Transitioning children with developmental disabilities from a home environment into a classroom environment can be stressful for both children and parents. Many young children with special needs and their parents have not been separated for extended periods of time, so they may not know how to handle the separation positively. Some separation anxiety is normal, but learning how to cope and realize that separation is a normal part of life will help both parent and child adjust.
United Services’ Early Intervention program was designed for children ages 2 to 3 who are enrolled in First Steps and are ready for a classroom environment. Parents are able to see their child be successful at school and Early Intervention makes the transition to school district services much easier.
United Services Provides Needed Services to St. Charles County
Founded in 1975, United Services is a non-profit organization based in St. Charles County, Missouri. United Services is nationally accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children, and provides developmental learning and pediatric therapy to children with special needs. To date, United Services serves approximately 1,000 children annually.
Once a child reaches 2 or 3 years old, they are ready to enter a more diverse environment outside of the home, namely classrooms. This stage of development is where United Services’ Early Intervention program supplements the First Steps program. First Steps helps children with developmental disabilities from birth to the age of 3 reach important developmental skills such as:
With United Services’ knowledge and expertise in working with children with disabilities, families are provided with the appropriate support that would not be available in other community settings. Families of children with developmental disabilities can come together, share experiences, and have the sense of a united community.
Early Intervention Selects Compatible Classrooms for Each Child
Selecting a compatible classroom for children with disabilities is very important. Adapting to a new environment away from the comfort of the home and parents can be challenging. An appropriate classroom environment for a child with developmental disabilities has:
- Reasonable class size
- Predictable daily schedule
- Opportunities to participate
To determine the most appropriate classroom environment for each individual child, the family is referred to the program, and a social worker conducts a home visit to meet the family. Once the most appropriate classroom is selected based off the child’s needs, they will attend school two days a week while still keeping their First Steps therapy visits.
Early Intervention Supplements First Steps
At this stage of development, many of the children in First Steps qualify for services through the school district, and Early Intervention allows First Steps children to experience a classroom environment for the first time. Early Intervention is designed to take what a child is learning at home and in therapy and apply it to a classroom setting.
The program allows for children with disabilities to take advantage of learning how to adapt to new situations and learn new skills like socializing and cooperating with others. By continuing with their First Steps therapy, special needs children can successfully navigate through new environments by applying what they have learned in both programs.
A Diverse Staff Provides Classroom Support
In each classroom, there is a special education teacher and a minimum of two teacher assistants. There is also a speech therapist and an occupational therapist to complete and support each classroom team. All are supervised by a social worker.
The reason so many staff members are present for each classroom is because like many children their age, children with disabilities often have difficulties adapting to new environments and situations. Staff at United Services is there to help the child adapt and fully participate in the classroom. They can also help educate the teacher and other students about having a child with special needs in the classroom.
Successful Classroom Adaptation
One such child was a little boy named Alex* who entered his new school’s early intervention group at the age of 26 months. At home, he spent most of his day watching television and his family struggled to get him to follow directions without incentive. Often, they would just give in to his demands just to get him to stop crying.
When Alex first arrived at the early intervention group, his high levels of anxiety initially caused him to cry and crawl under a table. Through Early Intervention?s support in the classroom environment Alex was able to work through his anxiety. 6 months after he arrived, he had successfully transitioned into a larger classroom environment and began playing and interacting with his peers. Since then, his language skills have also increased, and he is now able to follow directions without needing incentive.
DDRB Supports Local Programs
The Early Intervention Program by United Services is funded with help from the United Way and the Developmental Disabilities Resource Board (DDRB). Without the help of programs like DDRB, United Services would not be able to make this program available to the children and families of the St. Charles County area.
*Names have been changed to protect the privacy of participants.