Be Child Care Aware: Know How To Care For Children With Special Needs

Cheri M. Gioe, Martin, Leah R., Merrill, Thomas A., Riche', Cassandra  |  4/19/2005 10:28:36 PM

News You Can Use For August 2004

Most child-care providers are likely to care for a child with special needs at some point, so it’s important to know how to recognize and meet those needs, says LSU AgCenter child-care associate Cheri Gioe.

"Some children will have special needs that already have been detected, and some will have undetected special needs," Gioe says, adding, "Objective observations in combination with screening tests can be used to detect developmental problems."

To avoid singling out children in the child-care environment, the LSU AgCenter expert says to be sure to record observations and to administer screening tests to all children involved in your child-care program. She also says caregivers must collaborate with parents and specialists to provide children with the best care and education,

"There are many different types of specials needs," Gioe explains. "Children with special needs may have a physical handicap, a learning disability or may even be gifted.

"To attend to all the different needs of all children, it is necessary to individualize."

Individualizing means providing all the tools each child needs to succeed, Gioe explains.

"The first step is to provide a safe physical environment for all children in your care," the LSU AgCenter expert says. "Be especially mindful of children with physical handicaps. You may need to have ramps instead of stairs or widen areas between tables and shelves for children with wheelchairs or crutches."

The next step, Gioe says, is to adapt activities so that all children can participate.

"This could mean making materials more accessible or adding materials to make the activity more challenging," she explains.

The final step is to interact with each child.

"You may ask questions that will extend the child’s thinking, or you may provide extra help for the struggling child," Gioe says, stressing, "Accept each child at his or her level, and guide each child to the next level when appropriate."

The LSU AgCenter expert says simple changes in the environment can be made by thinking through the day step-by-step.

"Arrange the environment so every child can be as independent as possible," Gioe says. "For example, if a child uses only her left hand, make sure the toilet paper is accessible on the left side."

To adapt your activities, Gioe stresses that you must know the children for whom you care.

"Some children are not able to sit for more than 5 or 10 minutes. Allow these children to stand or squeeze a toy while in group time," she advises, adding, "Most young children learn when they are physically active, so look for activities that involve movement."

Providing activities with a wide range of levels, such as three-piece puzzles and 10-piece puzzles, will allow children to challenge themselves as well as succeed at their level, according to Gioe, who also says to "Change the rules of a game when necessary."

The expert says that young children usually are very accepting of other children with special needs, but she points out that there are ways to prevent problems that might occur.

"Children will have questions about children with special needs," she explains, adding, "When those questions come up, allow the child with special needs a chance to answer questions about himself or herself."

On the other hand, if that child does not want to answer the questions, she says caregivers should answer them with direct, simple and factual responses.

"You also can read stories and view films with the children about children with special needs," Gioe says. "Discuss differences and similarities with the children. Show children how everyone is different. Discuss how children can help people with special needs. And invite people with special needs to talk to the class and spend time with the children."

The expert says it also is important to think about what each child can do instead of what a child cannot do. "Focus on every child’s strengths," she says.

Among Gioe’s other tips is to allow a child who is hyperactive to help a child in a wheelchair clean up or tie his or her shoes.

And she says to consult a specialist if you are not sure how to handle a troubling behavior.

"Always remember that you are a role model," Gioe stresses. "Caregivers and parents must teach kindness, inclusiveness and appreciation for differences through their words and actions."

The LSU AgCenter’s "Be Child Care Aware!" educational program is designed to educate parents and child-care providers about quality child care. It is funded, in part, through a contract with the Louisiana Department of Social Services’ Office of Family Support.


Contacts: Cheri Gioe, Leah R. Martin or Casie M. Riche’ at (225) 578-6701 or
Editor: Tom Merrill at (225) 578-2263 or

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