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September 4, 2015 | 20th Elul 5775

Early Childhood Intervention

Dear Shana,

I have a new child in my early childhood class/program who I think would benefit from professional observation and potentially early intervention services. This is the family's first experience with a formal Jewish education program. I would like to suggest that they seek services and assist them in the process. Are there some suggestions you can offer me in guiding the family through this process?

First, it is important for the teacher to document the child's behaviors, as well as strengths and weaknesses. What are the concerns? What interventions and modifications have been tried in the classroom, and how have they worked? Next, compile a list of professionals who can be of service to the child. Such a list should be maintained as a resource for parents and teachers alike. (Often school districts maintain resource guides which can serve as a model). Determine who will pay for this professional. If the parents are going to need to bear the cost, can the school contribute a portion? If this is a day school setting, it is possible to get a professional from the local public school to come in to observe at no cost. Initiating this process and accessing services will differ by state, but most states have comprehensive early childhood services. Contact your State Board of Education of Regional Education Office for more information. If the school has a special needs consultant on staff, that person can do the initial observations and facilitate the process.

After these preparations have been made, call the parents in for a conference to discuss the matter. Present the information in a way that is non-threatening, making sure to include positive comments about the child. The administrator must also reiterate the schools commitment to meeting the needs of this child and enabling him/her to remain in the program. Often this type of meeting becomes adversarial because the parents feel threatened that their child will be excluded from the school. You want to set a tone of cooperation and trust. Let the parents know that you are a team, and that you will walk through this process together. Be prepared to back up words with action.

Once a professional observes the child, you will reconvene a meeting to develop a written intervention plan. The professional should make recommendations that can be easily implemented in the program. Provide additional training and support for the teachers. Schedule progress meetings every eight weeks to make sure that the interventions are effective and to make necessary adjustments.

If it is the consensus of the educational team that the child cannot remain in the program, you must carefully and respectfully counsel the family in this regard. Make sure that you present viable educational options and referrals for the family. Think about creative ways in which the child can remain a part of the program (shorter hours, attendance for special events) and connected to a Jewish educational experience.

With creativity and staff training, most children with special needs can be included in an early childhood setting. Patience, knowledge, and a good sense of humor will be your best tools. Never be afraid to ask for consultation if a problem seems insurmountable. Sometimes all it takes is a fresh perspective!

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