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BACK TO SCHOOL: Questions to ask preschools if your child has special needs

Weighing options and selecting the right preschool for your child can be a daunting task, especially if you have a child with special needs.

First Steps, Missouri’s early intervention program for families with children, birth to age 3, who have disabilities or developmental delays, suggests asking key questions when selecting a preschool. Some of those questions might include the following:

Where do I want my child to play and learn? 

Programs that are specifically geared toward special needs, whether physical or developmental, often are staffed with special education teachers, which might be beneficial. Some preschools are more play-based or experiential-based than academically rigorous; often, those programs best fit the early learning styles of children with cognitive processing issues. Many parents of children with disabilities list a sense of community and support as a top priority.

What does an ideal day look like for my child? 

A program that meets for only a few hours a day, a few days a week, might be enough for a child with physical challenges. Other children thrive in full-day programs that offer continuity and stability. You know your child best. See if you can “test drive” the program by having your child visit for a few days. Gauge their response. Tired and cranky at the end of the day? Maybe not the best choice. Engaged and happy at day’s end? You may have found a winner. Whether half-day or full, preschool schedules should include a mix of structured activities, playtime, stories and rest.

How does my child learn best? 

As your child’s first teacher, you’re the best person to identify your child’s learning strengths and weaknesses. However, as the Special Needs website explains, students with learning disabilities might have difficulty in one area and excel in another. Therefore, selecting a school with multi-sensory teaching methods may support your child more fully. For example, your child may do best when both visual and auditory cues are used, such as using magnetic letters and fruit to teach a concept such as “A is for apple.” Such opportunities create tactile experiences that can trigger learning on more than one level.

Is this a place I would be comfortable leaving my child? 

Preschool programs that include both children with and without special needs may be helpful in presenting peer models in the classroom. Ultimately, a great teacher can make all the difference. Seek out educators who encourage children to reach their full potential, exhibit kindness and acceptance, and express themselves.

What do you need from us? 

Knowledge is power; no one knows your child like you do. Your child will be more successful with ongoing dialogue between you as the parent and school administrators and classroom teachers. Get involved and ask the school how you can help your child grow. The more you empower the school staff, the more your child will be empowered to succeed.

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