Everyone knows, or should know by now, that little people go about growing up in their own unique way, at their own unique pace, which means it can be tough to know sometimes, for parents, grandparents, how well a child is growing and developing in the areas of physical, intellectual/cognitive, and social/emotional development. These categories are generally accepted to encompass the areas of growth most likely to have impacts on a child's future, either good or not so good depending on how the adults around the child respond to his needs. It can be particularly challenging for parents and families of 'first' children to notice any challenges their child may be experiencing, as they may not have a lot of experience around children at all until their own child arrives.
Early Childhood Educators, who are trained to recognize and support children at all levels and stages of growth and development, have a wide perspective and may have cared for hundreds of children between 0-5 in their careers! Maybe even more! This experience often enables trained educators to spot 'atypical' developmental moments in their young charges in their earliest years of childcare, which can be a real benefit to families and children.
First off though, I'd like to clarify.... 'Typical' versus 'Atypical'.... Typically developing children are those who are following a fairly predictable timeline in all the major areas of growth, and who experience similar challenges that most children of a similar age are facing. That said, keep in mind that there is a wide range of 'normal' or 'typical' development.
Children who are developing 'atypically' in one or more areas of growth may have challenges that are obvious, like congenital conditions that result in physical limitations for instance. Sometimes though, non-typical development is harder to spot until a child is a bit older, like in the preschool years. That is when supported childcare becomes important!
Supported Childcare is what happens in classrooms when a particular child is getting specialized, personal support each time they come to school to help them have the best experience in preschool they can have. In the early years, support at preschool can make a huge difference to how well a child continues their school career, and how well their families do at supporting them as well. Research supports this claim as well, that the earlier we can get support and intervention in place for a preschooler, the less likely the child may be to need so many supports through public school. Some reports even suggest that support in preschool can lead to better outcomes at graduation time!
The tricky bit can be actually getting the supported childcare in place, because in our area it is a multi-part process. The family has to either self-refer for assessment, or follow the suggestion of a public health nurse or childcare provider for assessment. The assessment is done by a public health nurse or specialized practitioner and then there is a further process to determine how much support can be provided and paid for for the child and family. After that, the family has to find a center that can support their child, AND the center has to find a staff person who has the qualities and capacity to work directly with that child, and also to fit with the rest of the center staff.
For families, Supported Childcare staff in preschool settings can be a huge resource. The time spent with children can provide a lot of information for families and schools about the child's strengths and challenges, ways of working with the child, skills being developed etc. A support team in preschool can also help pave the way for any needed support in the later years of school, even though the two support systems are not well linked. If you are the parent of a child whose teacher asks you to consider referring your child for an assessment, please do so. Early Childhood Educators have devoted their working life to ensure young children are getting the best start we can offer them, and ensuring a good start to school is one of the tools in our toolkit we can share with families.
Since 1986, I have been working with, and on behalf of young children. As an ECE and a Mom, I have gained some insights and made some mistakes that I am happy to share with others, in hopes that some of what I have learned will be of use to others. Corinne