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Clinical Forum


Perspectives From the Field of Early

Childhood Special Education
Joan N. Kaderavek
The University of Toledo, Toledo, OH

S peech-language pathologists (SLPs), general edu-

cation 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
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 in-
clusion of preschool-age children in community-based early child-
needs or disabilities. Despite professionals’ best efforts to read hood programs. The goal is to allow experts in the field of early
childhood special education to describe current issues, framing a per-
spective that helps SLPs understand the most relevant topics in the
ABSTRACT: Purpose: Positive academic outcomes for young field. Although many, if not most, of the concepts articulated in this
children with special education needs can best be facilitated forum will be familiar to SLPs, the perspective and emphasis of par-
when a combination of professionals including speech-language ticular concepts and practices vary. For example, Jackson, Pretti-
pathologists (SLPs), general education teachers, occupational and Frontczak, Harjusola-Webb, Grisham-Brown, and Romani discuss
physical therapists, and early childhood special educators (ECSEs) in their article how ECSEs tend to focus on classroom context, class-
work together. However, it can be challenging to read across room routines, and group goals in contrast to highlighting child-as-
disciplines to maintain expertise within the domain of early individual goals. This may be a novel perspective for many SLPs.
childhood education because each profession has specialized The field of early childhood special education has evolved over
intradisciplinary terminology. This clinical forum provides an the past 25 years to address the unique needs and challenges that are
up-to-date summary of the field of early childhood special facing young children from birth to age 8 and their families. The
education, with articles from experts from related professions field of early childhood special education recognizes that young
describing current issues and trends in the field. children with disabilities face challenges that set them apart from
Method: This prologue introduces the concepts of universal typically developing young children as well as older individuals
design, differentiated instruction, and embedded learning oppor- with disabilities; the field blends knowledge and information from
tunities. The prologue also outlines the roles, responsibilities, and the fields of early childhood education and development and special
accountability of professionals who work in early childhood education. ECSEs work with a variety of professionals, including
special education. SLPs, OTs, and PTs. ECSEs also strongly value partnerships with
Conclusion: SLPs can work toward strategic alliances with ECSEs parents and family members.
when they understand the field from the perspective of related An overarching topic of interest to most facilitators of early
professions in early childhood special education. childhood special education is the provision of high-quality services
in inclusive settings such as community-based preschool and kin-
KEY WORDS: early childhood special education, universal design, dergarten programs. Many factors affect the degree to which in-
differentiated instruction, embedded learning opportunities clusive early childhood education is successful for young children,
both those with and without disabilities. These factors include the

