From federal initiatives to child development research, learn why the demand is growing for early childhood special education teachers.

Convincing facts about the need for more higher quality early childhood education programs began emerging from different research studies before President Barack Obama took the lead and shined a national spotlight on the problem in 2013. Disturbing statistics from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)* revealed that the U.S. ranks 28th out of 38 countries regarding its share of 4-year-olds enrolled in early childhood education programs. Further, just 3 in 10 4-year-olds are enrolled in high-quality programs that prepare them with the skills they need for kindergarten.

Presidential Initiative

It began with President Barack Obama’s 2013 State of the Union address when he challenged Congress to expand access to high-quality preschools for every child in America. The following year, the challenge, known as the Preschool for All Initiative, was extended to elected officials, business leaders, philanthropists, and the public. The initiative gained momentum when more federal funding was allocated to reforming and expanding Head Start programs. States also competed for early childhood federal grants in the Race to the Top—Early Learning Challenge. Since then, the demand for early childhood educators continued to grow and with it, the need for early childhood special education professionals and researchers.

Child Development Research

Decades of research shows that the young brain develops rapidly and is shaped by early experiences and interactions. These research-based findings directly inform the techniques and methods early childhood educators utilize to assess, intervene, and teach developmentally delayed preschoolers. Numerous studies indicate that early intervention is extremely important for children’s developmental progress in many areas.

Specifically, the latest data from the Duke Center for Child and Family Policy revealed that high-quality early childhood education initiatives like North Carolina’s Smart Start and More at Four programs “significantly reduced the likelihood of special education placement in the third grade—by 39%—resulting in considerable cost savings to the state.”‡ Early childhood special education professionals are in a position to implement the latest evidence-based research findings and improve their effectiveness teaching preschoolers with special needs.

Optimization of Developmental Growth

There is a strong emphasis on implementing evidence-based practices in order to optimize the developmental growth of all preschool children, including those with special education needs and others with behavioral, emotional, and cultural learning needs. To be considered an evidence-based practice, an intervention strategy must have yielded consistent positive results when experimentally tested.§§

Graduates of early childhood education degree programs like a PhD in Education with a specialization in Early Childhood Special Education gain scholarly research experience by designing, implementing, and assessing the findings of an original research project related to early childhood special education. With this intensive training, doctoral students can apply research-based strategies on the job to improve data, decision-making, support, and services for children with exceptionalities.

Early Intervention Improves Outcomes

Early intervention with high-quality services can change a child’s developmental trajectory and result in later success in school, work, and the community. When children who have developmental disabilities—or are at risk for them—receive early intervention, they show positive changes in health, language and communication, cognitive development, and social and emotional development.** All childcare providers and early childhood educators need to be aware of developmental delays so that each child and family can receive the support they need as early as possible.

Quality Inclusive Early Childhood Programs

Quality preschool programs that include early childhood special education (ECSE) services for children who have certain developmental disabilities are necessary to help all children be prepared and ready for kindergarten. These federally mandated services include early childhood intervention programs designed to assess children with special needs and lessen the factors that place children at risk of poor outcomes when they go to school. ECSE services also provide support for parents, children, and the family as a whole.

For these key reasons, it is an exciting time for early childhood special educators who can play an important role in society as positive change-makers and advocates for young children in preschool settings with special education needs.

Explore Walden University's accredited online early childhood education degree programs for graduates and undergraduates. Get the help you need to continue your education and advance your career goals. Earn your degree in a convenient online format that fits your busy life.


*Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Country Note, Education at a Glance 2013, United States, on the Internet at www.oecd.org/edu/United%20States%20_EAG2013%20Country%20Note.pdf.

†Obama Whitehouse Archives, Fact Sheet President Obama’s Plan for Early Education for all Americans, on the internet at https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/the-press-office/2013/02/13/fact-sheet-president-obama-s-plan-early-education-all-americans

‡Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Special Education Teachers, on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/special-education-teachers.htm.

§D. Schaffhauser, Early Childhood Programs Reduce Need for Special Ed, The Journal, on the Internet at www.thejournal.com/articles/2015/02/09/early-childhood-programs-reduce-need-for-special-ed.aspx.

**T. Marder and D. Fraser, Evidence-Based Practice for Special Educators Teaching Students With Autism, Johns Hopkins School of Education Special Education Journal, on the Internet at www.education.jhu.edu/PD/newhorizons/Journals/specialedjournal/MarderandFraser.

††The National Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center, The Importance of Early Intervention for Infants and Toddlers With Disabilities and Their Families, on the Internet at www.nectac.org/~pdfs/pubs/importanceofearlyintervention.pdf.

Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission, www.hlcommission.org.

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