-Merle Karnes, Ed.D.

In addition to the preparations you make to get ready for all children, there are many things you can do to make coming to your program easier for children with special needs. Making a home visit is especially important for children with special needs to help the child and her family get to know you in a familiar setting. Be sure to let family members know that you consider them partners and welcome their suggestions about helping their child adjust to your program. Talk together about what kinds of modifications you can make in your daily routines and room set up. (Occupational therapists can also give lots of help, but families can offer specific suggestions that they have found useful for their child.)

To help with separation, invite family members and children to visit your classroom a few days before school starts and talk about what school will be like. Emphasize the fun and exciting aspects of school, while at the same time acknowledging all of the children's feelings. During the first few weeks, encourage families to accompany their children into the classroom and stay as long as children need them.

You can assist children with special needs in getting to know their classmates by helping with the introductions. For example, point out something interesting about each child such as, "Chan is Chinese. He can talk like we do and he can talk Chinese too. Christy uses a walker. It helps her get around the room."

Find ways to help other children include the child with special needs and communicate successfully. For example, if a child is hearing-impaired, you can teach children a few simple phrases in sign language. If a child is visually impaired, tell others to say the child's name or touch her shoulder before talking to her.

All children need to feel safe and welcome, and you set the stage to make this happen. Talk to the child warmly and naturally to let her know that she's part of your classroom-at the same time, you'll be modeling how others should interact with her.