Come explore this major!
An early childhood special educator is part teacher, part social worker, and part consultant– a professional who works with both young children with special needs and their families. Early childhood special educators may work in several different settings, including public school classrooms, center-based programs, clinical environments, or in home-based programs.
Is Early Childhood Special Education right for you?
If you enjoy working with young children and are intrigued by the challenges of designing learning environments, working with families, and developing good working relations with other professionals, you should explore the opportunities in early childhood special education.
Young children with special needs or those at-risk for disability require many types of assistance. Some young children may need help learning how to play or how to develop language, while others may need assistance acquiring self-help skills. Since early acquisition of skills is critical to later development, your role as a special educator will have profound effects on the well-being of children later in their lives.
Your program will integrate course work with field experiences, providing a solid foundation in education methods, assessment of special needs, program planning, strategies for adapting toys and other materials for young children, and skills in working with families and other professionals.
In your initial courses, you will observe and participate in programs for young children with special needs. A professional semester occurs in your second or third year, during which you will spend time each week working in an early childhood education program. During your senior year, you will complete an internship or teaching assignment in the field.
Our majors benefit from observing and working in several UMF model programs for young children including the Parent-Child Play Group, the UMF Preschool Program and the Sweatt-Winter Community Child Care Center and Pre-K Program.
The Assistive Technology (AT) Collection in the Kalikow Curriculum Materials Center is a resource offered free to students, faculty, individuals with disabilities, their families, and professionals in the community. The AT Collection provides information on how to use and evaluate various devices. Here, visitors may view AT equipment and sign out materials.
Let’s take a look at what early childhood special educators do!
A typical day in…
- An inclusive community-based program: Samantha arrives at school early this morning to meet with the other staff in the four-year-old classroom. As the program’s early childhood special education head teacher, she works with others in the program to provide guidance and ideas for including children with special needs within all the classroom activities. Today’s meeting is to discuss a communication board for a child with Down syndrome and provide suggestions about how to use the board during snack time.
To view part of an essay about her future career that Samantha wrote as a first year student at UMF, click on the photo.
- An early intervention program: Mike is an early interventionist who works with infants and toddlers and their families. Mike makes home visits to the families on his caseload and often joins them in typical activities. Here’s a picture from the family orchard.
Once a week he facilitates a playgroup where children and parents come to interact with other families from the community. During both the playgroups and home visits, he supports the parents as they work to enhance their children’s development. For example, during a recent playgroup Mike facilitated parent-child interactions, commenting on parents’ effectiveness in working with their children and how much the children enjoyed playing with their parents. He also provided developmental information to parents about what their children were learning through the parent-child interactions that he observed. In addition, he offered some suggestions for a family who was concerned about toilet training.
- An agency: After graduation, Ruth went immediately into her field of study as a teacher in an inclusive classroom in a private school. She later became a program administrator and used her knowledge of education to lead the school in the selection of developmentally appropriate curriculum as well as training teachers in best practice. Today, Ruth works at a regional educational agency that provides services for children with special needs birth to five and their families. As part of a team of professionals, she makes home visits and works with preschool children who are enrolled in different community programs. She also is pursuing her master’s degree in Educational Leadership. She credits her continued passion in education to her foundation at UMF that promoted many opportunities for hands-on experience in a number of settings.
- Holly works as a case manager at an agency for children’ services. When a child is referred to the agency, Holly gathers information and makes arrangements for a team meeting with the family and other professionals. One of the meetings she is currently arranging will focus on a child who was just identified as having autism. Holly will participate with the family and other members of the team as they discuss the results of the child’s assessment, determine services, and plan an appropriate program for the child. Later, she will provide follow-up contact with the child and family to ensure that they are receiving the services identified by the team.