Early Childhood Intervention: Module Two – Special Needs & Conditions

Children with Learning Differences or Learning Disabilities


Young children use their five senses to learn about the world.  Children with learning differences are the same as other children in their preferred ways of learning and  are children with average to above average intelligence.

These children may find it hard to understand some of the information presented to them, or difficulties with processing and/or using it. Preschool children may show some early indicators of learning disabilities.

During preschool years, they may find it challenging to do one or more of these activities:

  • Assembling a puzzle (6-10 pieces);
  • Sorting and matching objects by colors, shapes, sizes;
  • Sequencing pictures in a story retrieving words in songs.

By the time these children enter kindergarten, these children may find it hard to do the following tasks:

  • Tell their complete name;
  • Tell at least some of their personal/family information;
  • Point at body parts;
  • Matching and naming colors and shapes;
  • At age 5 years they may confuse their right and left hand and have difficulties with directions.

As these children complete grade one, they may have difficulties counting to 20, telling a short story, reciting the ABC’s, or with other activities that require sequencing.

Learning difficulties become learning disabilities once children start more formal learning that involves reading, writing and mathematics.

When provided with the appropriate support, children with learning differences may develop their full learning potential. Specific and individualized strategies (see Intervention) allow children to be successful at reading, writing, math, and understanding the steps needed to complete daily tasks requiring guidelines, and engage in other projects such as art or music.

Special Needs

The term “special needs” refers to the child who requires individual educational support and/or specialized medical intervention to assist in the acquisition of basic developmental and/or academic skills (Coleman, 2006, p. 376).

Intervention Options

An Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) is designed for a child with identified special needs. It is revised every year with the parents and teaching/administrative staff of the child’s preschool or school.

Grey Area[1]

Some professionals use the term “grey area” to describe “young children who show early signs of struggling to learn in the absence of pronounced paediatric disorders.

Inclusion/Inclusive systems

Inclusion” (see full Glossary) means acceptance and participation of the child in preschool, school, high school so that they can develop to their fullest potential. Inclusive programs provide specialized and individualized support for the unique needs of each participating child.

Many children with learning disabilities or Learning differences are also diagnosed with language-based or communication disorders as described in this section (please click on link provided).

To learn about learning differences/disabilities in the middle childhood years, please visit the six to 12 part of this course.


[1] References: Gilliam, W.S., Meisels, S.J., & Mayes, L. C. (2005). Screening and surveillance in early intervention systems. In Guralnick, M.J. (Ed.), The developmental systems approach to early intervention, pp.73-98. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes.


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