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By Crystal Williams, Ed.M.

Early intervention/early childhood special education (EI/ECSE) is a specialized profession in the early childhood education (ECE) field, which now has its own set of professional standards. The Division for Early Childhood of the Council of Exceptional Children, the leading professional organization in EI/ECSE, spearheaded efforts to develop the EI/ECSE standards.  These standards were developed to address the preparation of special educators working with children from birth through age 8, something which was lacking in the field. The standards align with existing special educator K-12 standards to promote a continuum of special education services.

The EI/ECSE standards encourage high-quality special educator preparation, leading to high-quality services, and in turn, better outcomes for children and families. While the standards themselves are designed for use in institutions of higher education to prepare EI/ECSE professionals entering the field, it is crucial that these standards also are utilized in professional development activities as well as individual professional practices. In this blog series, we discuss each standard, suggest questions for reflection, and provide tips and resources that professionals can use to ensure their practices align with the EI/ECSE standards.

Standard 1: Child Development and Early Learning

Professionals who work with children who have varying needs may become accustomed to atypical development. It is important to remember the many factors that can influence child development so we can provide the needed for individual children and their families.

Components Reflective Questions
1.1 Understand theory and philosophies of early learning and development
  • What theories of child development do you know?
  • How do they impact your practices/decisions related to assessment, curriculum, intervention, and instruction?
1.2 Apply knowledge of normative development, individual differences, and families’ diversity to support children
  • What resources do you use and/or share with families about typical child development?
  • What is an example of how diversity plays a role in child development and learning?
  • How do you individualize services based on the diverse families you serve?
1.3 Apply knowledge of biological and environmental factors that support or constrain child learning and development
  • What biological factors influence child development? Environmental?
  • What resources exist in your community that support families’ basic needs?
1.4 Understand characteristics, etiologies, and individual differences across varying abilities
  • Which disabilities are you most comfortable supporting in your work? Least?
  • What steps do you take when you suspect a child may have an undiagnosed disability?

Resources to enhance your knowledge related to Standard 1:

Tips for improving your practices related to Standard 1:

  • Seek out continuing education related to atypical and typical development.
  • When planning interventions and assessments for children, consider a variety of contextual factors (e.g., environmental, sociocultural, linguistic, economic) that may influence the child’s support needs and behaviors.
  • Utilize and refer families to local resources that support children with delays and disabilities and/or families as needed.
  • Join a learning community (e.g., Echo Autism), advocacy group (e.g., National Down Syndrome Society), or volunteer with a disability organization (e.g., Young Athletes Special Olympics) to gain experience and knowledge about disabilities outside your area(s) of expertise.

Children with intense needs may reach some developmental milestones slower than their peers. Therefore, professionals working with this population may consider the following strategies.

Tips for Supporting Development of Children with Intensive Needs

  • When discussing milestones with families and other team members, focus on what comes next (i.e., the developmental sequence), rather than specific ages that children typically reach skills.
  • When sharing assessment results, highlight what the child does well rather than focusing on deficit areas.
  • Create obtainable, short-terms goals for children and share progress with the whole team.
  • Brainstorm multiple opportunities throughout the child’s day (across settings) that they can work toward their goals and share these ideas with all members of the team.