top of page

Special Program


Child care providers often work with children who have identified special needs. Working with children who have special needs can be very rewarding if you understand the child and his special need and make appropriate accommodations to support his learning and development. The following articles will help child care providers support children with special needs in a group child care setting.

As a child care provider, it's important to remember that children with special needs are children first. They have the same needs as all children -- a place where they feel physically comfortable, loved and secure; opportunities to play and learn; people who care about them; and activities that allow them to be successful. Children with special needs often are not so different from typically-developing children. They may need more time to learn and practice certain skills. They may need more praise and encouragement to gain the skills typical for their age group. They may need specific adaptations to help them succeed at certain activities. But it's important to remember that in many, many ways these children have lots in common with other children. Many child care professionals and child advocates emphasize this point by using "children first" language, referring to "a child with special needs" rather than "a special needs child."

In the field of early childhood education, inclusion describes the practice of including children with disabilities in a child care setting with typically developing children of similar ages, with specialized instruction and support when needed. Federal law says that children with disabilities have a protected right to be educated in the least restrictive environment. For many children with special needs, being able to enjoy the experiences and relationships in a child care program isn’t out of reach.

Research has shown that inclusion, when done well, can be a very positive experience for both young children with special needs and their typically developing peers. Child care providers can play an important role in making inclusive child care successful.

Benefits of Inclusive Child Care

Inclusive child care can be beneficial, both for the child with a special need and for the other children in the inclusion classroom. Some of the benefits of inclusive child care for children with special needs include:

  • Chances to learn by observing and interacting with other children of similar ages.

  • Time and support to build relationships with other children.

  • Chances to practice social skills in real-world situations.

  • Exposure to a wider variety of challenging activities.

  • Opportunities to learn at their own pace in a supportive environment.

  • Chances to build relationships with caring adults other than parents.

Typically developing children can also benefit from interacting with a child with a special need in their child care program. Benefits of inclusive child care for typically developing children include:

  • Increased appreciation and acceptance of individual differences.

  • Increased empathy for others.

  • Preparation for adult life in an inclusive society.

  • Opportunities to master activities by practicing and teaching others.

The Role of the Teacher

Children learn as much, and sometimes more, from the unintended example that adults set as they do from the learning activities that are planned. The same is certainly true when a child with disabilities is enrolled in the classroom. Children will form their knowledge, beliefs, and attitudes about individuals with disabilities based largely on the attitudes, words, and actions that they see from the adults around them. When providers and teachers are purposeful about what they are modeling for children, they can be more confident that they are having a positive impact.

Providers/teachers make inclusion a positive experience for everyone by:

  • Creating an environment, both physical and emotional, where everyone is invited to participate as much as they want to and everyone is treated with respect and kindness.

  • Answering children’s questions with simple, straightforward honesty and encouraging open dialogue about disabilities (and abilities) among children (and parents).

  • Helping children feel comfortable with each other and develop friendships based on their shared interests.

  • Facilitating interactions and play between children who are differently abled, especially if the child with special needs has difficulty communicating in a way that another child can understand.

  • Creating a sense of community in the classroom, where every person is valued as a unique individual who has something to contribute and where everyone is responsible for caring for one other.

  • Giving children the freedom to explore their ideas about disabilities through play and conversation, while guiding them to be aware and respectful of the feelings and perspective of the child with special needs.

Teachers in an inclusive classroom have a wonderful opportunity to help shape children’s attitudes and behavior toward people with disabilities. Studies have shown that children who have had repeated experiences with children with disabilities develop attitudes of acceptance and understanding that usually aren’t there in children who haven’t had that exposure. Shaping children’s attitudes while they are young is a tremendous responsibility and privilege that can have long-lasting effects.

bottom of page