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Should My Child Attend a Special Needs Pre-School?

Should My Child Attend a Special Needs Pre-School?

Enrolling children in pre - schools is a contentious issue for most parents. Not only do we feel guilt at having to enroll them when they are little, but also as we want what is best for our children in order to prepare them for the big wide world that is formal education.

For families of children with special needs, this is an even bigger and more challenging decision. These parents are dealing with the trauma of diagnosis as well as the emotional and logistical chaos that is therapy, life and family. Many parents are desperate when they too are forced to consider what will happen to their child in the future. Will they attend school? Will they be able to learn? Will they make friends? Will they be able get a job one day? These questions are asked by all parents, but parents of children with special needs have even more on their plates emotionally, logistically and financially which make the decision of school placement even more challenging.

Many mainstream pre - schools are accommodating of children with special needs and will go out of their way to help these children settle and develop in these environments. I applaud these schools because it takes a lot of time and patience to integrate and adapt curriculum for these children. So why should my child attend a special needs pre - school if they can start out their educational journey in a “normal” school environment? The answer to this is simple - because your child has SPECIAL NEEDS.

Mainstream pre - schools are geared for children who can learn in a group, can socialise and communicate appropriately, and who can physically interact and play on a level equal to that of their peers. While staff at mainstream pre - schools have the passion, the drive and the love required for children with special needs, they most often lack the knowledge and skills required to accommodate these special needs within their class structures.

Special needs pre - schools are geared to enhance and develop those areas in which each child is underdeveloped and to adjust the way they teach to the way the child learns. These pre - schools are also able to identify and target specific deficit that are required before “mainstream” pre - academic and academic skills can be introduced.

I have seen many children with special needs, placed and accepted in a mainstream preschool only to be repeatedly held back with younger and younger children as they do not have the skills required to progress to the next class. By repeating the same activities year after year with the same results, I feel we are doing these children a disservice by not preparing them adequately for formal schooling by “filing in the developmental gaps caused by their diagnosis. Many parents feel that their children need to be exposed to “normal” children in order to learn from them and so that they do not feel marginalize. However, when a child is not able to adapt or learn the way and at the rate of their peers, that is when low self esteem, negative behaviour patterns and bullying raise their ugly heads. This furthers the gap socially and emotionally between special needs kids and their peers.

A special needs pre - school should be a smaller and more nurturing environment where children can learn at their individual pace with adequate opportunity and materials for them to develop to their full potential. The preschool years are also the years where consolidation and learning of fundamentals skills (physically, intellectually, and cognitively) are most sensitive to development and manipulation. To have specialised education in early childhood should result in better development in all areas. Thereafter, these children may be more ready to enter mainstream formal education with the confidence and skills to succeed.

What questions should I ask to determine if a special needs pre - school is the right place for my child?


How are assessments carried out and what criteria do you use to measure their skills?

How will the teacher manage a classroom of children who are all different?

What are the teacher’s qualifications? What is the staff : child ratio per class?

Do you have an Individual Education Plan (IEP) for each child and how are these devised and implemented in a group setting?

How often are IEPs reviewed?

Are parents and therapists involved in IEP planning?

Do the teachers work with the therapists treating my child and are they willing to implement therapists’ suggestions into the classroom?

Will my child be developed in such a way to encourage “mainstream” formal education?

How do you determine if my child is ready for mainstream teaching?

If you as a parent, want to give your child the requisite early interventions provided by, speech therapy, occupational therapy, physiotherapy etc, should you not consider early educational intervention as well?


By Kate More, Speech, Language Pathologist