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From Early Intervention to Early Childhood Programs transition from early intervention to preschool

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  • 204 INTERVENTION IN SCHOOL AND CLINIC VOL. 42, NO. 4, MARCH 2007 (PP. 204–211)

    From Early Intervention to

    Early Childhood Programs:

    Timeline for Early Successful Transitions (TEST)

    JOYCE A. BRANDES, CHRISTINE K. ORMSBEE,

    AND KATHRYN A. HARING

    More than one million transitions between early intervention services and early childhood programs are facilitated annually for youngsters with special needs. To be successful, these transitions require planning and ongoing communication between all parties. This article substantiates the need for a timeline/checklist and provides a model of sequen- tial steps from onset to completion of the transition process. The Timeline for Early Successful Transi- tion (TEST) facilitates an effective and well-planned transition that supports the child, family, and ser- vice personnel.

    E verybody goes through transitional events inlife. Milestones, such as your first steps, yourfirst words, birthdays, and anniversaries, markthis process from infancy into adulthood. Re-lated to education, transitional events such as grade levels achieved, diplomas earned, and employment attained serve as markers and are assumed to be natural transitions in that they are predictable.

    By the time a child identified with a developmental delay reaches age 6, he or she most likely will have expe- rienced at least two transitions relevant to education. These may include entering and exiting an early interven- tion (EI) program, early childhood (EC) program, and, in many states, an elementary program. These moves trans- late into at least 1.5 million early childhood school- related transitions each year in the United States (Coun- cil for Exceptional Children, 2001). For these transitions to be effective and go relatively smoothly, appropriate planning and communication is necessary (Shonkoff & Phillips, 2000; Yeboah, 2002).

    The movement from infant/toddler (ages 0–2) to preschool (ages 3–5) services requires a change in where services take place, how families are involved, and the ed- ucational and supportive expectations of service providers (Fox, Dunlap, & Cushing, 2002). A timeline delineating who will be involved and when helps ensure a seamless transition between meaningful educational opportunities and services for a child with special needs. This article will describe the instrument, Timeline for Early Successful

  • VOL. 42, NO. 4, MARCH 2007 205

    Transition (TEST), which is built around the two major components of smooth and successful transitions: plan- ning and communication.

    Planning

    Program continuity through developmentally appropri- ate curricula can only be accomplished through adequate planning (Rosenkoetter, Hains, & Fowler, 1994). The In- dividuals with Disabilities Education Act Amendments of 1997 (IDEA ’97), and Title 34, Parts 300 and 303 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) mandate that the In- dividualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) include steps that facilitate transition of a young child with disabilities to appropriate EC programs and services. IDEA ’97 fur- ther directs the EI agency to notify the local education agency at least 90 days prior to the child’s third birthday to schedule a conference that brings together representa- tives of the sending and receiving agencies with the child’s family members to plan a meaningful transition with minimal disruption to the family. Keeping families in- volved in their children’s education is of primary impor- tance (Lucyshyn, Dunlap, & Albin, 2002; Shonkoff & Phillips, 2000; Webster-Stratton, 1998) and must be ac- commodated. To ensure continuity of appropriate sup- port and services, a minimum of 6 to 12 months is suggested for planning for and placement of a child in his or her new environment.

    Preparation of Child

    The change in location of services, service providers, and programs is disruptive and a source of increased stress for both the young child and the family (Rosenkoetter et al., 1994; Shonkoff & Phillips, 2000). This strain can be more pronounced when the child, the sending agency, and the child’s family are not adequately prepared for those changes (Bruder & Chandler, 1996). An important part of preparing the child is the development and generaliza- tion of transition skills and behaviors that link the sending program to the receiving program. These may include (a) social behavior and self-care skills, (b) motivation and problem-solving skills, (c) pre-academic or academic sup- port skills and task-related behavior, and (d) communica- tion skills.

    Systematic Approach

    Additional preparation for the change in personnel and location of services should follow a sequential transition that involves the following:

    1. A representative of the sending agency arranges a visit and accompanies the parents or guardians in observing potential programs.

    2. Parents or guardians and their child visit potential program sites when these are not in session.

    3. Parents or guardians and their child visit potential programs seen as viable placement options for a short time while classes are in session.

    This systematic approach allows the parents or guardians and their child to observe and consider pro- gram options, interact with prospective service providers, and become familiar with the new environment gradu- ally. It also provides information parents and guardians can use to help their child acquire the prerequisite skills previously mentioned. Representatives of the sending and possible receiving agencies are actively involved at this stage, assuring families and the child of a more produc- tive experience (Fox et al., 2002).

    Rapport

    Through this process, educators in the prospective agen- cies have opportunities to establish rapport with the par- ents or guardians in informal environments while sharing the expectations of the placements and programs. Aside from directly stating these standards at the time of the visit, the teachers can also provide the parents or guardians with (a) class and school newsletters, (b) their names and those of other professionals with whom the child may be working, and (c) school telephone numbers (Fox et al., 2002). Establishing positive communication with the par- ents and guardians helps ease the potential awkwardness of formal assessment, placement meetings, and working with so many strangers. Careful consideration and a gen- erous amount of time, attention, and support have been shown to be effective in supporting parents and guardians so that their child’s needs can be met (Harrower, Fox, Dun- lap, & Kincaid, 2000; Timm, 1993).

    Communication

    When children transition from an EI program with IFSPs to EC programs with Individualized Education Plans (IEP), families are concerned about understanding what will happen with the children (Rosenkoetter et al., 1994). IFSPs address both children and their families as priorities for early intervention services. In many states this includes a home-based early intervention model. The objective is not only to work with the children but also to offer support and education to the parents and guardians during the home visits (IDEA, 1997). Regular home-based contact and consultation with a trained pro- fessional supports family members and provides regular opportunities for communication about the needs, con- cerns, and desires of the families for their children (Bailey et al., 1998). Families fear losing this important compo- nent when their children transition from an EI program

  • 206 INTERVENTION IN SCHOOL AND CLINIC

    to an EC program. In particular, they fear that decisions regarding placement, programs, and curriculum will be made without their input or agreement (Bailey et al., 1998; Harrower et al., 2000). This concern is fed because the focus of IEPs is that the child’s program is provided by EC personnel away from the family environment, as opposed to the EI program where the child’s needs are addressed through the strengths and needs of the family.

    Support

    In the transition to preschool, most families are learning new vocabulary and procedures relevant to their child’s situation. In this process, it is important to be sensitive to parents’ need for information that is fully and clearly pre- sented (Fox et al., 2002; Lovett & Haring, 2002). Profes- sionals must field parents’ or guardians’ questions and check frequently for accurate understanding. They must also plan for follow-up visits, phone calls, notes, and ac- companying parents and guardians to meetings. Strong support must come from both sending and receiving agencies as they work collaboratively to ensure continu- ity of services and support to both the family and the child (Harrower et al., 2000). Finally, parents and guardians must be regarded as equal partners on the decision-mak- ing team (Bruder & Chandler, 1996).

    Family Involvement

    According to Harrower et al. (2000), families should par- ticipate in developing a clear plan to facilitate their child’s transition from early intervention to preschool services. Such a plan needs to systematically

    • incorporate ways to orient the child and family to the receiving site,

    • outline methods for supporting the child and family in building competence and confidence (Harrower et al., 2000; Rosenkoetter et al., 1994), and

    • provide practical recommendations on how to sup- port the child’s special needs (Lovett & Haring, 2002).

    In addition to the communication and support facil- itated through a clearly written transition plan, the roles and responsibilities of all participants (i.e., sending and receiving agencies, family members, and community agen-