law. States must meet the requirements of IDEA to receive federal funding for special education.

IDEA includes major provisions to ensure young children in need of special education have access to appropriate services from birth to school entry. States may apply for preschool grants to provide school-based special education programs for 3- to 5-year-olds. IDEA also provides grants to states to offer early identification and early intervention services for infants and toddlers. These grants may be combined with other federal (e.g., Title I, Medicaid), state (e.g., general education, special education), local (e.g., mill levies) or individual (e.g., private insurance) funding streams to meet the special education needs of young children.

IDEA is being considered for reauthorization in 2003.

Quality, Access and Affordability
IDEA requires states to provide qualifying children over 3 years of age a "free and appropriate public education" in the "least restrictive environment." This means that, to the maximum extent possible, children with special needs must be educated with children who do not have disabilities. Additionally, research shows that integrating children with special education needs into general education classrooms benefits children both with and without disabilities. Despite this research and the IDEA requirement, a 2000 U.S. Department of Education report states that for the 1998-99 school year, only 36% of 3- to 5-year-olds receiving special education services were served in an early childhood setting with children without disabilities.

Even when children with special needs do have access to appropriate public early care and education programs, these programs seldom provide full-day services or before- and after-school care. Many children with special needs lack access to appropriate, high-quality child care. In a 1995 U.S. General Accounting Office study, six of the seven states surveyed indicated a shortage of child care to meet the needs of children requiring special education services (Children's Defense Fund, 2001). The cost of adaptive equipment and extra staff support, and the shortage of specially trained teachers, makes it difficult for private early care and education providers to serve young children with special needs appropriately.

Family Support
Families of children with disabilities often are involved in a complicated system of specialists, including medical professionals, social service agencies, education institutions and a variety of therapists. Policymakers can help support these families and improve outcomes for children by developing and strengthening coordinated services and building links between the many programs that support young children with special needs (Division for Early Childhood of the Council for Exceptional Children, 2000).

To promote success for children with disabilities, it is important to support special education services for children before they enter the public school system as a kindergartner. Children with disabilities who are identified early and receive appropriate early intervention services and family support have a greater chance of meeting their social and educational potential than children who do not receive services until they enter school.

Resources:

Children's Defense Fund (2001, July 2). Child Care Advocacy Newsletter.

Division for Early Childhood (DEC) of the Council for Exceptional Children.(2000). DEC Recommended Practices in Early Intervention/Early Childhood Special Education. Denver, CO: DEC.

National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. (2002). From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

 

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