Early Childhood Reflections for Autism Awareness Month

Notes from the President: 


Education experts have long known that high quality early childhood education helps children meet their developmental milestones and prepares them to enter kindergarten ready to learn. This is true for typically developing children and their peers with autism spectrum diagnoses as well.

That’s why all classrooms in Easter Seals’ child development centers are inclusive: children with autism spectrum diagnoses, other disabilities or special needs, and their typically developing peers all learn and grow together. Our highly skilled teachers deliver lessons with a person-centered approach so that each child learns and grows in her or his own way while getting the social, emotional, and academic skills necessary to succeed in school and life.

Many special needs, such as autism, are diagnosed through observation. Therefore, having highly skilled teachers is an advantage for all children because their special need may not be apparent at birth. Even things that are screened, such as hearing, can be missed.  For example, a teacher of one of our 10-month old children noticed that the child did not respond when she sang or clapped. With testing, the pediatrician determined that the child was deaf, and he now has cochlear implants and is thriving.

The teachers and therapists in our DC, Maryland and Virginia child development centers have extensive experience working with families and early intervention teams to develop and implement education plans for children on the autism spectrum. Over our years of teaching and caring for children, we have found that in order to develop best practices that address each child, practitioners need to adapt interventions to the unique needs of the individual. To facilitate that, teachers work in partnership with parents and other professionals to create enabling environments that encourage a developmental approach to learning.

For example, one of our students, Thiago, has been using a high-tech communication device called an Accent 1000 in the classroom. His classroom teachers have worked with the rest of his family and early intervention team to integrate the device into their relationship with Thiago and to reinforce everything he’s learned about using it to communicate.

One important feature of our approach is to make sure our centers are inclusive learning environments for students with and without special needs. Our goal is to provide stimulating educational experiences that promote each child’s social, emotional, physical and cognitive growth and to help each child reach his or her full potential. We have found that children learn as much from one another as they do from the adults around them so inclusive classes mean children with autism can see their peers model behavior and language.

Overall, inclusion is the process of educating a child in a way that recognizes and assesses that child’s needs. To achieve this, we create an environment where staff is willing and able to be flexible in terms of how the curriculum is delivered and to adapt the routines and physical environment within which the child is being educated.

For more information about our inclusive early childhood program for children with autism and other disabilities or special needs, as well as typically developing children, visit our website.

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