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Clinical Forum Prologue

Clinical Forum Prologue

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Clinical Forum Prologue

Perspectives From the Field of Early Childhood Special Education
Joan N. Kaderavek
The University of Toledo, Toledo, OH

peech-language pathologists (SLPs), general education teachers, occupational therapists (OTs), physical therapists (PTs), and early childhood special educators (ECSEs) work together to influence academic outcomes for young children who are at risk or who have special needs or disabilities. Despite professionals’ best efforts to read


ABSTRACT: Purpose: Positive academic outcomes for young children with special education needs can best be facilitated when a combination of professionals including speech-language pathologists (SLPs), general education teachers, occupational and physical therapists, and early childhood special educators (ECSEs) work together. However, it can be challenging to read across disciplines to maintain expertise within the domain of early childhood education because each profession has specialized intradisciplinary terminology. This clinical forum provides an up-to-date summary of the field of early childhood special education, with articles from experts from related professions describing current issues and trends in the field. Method: This prologue introduces the concepts of universal design, differentiated instruction, and embedded learning opportunities. The prologue also outlines the roles, responsibilities, and accountability of professionals who work in early childhood special education. Conclusion: SLPs can work toward strategic alliances with ECSEs when they understand the field from the perspective of related professions in early childhood special education. KEY WORDS: early childhood special education, universal design, differentiated instruction, embedded learning opportunities

broadly across related disciplines, each profession has unique intradisciplinary dialogue, terminology, and current “hot button” issues. This clinical forum provides an up-to-date summary of the field of early childhood special education, with a particular focus on inclusion of preschool-age children in community-based early childhood programs. The goal is to allow experts in the field of early childhood special education to describe current issues, framing a perspective that helps SLPs understand the most relevant topics in the field. Although many, if not most, of the concepts articulated in this forum will be familiar to SLPs, the perspective and emphasis of particular concepts and practices vary. For example, Jackson, PrettiFrontczak, Harjusola-Webb, Grisham-Brown, and Romani discuss in their article how ECSEs tend to focus on classroom context, classroom routines, and group goals in contrast to highlighting child-asindividual goals. This may be a novel perspective for many SLPs. The field of early childhood special education has evolved over the past 25 years to address the unique needs and challenges that are facing young children from birth to age 8 and their families. The field of early childhood special education recognizes that young children with disabilities face challenges that set them apart from typically developing young children as well as older individuals with disabilities; the field blends knowledge and information from the fields of early childhood education and development and special education. ECSEs work with a variety of professionals, including SLPs, OTs, and PTs. ECSEs also strongly value partnerships with parents and family members. An overarching topic of interest to most facilitators of early childhood special education is the provision of high-quality services in inclusive settings such as community-based preschool and kindergarten programs. Many factors affect the degree to which inclusive early childhood education is successful for young children, both those with and without disabilities. These factors include the





SCHOOLS • Vol. 40 • 403–405 • October 2009 * American Speech-Language-Hearing Association


quality of the early childhood setting (including aspects of the physical environment), roles and responsibilities of personnel who work with young children with disabilities, efficacy of child-focused interventions that are designed to address individualized education program (IEP) goals, and approaches to assess children and monitor progress. This forum on early childhood special education highlights some of the most critical issues facing ECSEs and other professionals who work with young children with special education needs in inclusive settings. As mandated by federal law, young children with disabilities are required to have access to the general education curriculum. In addition, inclusion is a principle that is highly valued in the early childhood and special education communities (Division for Early Childhood, 1996). Currently, approximately one third of all young children with IEPs receive specialized instruction in general early childhood programs, such as child care centers, preschools, and Head Start classrooms (Individuals With Disabilities Education Act Data, 2007). Given the value that the field places on inclusion and the numbers of young children receiving specialized services in community-based settings, it is critical to articulate aspects of early childhood special education.

embedded learning opportunities (ELOs). Naturalistic child-focused interventions include those interventions that (a) capitalize on children’s interests and motivations, (b) include the systematic provision of support from an adult or more accomplished peer, and (c) provide natural or logical consequences that serve as incentives to increase the desired behavior (McWilliams, Wolery, & Odom, 2001). ECSEs recommend that ELOs be delivered within the context of everyday routines or learning opportunities, such as mealtime, play, and other typical preschool activities. The use of ELOs in early childhood special education and the role of ELOs for individualized instruction are highlighted by Horn and Banerjee as well as by Dinnebeil, Pretti-Frontczak, and McInerney.

