As Early as Possible

Susan McKenney

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    Regardless of whether a child develops special needs over time or has them from birth, research clearly indicates that the sooner special needs are detected and tended to, the greater the impact of services. Thus, for both the quality of care to children, and the rate of return on investment, timely action is crucial. Success or failure in achieving timely action hinges on many factors, but three processes in particular are highly influential for enabling children’s needs to be addressed as early as possible: detection and assessment; intervention; and support. Early detection and assessment of children’s special needs is important for multiple reasons. First, the detection of special needs at a young age helps caregivers by describing and (sometimes) explaining characteristics about a child; this provides validation to caregivers who have been concerned, and can raise awareness in those who may have not noticed or understood a child’s special needs. Second, formal identification of special needs can open up pathways to services that may help the child directly (e.g. learning resources), indirectly (e.g. parental support) or both. Third, understanding a child’s abilities and needs can serve formative goals, such as shaping learning trajectories or setting priorities in therapies.Early intervention refers to rapidly responding to developing special needs of children at any age, but when attending to the special needs of very young children, the term Early Childhood Intervention (ECI) is often used. ECI is defined as ‘a composite of services/provisions for very young children and their families, provided at their request at a certain time in a child’s life, covering any action undertaken when a child needs special support to: a) ensure and enhance her/his personal development; b) strengthen the family’s own competences, and c) promote the social inclusion of the family and the child’ (European Agency, 2010, p.7). Key considerations related to providing early interventions include the: availability, quality and quantity of services across circumstances (e.g. urban/rural regions, high/low income). The presence or absence of support can powerfully influence if, how and when detection, assessment and intervention actions are taken. Here, support refers to the human and material resources provided to caregivers for the purposes of facilitating them in their role vis a vis the child. For example, parental support can take the form of information and exchange, with peers or professionals; or teacher support may include cooperation with professionals in or outside of the school. While support may be focused on a child’s immediate concerns (e.g. competencies to be developed this week or this year), support is also essential to anticipating and enabling appropriate and smooth transitions (e.g. into formal schooling, from one school to another, from schooling to employment). This presentation will address the three processes of detection and assessment; intervention; and support. After discussing barriers and enablers related to each of these processes, recommendations will be given for developing policies that enable us to address special needs as early as possible.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationInclusive Education in Europe: Putting theory into practice
    Subtitle of host publicationInternational Conference - 18 November 2013. Reflections from researchers
    PublisherEuropean Agency for Special Needs and Inclusive Education
    Number of pages14
    ISBN (Electronic)978-87-7110-492-9
    ISBN (Print)978-87-7110-493-6
    Publication statusPublished - 2014
    EventInclusive Education in Europe: Putting Theory into Practice: International Conference of the European Agency for Special Needs and Inclusive Education - Brussels, Belgium
    Duration: 18 Nov 201318 Nov 2013


    ConferenceInclusive Education in Europe: Putting Theory into Practice
    Internet address


    • special needs
    • early intervention


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    • Key Message: As Early as Possible

      Susan McKenney - Jensh (Keynote speaker)

      18 Nov 2013

      Activity: Talk or presentation typesConference contribution (without a publication)Academic


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