Due to the numerous unknowns that await a child with special needs, the criteria for some (certainly not all) early intervention services are more lenient than those for older children. This is (I assume) primarily because it is impossible to tell how these children will develop in the following years. Some will “catch up” to their same-age peer group, while others will fall further behind.
An example of this, is the Early Childhood Development Programme (ECDP) run in Queensland, Australia, for children with special needs. The ECDP is attached to a special school, and provides playgroup, kindergarten, and prep services for children with special needs. The ECDP is a free service, and is offered for children with any special needs – from things such as developmental delays, physical disabilities, autism spectrum disorder, to profound impairments.
Whilst this is a brilliant service, and I can’t speak highly enough of the ECDP my son attends, there does seem to be one problem – which has recently been brought to light… The playgroup is fantastic for the children, and often having children with a range of disabilities is a good thing – there is no comparison of abilities, and the other parents can relate to you, as they usually have a “general” understanding of some of what you have been through.
Recently a problem arose due to the fact that there is a range of abilities and special needs in the class, ranging from some that appear reasonably mild to some that are more obvious and a little more difficult to control. A fellow mum, and someone I consider a good friend, began to feel that because of the behaviours displayed by her son (who has autism), that he was “worse” than others in the group. This has been very upsetting for her, as she always found it a very welcome environment in the past. These feelings then grew to worry and stress that when her son was older he would be too much for the school staff to handle, and that he would be the worst in the school, etc.
Now, the reason that the ECDP, and other early intervention groups with loose entry criteria contributes to this problem is that when the children move up into the school, they are re-assessed, and must meet a very strict criteria – in actual fact, the majority of the children in the ECDP playgroup won’t be classed as having severe enough disabilities to attend the special school. So the playgroup is not in any way a representative sample of the school environment. Many of the children in the playgroup will receive so much benefit from the ECDP that they will be able to attend mainstream school. The children who attend the special school will generally be, for lack of a better word, “worse”, than the majority of the children in the playgroup.
In special needs circles, use of the words “better” and “worse” are not well received, and is highly offensive to tell someone “it’s okay, the kids at the school are much worse than this, your son won’t be as bad as the worst we have”.
Everyone wants to do what is best for their child, regardless of whether or not they have extra needs. More early intervention services are needed, but maybe one of the biggest ones that has been overlooked is the need for parent (counselling) services. Parents can do much more for their children if they are looked after too…