LANGUAGE, SPEECH, AND HEARING SERVICES IN SCHOOLS • Vol. 40 • 403–405 • October 2009 * American Speech-Language-Hearing Association 403
quality of the early childhood setting (including aspects of the embedded learning opportunities (ELOs). Naturalistic child-focused
physical environment), roles and responsibilities of personnel who interventions include those interventions that (a) capitalize on
work with young children with disabilities, efficacy of child-focused children’s interests and motivations, (b) include the systematic
interventions that are designed to address individualized education provision of support from an adult or more accomplished peer, and
program (IEP) goals, and approaches to assess children and monitor (c) provide natural or logical consequences that serve as incentives
progress. This forum on early childhood special education high- to increase the desired behavior (McWilliams, Wolery, & Odom,
lights some of the most critical issues facing ECSEs and other 2001). ECSEs recommend that ELOs be delivered within the context
professionals who work with young children with special education of everyday routines or learning opportunities, such as mealtime,
needs in inclusive settings. play, and other typical preschool activities. The use of ELOs in early
As mandated by federal law, young children with disabilities childhood special education and the role of ELOs for individualized
are required to have access to the general education curriculum. instruction are highlighted by Horn and Banerjee as well as by
In addition, inclusion is a principle that is highly valued in the Dinnebeil, Pretti-Frontczak, and McInerney.
early childhood and special education communities (Division for
Early Childhood, 1996). Currently, approximately one third of all Roles, Responsibilities, and Accountability
young children with IEPs receive specialized instruction in general
of Personnel Supporting Inclusion
early childhood programs, such as child care centers, preschools, and
Head Start classrooms (Individuals With Disabilities Education By virtue of their IEPs, young children with disabilities are
Act Data, 2007). Given the value that the field places on inclusion entitled to specialized instruction and services that enable them
and the numbers of young children receiving specialized services to access the general curriculum. Depending on a child’s special
in community-based settings, it is critical to articulate aspects of needs, a variety of personnel might provide these services, includ-
early childhood special education. ing SLPs, ECSEs, and other related services providers. For chil-
dren who receive services in general education classrooms, such as
Universal Design for Learning typical preschool or kindergarten classrooms, the general education
teacher is an important part of the team because this individual
and High-Quality Environments
spends the most time with the child. Understanding the roles and
Universal design is a concept that has its roots in architecture responsibilities of all team members is essential to supporting in-
and product design. The concept of universal design reflects the clusion. In this forum, Dinnebeil et al. present a discussion regard-
importance of designing environments that are flexible and versatile ing the role of the itinerant ECSE. The issues facing itinerant ECSEs
in order to meet the needs of individuals with a wide range of will be familiar to SLPs, who also are challenged to provide ser-
abilities and characteristics, as opposed to modifying environments vices within the classroom context. Dinnebeil and her colleagues
once individuals have difficulty accessing them. The classic exam- also highlight the need for ECSEs to use adult learning principles to
ple of universal design is the curb cuts that are standard in side- serve as a “coach” to the general education teacher. The roles of
walk construction. Not only are curb cuts essential for individuals ECSEs and SLPs in decision making and assessment are presented
who use wheelchairs, but individuals without mobility problems in the article by Case-Smith and Holland.
also benefit from the elimination of the physical barrier. In this Also in this forum, Hebbeler and Rooney discuss issues related
forum, Horn and Banerjee discuss universal design and demonstrate to accountability and the development of performance goals and
how designing early childhood environments to accommodate the indicators for children with special needs. They highlight how
needs of children with disabilities proactively ensures that early functional goals and assessments contribute to state outcome doc-
childhood classroom environments are developmentally and in- umentation. The authors also provide information regarding federal
dividually appropriate for all children. reporting categories. This information underscores the need for
SLPs who work in inclusive settings to use naturalistic methods
Differentiated Instruction to gather information about the child’s everyday functioning and
to be cognizant of the role of ongoing progress monitoring as it
The concept of differentiated instruction is, in many ways, related pertains to state outcomes.
to that of universal design because it emphasizes the importance
of helping learners access the curriculum in meaningful ways. Final Comments
Differentiated instructional practices, as interpreted by ECSEs,
reflect the ability to think about learning and teaching broadly and This forum represents the voices of experts from the fields of
the creation of a range of learning opportunities that are relevant for occupational therapy, early childhood curriculum and environ-
all children in the class. Not only must a range of learning oppor- mental design, early childhood special education, itinerant early
tunities be available, but teachers must also incorporate assessment childhood special education provision, and early childhood special
strategies that are flexible enough to allow children to demonstrate education policy. Together, these articles allow SLPs to consider
what they have learned in meaningful ways. Issues related to dif- early childhood special education from a slightly different perspec-
ferentiated instruction are discussed in this forum by Horn and tive. I believe that a more encompassing perspective helps SLPs
Banerjee, Case-Smith and Holland, and Jackson et al. provide better interventions to young children.
One of the important steps to “scaling up” (i.e., taking evidence-
Embedded Learning Opportunities based practices into real-life settings) is ensuring that all stake-
holders understand and value the same innovations and outcomes.
Within the field of early childhood special education, there is Scaling up is both a technical and a social endeavor (Dunst, Trivette,
an emphasis on instruction that is embedded within the context of Masiello, & McInerney, 2006). General education teachers, ECSEs,

404 LANGUAGE, SPEECH, AND HEARING SERVICES IN SCHOOLS • Vol. 40 • 403–405 • October 2009
and other early childhood professionals are important stakeholders Horn, E., & Banerjee, R. (2009). Understanding curriculum modifications
in the implementation of high-quality early childhood interventions. and embedded learning opportunities in the context of supporting all
SLPs are more likely to build strategic alliances that facilitate the children’s success. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools,
40, 406–415.
adoption of early childhood evidence-based practices when we
understand the field from the perspective of teachers and ECSEs. Individuals With Disabilities Education Act Data. (2007). Retrieved
February 22, 2008, from
Jackson, S., Pretti-Frontczak, K., Harjusola-Webb, S., Grisham-Brown,
J., & Romani, J. M. (2009). Response to intervention: Implications
REFERENCES for early childhood professionals. Language, Speech, and Hearing
Services in Schools, 40, 424–434.
Case-Smith, J., & Holland, T. (2009). Making decisions about service McWilliams, R. A., Wolery, M., & Odom, S. L. (2001). Instructional
delivery in early childhood programs. Language, Speech, and Hearing perspectives in inclusive preschool classrooms. In M. J. Guralnick (Ed.),
Services in Schools, 40, 416–423. Early childhood inclusion: Focus on change ( pp. 503–530). Baltimore:
Dinnebeil, L., Pretti-Frontczak, K., & McInerney, W. (2009). A consul- Brookes.
tative itinerant approach to service delivery: Considerations for the early
childhood community. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in
Received February 28, 2008
Schools, 40, 435–445.
Accepted July 17, 2008
Division for Early Childhood. (1996). DEC’s position statement on inclu- DOI: 10.1044/0161-1461(2008/08-0019)
sion. Retrieved February 22, 2008, from
positionpapers/PositionStatement _Inclusion.pdf.
Contact author: Joan N. Kaderavek, Mail Stop 954, University of
Dunst, C. J., Trivette, C. M., Masiello, T., & McInerney, M. (2006). Toledo, Toledo, OH 43606. E-mail:
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.

Kaderavek: Prologue 405