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Early Learning & AEM

Photo of an infant

Early learning programs are designed to enhance learning opportunities and development for children with visual, physical disabilities, or developmental disabilities and who are at risk of developmental delays and disabilities. To optimize the potential of these children, their learning opportunities in the home and in the community and school environments need to be based on a strong foundation of appropriate developmental practices.  

In the early years, children who have rich exposure to language and literature build important pre-reading skills that impact their achievement throughout their formal schooling and beyond.  For children with sensory, physical and development disabilities, families and early educators are often unsure of how to provide substantially equal opportunities for these children to develop pre-literacy skills, especially when learning materials used by most young children and families are not likely to be useful to these children. The availability and use of accessible, flexible materials specifically geared for infants and toddlers will be important to the development of language and pre-literacy skills.

Part of everyday experience for young children is constant exposure to text. Road signs, food labels, books, magazines and commercial advertising all capture children’s attention and build a strong foundation for learning to recognize and discriminate letters, numbers and words. For example, children with severe visual impairments can have comparable experiences and derive similar benefits when caregivers thoughtfully place braille labels on items of clothing, furniture and, of course, the refrigerator! Children with vision impairments can also be read to by a caregiver using books that display both braille and print. Feeling the braille, listening to the text, and turning the page are all part of an early literacy experience that will prepare a child for a life of learning with braille. Early exposure to the braille code along with discovery of the social value of reading will help ensure a great start to learning.

Dr. Richard Jackson, Senior Research Scientist at CAST

This section of the AEM Website provides ever-expanding information on legal requirements related to the provision of supports for infants and families and helpful resources to assist in learning more about ways in which early learning and literacy can be woven into the fabric of naturally occurring family and community activities.

Legal Issues

Early Intervention Program for Infants and Toddlers with Disabilities (IDEA, Part C)

The Infants and Families program of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA, Part C) provides support for the implementation of coordinated, comprehensive, multidisciplinary, interagency programs that make early intervention services available to children with disabilities, aged birth through 2, and their families. The IDEA requires that early intervention services be provided, to the maximum extent appropriate, in natural environments. The natural environment includes the home and community settings where children would be participating if they did not have a disability. Each child’s individualized family service plan (IFSP) must contain a statement of the natural environments in which early intervention services will be provided, including a justification of the extent, if any, to which the services will not be provided in a natural environment.

Infants and toddlers with disabilities are defined as children who:

  1. are experiencing developmental delays, as measured by appropriate diagnostic instruments and procedures, in one or more of the following five areas: cognitive development, physical development, communication development, social or emotional development, or adaptive development; or
  2. have a diagnosed physical or mental condition that has a high probability of resulting in developmental delay.

Preschool Grants for Children with Disabilities (IDEA, Part B)

The Preschool Grants program requires that all states make a free, appropriate public education (FAPE) available to all children aged 3 through 5 with disabilities. At their discretion, states may include preschool-aged children who are experiencing developmental delays, as defined by the state and as measured by appropriate diagnostic instruments and procedures, who need special education and related services. IDEA requires that, to the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities are educated with children who are not disabled and that removal of children with disabilities from the regular educational environment occurs only when the nature or severity of the disability of a child is such that education in regular classes, with the use of supplementary aids and services, cannot be achieve satisfactorily. However, states are not required to provide public preschool programs for the general population. For this reason, preschool-aged children with disabilities are served in a variety of settings, including public or private preschool programs, regular kindergarten, Head Start programs, and childcare facilities. States, however, are required to provide the bulk of available funds to local educational agencies.

Transition IDEA Part C to IDEA Part B

During infancy, early childhood, and early learning years, there are many potential transitions for students identified as having disabilities.  Children identified early in life as having disabilities or being at high risk of developmental delays and disabilities may be served in early learning programs such as the Early Intervention Program for Infants and Toddlers with Disabilities under Part C of IDEA and the Preschool Grants for Children with Disabilities under Part B of IDEA.

Moving from Part C to Part B is a major transition area. The Early Childhood Technical Assistance (ECTA) Center provides extensive resources on Part C Transition. Additionally, training modules were developed by NICHEY, under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) and are now maintained by the Center for Parent Information and Resources. The modules and additional information can be found at Building the Legacy for Our Youngest Children with Disabilities: A Training Curriculum on Part C of IDEA 2004.

Accessible Educational Materials (AEM)

Print- and technology-based educational materials designed to be usable across the widest range of individual variability.

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Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

Federal law governing rights of children with disabilities to receive free and appropriate public education in least restrictive environment.

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Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE)

Under IDEA, special education is provided at public expense, under public supervision, and without charge.

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Local Education Agency (LEA)

Agency legally authorized to provide administrative control or direction of publically funded schools.

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Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP)

Provides leadership and financial support to assist states and local districts in improving results for children and youth with disabilities.

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