Over the summer, I attended a pediatric congress through The Medical City on the factors that affect learning. The most striking tidbit for me came from a developmental pediatrician. She said that she was seeing more and more preschool-age children exhibiting delays in the development of language and social skills, indicating the possibility of autism.
When I was in graduate school in Boston University in the late ’80s, I was assigned to write a paper on three rare syndromes, one of which was autism. Either the condition wasn’t as rare as people first believed, or something else, other than pollution and preservatives, was causing developmental delays associated with the autistic spectrum. Studies are now looking into the possible effects of electronics.
As one of the administrators of a school for young children, I have met a few young families whose two- or three-year-old has been diagnosed with “communication disorder” or “speech delay,” and autism could “not be ruled out.” We accepted one special case per class, on the condition that we got to coordinate with the other professionals the child was working with.
We shared information between us - therapists, teachers, parents - as well as strategies for achieving goals. The goals set by therapists and parents were integrated into those of the class program.
Techniques, including specific language used, were used in school. There have also been one or two cases wherein a child was diagnosed while enrolled with us. In both cases, the students usually stayed with us and made significant gains in their areas of difficulty - articulation, language, impulse control - and autism was eventually out.
They have gone on to attend elementary schools in the area. The most important factor in their progress was the cooperation and support of all the adults involved in the child’s development.
There is such a wide range of abilities and skills in the preschool years. This is true among children of the same age, and even with one child. You may have noticed that your friend’s two-year-old daughter feeds herself, while yours still waits for yaya to make her subo. Or perhaps you know a child who has trouble articulating words with the letters “s” or “r,” but whose contributions to the conversation are profound and fact-filled.
As a school, we have the task of working to improve a child in his/her areas of difficulty, as well as to refine and channel his/her strengths. On top of that, we seek to develop a “whole” child with programs that provide a balanced mix of socio-emotional, physical, aesthetic and academic experiences.
Our Toddler Class teachers know very well that having students sit all together in a confined space, discussing concepts such as body parts, family members and their roles, or how to be a good friend, and waiting for their turn to speak can be a challenge.
A typical two-year-old can sit still for Circle Time for maybe three minutes, so they make sure to deliver the meat of a discussion in that time. To keep the kids engaged, they start singing action songs or play a game. Usually the song or game has something to do with the concept being taught, and is, therefore, a means to drive the point home in a playful and memorable way.
By that point, the teachers would have kept the students at Circle Time for five to eight minutes. They have participated, listened and waited for their turn. In fact, they will ask for that same activity over and over again, and they remember the concepts.
Shorter attention spans
That’s because two-year-olds have special learning needs, as do other preschool children (ages 2 to 5). Accommodations have to be made for shorter attention spans, language limitations, developing motor skills, emotional issues and interests.
Because our efforts at accommodating special cases seemed to have been successful, we have developed a support services program of our own. We advocate a policy of early intervention for early remediation, and have developed the Early Childhood Intervention Program (Ecip) at our school. It is designed to facilitate the learning process of children with mild special learning needs or developmental delays, with the goal of eventually transitioning into a regular classroom.
We offer a self-contained class of three to eight students, age three to five years old. This is headed by a special education teacher who plans and implements the program. We are also building up a network of professionals who will provide occupational therapy, speech and language therapy, reading support and writing support.
The program will include the regular curriculum of a preschool class, but will work harder on developing the skills needed to be successful in a regular classroom: self-help, independence, attention, perseverance, etc. Special focus on a specific area early in a child’s school life can make a significant difference.
The opportunity to practice skills in an accepting and supportive school setting will boost a child’s self-esteem, foster a positive attitude toward learning, and lead to success in school.
As preschool teachers, we have always believed that all children can learn; it’s up to the teacher to find a way that makes learning possible. Inquirer.net
The author is co-directress at LEAP School for Young Children. She graduated from the University of the Philippines Diliman with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology and went on to obtain a Master’s in Education specializing in Special Education for Young Children with Disabilities from Boston University. She taught at International School Manila for 10 years and Beacon School for four years.