Special Needs and Early Intervention

All children are special and unique. They need individualized attention and recognition and appreciation for who they are – from their parents, relatives, and others involved in their lives. 

A girl on monkey bars.At the same time, some children have special conditions which require both additional expert care and often some accommodations in order to enable them to participate in normative young child activities.

Responding to these special needs – whether physical, social and emotional, cognitive, or environmental – is essential to both their development and inclusion and to building early learning systems where all children can grow and develop.

This includes early identification of and response to learning disabilities, to mental health conditions, environmental factors (including abuse and neglect) which can lead to toxic stress, and to physical health conditions. The difficulties that children whose special needs are not addressed or who are separated from normative activities because of their special needs often compound the original need.

Addressing young children’s special needs requires coordination and alignment across all systems serving those children. This includes:

  • accommodations for children with physical and cognitive disabilities so they are not excluded from other early childhood settings and activities
  • responses within child welfare to ensure that children retain ties and connections with caring adults in nurturing environments
  • early identification and response to developmental disabilities and delays within Part C and Part B of IDEA and other service systems
  • early detection and treatment of mental health concerns and issues, often involving significant support to parents and other families members in the process

In addition to involving professionals with expertise on the specific needs who provide relevant treatment services, successful strategies entail:

  • Engaging families and equipping them with supports they need to respond to their children (often including parent advocacy networks and respite services).
  • Providing additional training and support to early childhood workers to know how to identify and refer children (including specific training and certification).
  • Providing additional consultation assistance to those early workers to help them align their work with that of those providing treatment.