700 Children's® – A Blog by Pediatric Experts

Learning About Special Needs Preschools

Jan 17, 2023
special needs preschool

Early intervention describes supports that are available to babies and young children who have disabilities or developmental delays. Early intervention can include services like physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy. It’s important because it gives young children the chance to learn the skills they need to be ready for school and life. Every state offers early intervention programs. Once a child reaches age 3, they may be able to go to a special needs preschool.

What Is a Special Needs Preschool?

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a law that makes free public education available to children with disabilities. Special needs preschool is another type of early intervention program. These schools are designed for children who are 3 to 5 years old and have a delay in areas such as:

  • Communication (How children talk or understand others)
  • Motor (How children move)
  • Social-emotional/behavioral functioning (How children express and manage emotions)
  • Cognitive (How children think)
  • Adaptive behavior (How children act or function)
  • Hearing (How children hear)
  • Vision (How children see)

How Do I Know if My Child Should Go to Special Needs Preschool?

Children must be screened by a professional through their school district before they are able to enter a special needs preschool program. If you are worried about your child’s development, you can ask to be connected with your state’s early intervention program. Early intervention program information is specific to your county of residence. If your child is 3 to 5 years old, you can ask their school district for a Multidisciplinary Evaluation. They can help you determine if your child needs services or to attend a special needs preschool. Your child does not need an official medical diagnosis to be evaluated by their school. Your child’s school has 60 calendar days to respond after you give them consent to evaluate your child.

What Happens in Special Needs Preschool?

Preschool programs are often the first time children are around teachers and other children. They learn skills like sharing, following directions and getting along with other children. Children have lots of opportunities to learn, play and grow. Special needs preschool offers all of this, as well as specialized therapy, behavior support or other services children may need. Specialized therapy may include speech, occupational, or physical therapy. The staff are special education teachers and aides. Some special needs preschool programs also include peer models. These are children who are considered “typical” in their development. They help model behavior and language for the children who may have delays.

How Do I Learn More About Special Needs Preschools?

If you think your child might have a delay or disability, it’s important to talk with your doctor or your school district. They can help you connect with a local program or provider who can evaluate your child. If you are interested in special needs preschool, your child will need to be tested by a specialist from their school district who can help decide what would benefit your child. All children learn and develop at their own rate. Special needs preschools help to provide a strong foundation for young learners.

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Hannah Barton, PhD is a part of the physician team of Pediatric Psychology at Nationwide Children's Hospital.

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Pediatric News You Can Use From America’s Largest Pediatric Hospital and Research Center

700 Children’s® features the most current pediatric health care information and research from our pediatric experts – physicians and specialists who have seen it all. Many of them are parents and bring a special understanding to what our patients and families experience. If you have a child – or care for a child – 700 Children’s was created especially for you.