Early years educators know the importance and the significant benefits to students with developmental delays, and although early intervention should actually happen during infancy itself, in this article we will focus on the intervention that primary schools - and the wider community - could provide during the critical early years in education.
Through early identification, educators, therapists and parents can collaborate to create intervention plans that focus on the specific strengths and challenges of the student which would ultimately lead to better educational outcomes and improved quality of life.
Students are most often initially identified either by the paediatrician or by teachers through classroom observations. After this, they are referred to psychologists and a multidisciplinary team that uses various methods including standardized tests to systematically assess the student in a comprehensive manner which then leads to a formal diagnosis. Once there is a diagnosis the team together with all stakeholders works on a plan that aims to promote a nurturing environment that would maximize the learning outcomes by addressing the functional limitations of the child and support the families through the critical early years.
An early diagnosis can allow students to receive specialized education and personalized learning plans that challenge and stimulate them intellectually. An individual learning plan should include reevaluating educational goals, and must be aligned with the national inclusive education agenda as well as UN Sustainable Development Goals ensuring that students have equitable access to intervention services provided by the schools. It is important at this juncture to emphasize the importance of a family centered plan which includes all members of the child’s educational and social environment.
So far we have been focussed on early intervention for students with disabilities but it is important to note that an early assessment and intervention strategy for identifying gifted and talented (G&T) students is just as important. In my personal experience as an educator, I have seen the disastrous outcomes when G&T learners are not identified in the early years and are forced to fit in with their peers. In many cases it leads to not just the fact that the students were unable to reach their full potential but in many cases it actually led to behavioural issues due to students being disengaged or frustrated in an inhibiting program.
Like with students with learning difficulties, G&T learners need a comprehensive assessment leading to a systematic learning plan which could include accelerated classes, advanced coursework or individualized projects that allow the student to explore their unique interests and abilities while also ensuring that they are appropriately challenged. Opportunities for enrichment and creative exploration need to be also created. Through a targeted approach, G&T students can reach their full potential rather than being held back by a one-size-fits-all curriculum. A healthy dose of social interaction is often an additional pre-requisite.
It is critical that parents, educators, and policymakers recognize the importance of early intervention for children with intellectual disabilities as well as gifted and talented students. By providing support and educational opportunities early on, all children must have the best chance of reaching their full potential and goals in life.
Last but not the least, all such early intervention programmes should be governed by the principles of UDL - Universal Design for Learning. Such strategies are instructional methods and tools used by teachers to ensure that ALL students have an equal opportunity to learn. These UDL frameworks improve and optimize teaching and learning for all people based on scientific insights into how humans learn.
We also need further onshore research that identifies how to maximise the reach and cost-effectiveness of early childhood interventions for children with developmental disabilities - or exceptional abilities. Evaluation of how these interventions can be embedded within health & insurance systems are needed to strengthen the service delivery strategies, especially in a country like UAE which has a highly responsive - and responsible - government. This will positively impact future generations of students in a meaningful, sustainable and timely manner.
The 5 governing principles around a successful early intervention programme can be summarised as follows:
1. Provision of specific curricula
2. Highly supportive teaching environment
3. Involvement - and engagement - with families
4. Adhering to UDL principles to ensure Learning for All
5. Strategies to support generalisation of acquired skills through government driven service strategies
It is the responsibility of parents, educators, and policymakers to provide support and resources to all students from the earliest possible age. By doing so, we can help children unlock their full potential and achieve their dreams.
Let us all work together to ensure that all students receive the necessary intervention and support what they deserve!
Author : Dr Ayesha Saeed Husaini
Dr. Husaini – Founder Director is one of the rare Directors in the region with a Ph.D. in Special Education, from the University of Sheffield, UK. Her thesis on ‘Inclusion in the UAE' gives her a unique grounding on the needs of UAE society and how best to include individuals with disabilities. She also has a Doctor of Letters Honorary Degree from the University of Sheffield, UK. Her Psychology Honours Thesis in the disability arena ranked First in Delhi University, and she also got a University Ranking in her Master's Degree in Social Work.