Roles, Responsibilities, and Accountability of Personnel Supporting Inclusion
By virtue of their IEPs, young children with disabilities are entitled to specialized instruction and services that enable them to access the general curriculum. Depending on a child’s special needs, a variety of personnel might provide these services, including SLPs, ECSEs, and other related services providers. For children who receive services in general education classrooms, such as typical preschool or kindergarten classrooms, the general education teacher is an important part of the team because this individual spends the most time with the child. Understanding the roles and responsibilities of all team members is essential to supporting inclusion. In this forum, Dinnebeil et al. present a discussion regarding the role of the itinerant ECSE. The issues facing itinerant ECSEs will be familiar to SLPs, who also are challenged to provide services within the classroom context. Dinnebeil and her colleagues also highlight the need for ECSEs to use adult learning principles to serve as a “coach” to the general education teacher. The roles of ECSEs and SLPs in decision making and assessment are presented in the article by Case-Smith and Holland. Also in this forum, Hebbeler and Rooney discuss issues related to accountability and the development of performance goals and indicators for children with special needs. They highlight how functional goals and assessments contribute to state outcome documentation. The authors also provide information regarding federal reporting categories. This information underscores the need for SLPs who work in inclusive settings to use naturalistic methods to gather information about the child’s everyday functioning and to be cognizant of the role of ongoing progress monitoring as it pertains to state outcomes.

Universal Design for Learning and High-Quality Environments
Universal design is a concept that has its roots in architecture and product design. The concept of universal design reflects the importance of designing environments that are flexible and versatile in order to meet the needs of individuals with a wide range of abilities and characteristics, as opposed to modifying environments once individuals have difficulty accessing them. The classic example of universal design is the curb cuts that are standard in sidewalk construction. Not only are curb cuts essential for individuals who use wheelchairs, but individuals without mobility problems also benefit from the elimination of the physical barrier. In this forum, Horn and Banerjee discuss universal design and demonstrate how designing early childhood environments to accommodate the needs of children with disabilities proactively ensures that early childhood classroom environments are developmentally and individually appropriate for all children.

Differentiated Instruction
The concept of differentiated instruction is, in many ways, related to that of universal design because it emphasizes the importance of helping learners access the curriculum in meaningful ways. Differentiated instructional practices, as interpreted by ECSEs, reflect the ability to think about learning and teaching broadly and the creation of a range of learning opportunities that are relevant for all children in the class. Not only must a range of learning opportunities be available, but teachers must also incorporate assessment strategies that are flexible enough to allow children to demonstrate what they have learned in meaningful ways. Issues related to differentiated instruction are discussed in this forum by Horn and Banerjee, Case-Smith and Holland, and Jackson et al.

Final Comments
This forum represents the voices of experts from the fields of occupational therapy, early childhood curriculum and environmental design, early childhood special education, itinerant early childhood special education provision, and early childhood special education policy. Together, these articles allow SLPs to consider early childhood special education from a slightly different perspective. I believe that a more encompassing perspective helps SLPs provide better interventions to young children. One of the important steps to “scaling up” (i.e., taking evidencebased practices into real-life settings) is ensuring that all stakeholders understand and value the same innovations and outcomes. Scaling up is both a technical and a social endeavor (Dunst, Trivette, Masiello, & McInerney, 2006). General education teachers, ECSEs,

Embedded Learning Opportunities
Within the field of early childhood special education, there is an emphasis on instruction that is embedded within the context of






SCHOOLS • Vol. 40 • 403–405 • October 2009

and other early childhood professionals are important stakeholders in the implementation of high-quality early childhood interventions. SLPs are more likely to build strategic alliances that facilitate the adoption of early childhood evidence-based practices when we understand the field from the perspective of teachers and ECSEs.

Horn, E., & Banerjee, R. (2009). Understanding curriculum modifications and embedded learning opportunities in the context of supporting all children’s success. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 40, 406–415. Individuals With Disabilities Education Act Data. (2007). Retrieved February 22, 2008, from http://www.ideadata.org/TAMaterial.asp. Jackson, S., Pretti-Frontczak, K., Harjusola-Webb, S., Grisham-Brown, J., & Romani, J. M. (2009). Response to intervention: Implications for early childhood professionals. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 40, 424–434. McWilliams, R. A., Wolery, M., & Odom, S. L. (2001). Instructional perspectives in inclusive preschool classrooms. In M. J. Guralnick (Ed.), Early childhood inclusion: Focus on change ( pp. 503–530). Baltimore: Brookes.

Case-Smith, J., & Holland, T. (2009). Making decisions about service delivery in early childhood programs. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 40, 416–423. Dinnebeil, L., Pretti-Frontczak, K., & McInerney, W. (2009). A consultative itinerant approach to service delivery: Considerations for the early childhood community. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 40, 435–445. Division for Early Childhood. (1996). DEC’s position statement on inclusion. Retrieved February 22, 2008, from http://www.dec-sped.org/pdf/ positionpapers/PositionStatement _Inclusion.pdf. Dunst, C. J., Trivette, C. M., Masiello, T., & McInerney, M. (2006). Scaling up early childhood intervention literacy learning practices. Center for Early Literacy Learning (CELL) Papers, 1(2), 1–10. Hebbeler, K., & Rooney, R. (2009). Accountability for services for young children with disabilities and the assessment of meaningful outcomes: The role of the speech-language pathologist. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 40, 446–456.

Received February 28, 2008 Accepted July 17, 2008 DOI: 10.1044/0161-1461(2008/08-0019)
Contact author: Joan N. Kaderavek, Mail Stop 954, University of Toledo, Toledo, OH 43606. E-mail: Joan.Kaderavek@utoledo.edu.

Kaderavek: Prologue


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