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Special Education & Communication Disorders

College of Education & Human Sciences

Role of Early Childhood Special Education Teacher

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Early Childhood Special Educator

In Nebraska, there are two teaching credentials that reflect academic preparation for work exclusively with young children, birth to age 5 who have disabilities / developmental delays. These are: 1) Inclusive Early Childhood Special Education (birth to grade 3) and 2)Early Childhood Special Education (birth through Kindergarten). Both these educational preparation programs are available at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The former is an initial teaching certificate program at the undergraduate level. The latter is available at the graduate level as part of either a Graduate Certificate Program (add-on endorsement), a Masters degree (initial Teacher certificate or add-on endorsement.)

Early childhood special educators should possess a common core of knowledge and skills with the early childhood educator as well as specialized knowledge and skills regarding young children birth through age 5 with special needs and their families. This content includes child development and learning, curriculum development and implementation, family and community relationships, assessment and evaluation, and professionalism with appropriate field experiences through which to apply this content. The early childhood special educator may work directly with children with special needs who are in this age range or work in a collaborative relationship with early childhood educators, family members and other professionals serving young children with special learning and developmental needs and their families.

The early childhood special educator may provide services in both public and private schools, child care centers, homes, hospitals, and other facilities which serve young children with disabilities and their families.  They may act as a teacher providing direct instruction with children or often as consultant/coach to families, child care providers, preschool teachers and other members of a child’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) team.

With the shift in service delivery toward family-centered services and inclusion, the early childhood special educator is being required to shift roles from that of primarily providing direct services as a classroom teacher to indirect service delivery as a consultant or coach. When direct services are provided by the early childhood special educator, they are likely to be delivered within an inclusion model as a team member (e.g., team teaching) or as a lead teacher, serving children both with and without special needs.  Indirect service delivery roles continue to require the early childhood special educator to possess knowledge and skills in the roles identified by Bailey (1989) and Bricker (1989) to serve effectively as a consultant, collaborator, parent educator, program administrator, and staff development specialist for family members, other professionals, and paraprofessionals.

In states like Nebraska and Iowa, that have adopted unified licensure requirements, the early childhood special educator should be a key team member who will typically assume more indirect service delivery roles such as consulting/collaborating with early childhood educators and related services professionals to ensure appropriate services for young children with special needs and their families in inclusive settings.