Working with Children Who Have Special Needs

Working with children with special needs brings up a host of feelings, attitudes, and fears, all of which are normal. It is helpful to talk about these things, and to prepare yourself and your staff before a child with special needs enters your program.

Here are some key points to remember when working with children with special needs:

  • 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 and what adaptations are necessary to optimize the child's participation in your program.
  • 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.
  • Take advantage of the many organizations and sources of information related to specific special needs, education, and inclusion.

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.

  • Designate a staff contact person for the family to insure frequent communication between home and the care setting.
  • Encourage staff to attend workshops and take advantage of training opportunities.
  • Collaborate with the child's therapy providers.
  • Provide 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.

Curriculum Related to Special Needs

Include curriculum that relates 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. For example, have a dollhouse in the dramatic play area that has a wheelchair ramp, or include a visual representation of the American Sign Language alphabet on a wall in the classroom. Many curriculum aids, such as adapted 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, and benefits all of the children. Curriculum that includes such lessons as "Similarities and Differences", "Likes and Dislikes", or "All About Me", can be rich in providing discussion around 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.

Page last updated: Aug 26, 2013