Some kinds of special needs are not identified during infancy. Learning disabilities, some kinds of hearing and vision impairments, and some behavioral problems may not show up until the later preschool or early elementary years.
The term parent-infant educator can refer to a professional who works with typically developing babies and their parents, or someone who works with babies with special needs and their parents.
Parents as Teachers is a nationwide program that provides in-home instruction for families with typically developing babies and preschoolers. A trained professional explains the developmental milestones for the children in the family based on their ages, and will demonstrate developmentally appropriate activities for parents to do with their young children. Families can also participate in parent group meetings and screenings to monitor their child's overall development.
Early intervention is the term used to describe therapy and education services for children with special needs in the birth-to-age-three range.
School districts offer free preschool screenings in cooperation with their special education services. Preschoolers (age three to five) are tested on motor skills, speech and language, vision, and hearing. If there appears to be a significant delay, the child is referred for further testing.
If hearing or vision is the area of concern, the child is first seen by a doctor to determine if there is a treatable medical condition. (For example, a child with a hearing loss due to fluid in the ear from an ear infection may have normal hearing once the infection is treated.) Testing may also be completed by an audiologist or school psychologist.
Early Childhood Education
Prior to age three, a child with a special need might receive services from appropriate therapists based on her Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP). This plan is developed by the family and a team of developmental specialists. When the child turns three, an Individualized Education Program (IEP) may be written by the parents and a team of school personnel. An IEP outlines goals, accommodations, and modifications to meet the child's unique educational needs. The IEP replaces the child's Individualized Family Service Plan.
In some cases, a child's special need might be discovered as he attends a traditional preschool program. He may even be a part of a universal preschool program, a program to boost the academic and social skills of children from the lower and middle class.
Kindergarten Screenings and Beyond
Some school districts offer a kindergarten screening in addition to preschool screenings. During a kindergarten screening, the child may be evaluated for gross and fine motor skills as well as cognitive development as they pertain to kindergarten readiness.
A child with any type of special need is best served through early services. In many cases getting help early on is all he needs in order to participate in a typical education program.
Determining that there is a special need is an important first step, but it is just the first. Once you verify that there is a special need, you face the question: Now what? You will have the challenge and privilege of introducing your baby to the world. As his parent, you are his best advocate and first teacher.
You will also have lots to do on the home-front for your baby, your family, and yourself. Develop a plan of action that includes five basic parts: therapies, education, networking, day-to-day business, and personal care. The following chapters of this book will help you get started.