Preschoolers with special needs benefit from evidence-based practices

Elena Fernández, a graduate student from the University of Miami, spent the summer completing a fellowship in Baltimore, where she assessed the performance of children with special needs ranging in age from infancy to 5 years old.



Academic research on children with special needs is often overlooked.

This is why the work done by University of Miami Ph.D. student Elena Fernández is significant. She was one of 24 recipients of the James A. Ferguson RISE Fellowship, which is part of the Center for Diversity in Public Health Leadership Training at the Kennedy Krieger Institute.

The Kennedy Krieger Institute, based in Baltimore, Maryland, is a world-leading institution dedicated to improving the lives of children, youth, and adults with disorders of the developing nervous system, and those at risk to develop them, through innovative, equity-based solutions and culturally appropriate clinical care, research, education, community partnerships, advocacy and training.

Fernández’s work has focused on exploring how evidence-based practices in early childhood centers could improve and improve outcomes for children with special needs.

“As a native of Baltimore, I have always admired the work done by the Kennedy Krieger Institute,” said Fernández. “So I was very excited to work with the best in the business.”

Laura Kohn-Wood, dean of the School of Education and Human Development, said Fernández’s scholarship “reflects the exceptional doctoral training of the Department of Teaching and Learning in the School of Education and Human Development. human being, as well as his concentrated intellect”.

“We are proud of his accomplishments so far and look forward to hearing about his undoubtedly future impact on the pitch,” Kohn-Wood added.

Over a nine-week period this summer, Fernández conducted on-site research and observations at the centers that cared for 136 children, most aged from birth to 5 years old.

One center catered to children with autism, another served children and families facing housing insecurity, and the third cared for children with medical needs with full-time nursing staff available to meet those needs. .

She found that 77% of the population of these centers were non-Hispanic black, 12% were white, 4% Hispanic, 3% multiracial and 2% Asian. Seventy-seven percent of the children and their families were eligible for some government assistance, including Medicaid.

In his research, Fernández also discovered that there was a gap in the studies of these children. Most of the literature on children with special needs tends to focus on children from kindergarten to grade 12, despite evidence of the effectiveness of early childhood services, she noted.

“The need for evidence-based practices and assessment tools that are sensitive enough to use with children with special health care needs has become more evident this summer,” she said. There needs to be more nuanced research on the academic and developmental progression of children with special needs, she stressed.

Fernández also detected that centers that used evidence-based practices – teaching methods whose effectiveness has been proven by research – were the most successful in improving the performance of their students.

These practices included:

  • Expose students to team projects that encouraged working with others.
  • Create responsive classroom environments where teachers follow the child’s lead in conversations and continue to build on the child’s feedback.
  • Incorporate family needs and goals into work with children.
  • Enable participation in inclusive preschool playgroups so that children with developmental disabilities or delays are included in playtime with typically developing children.

“Evidence-based practices are important because the majority of children who participated in these programs were actually able to transition from special education to regular education classes once they entered kindergarten,” said Fernandez.

Jacqueline Stone, clinical director at the Kennedy Krieger Institute, was one of Fernández’s mentors. She said the institute was preparing to launch a strategic plan with a “central component that includes early childhood development and education,” so Fernández’s work could not have been more timely.

“Elena has helped connect our early childhood education programs by identifying shared evidence-based approaches each uses to educate children with special health care needs and presenting aggregated data allowing us to see who we serve,” Stone said. “By preparing children early in their development, we know it will influence outcomes even into preschool age.”

Fernández said she hopes to continue her work on early childhood education with children who were exposed to drugs during pregnancy. Her goal is to open an early intervention center for these children.




Norma A. Roth