At the New York League for Early Learning, which offers pre-school
programs for children with developmental and learning delays,
we offer small classes, individualized education plans and plenty
of love and tender care for our students who come from throughout
the metropolitan area. And now, typically developing children
can share in this experience through New York’s Universal Pre-Kindergarten
It is difficult to identify which children are typically developing
and which are disabled when you walk into any of NYL’s Universal
Pre-K classrooms. In one corner, three youngsters gather to hear
a teacher’s aide read a story. At a sandbox-like table, six children
are gathered, pretending they are making tea and coffee. One child
offers a visitor a cup of coffee and the others follow suit.
The benefits are clear for a special needs child. They are in
a classroom that reflects society’s diversity. I am a firm believer
that the reason so many children with delays and disabilities
experience difficulties later in life is not because they lack
academic skills, but rather because they lack necessary social
Parents of typically developing children appreciate the fact that
our highly trained staff can recognize and know how to address
the needs of all children – those with and without disabilities.
Sometimes, we have found language or other delays in children
who have not previously been identified as having special needs.
Our programs can then provide speech, occupational and physical
therapists at the school who can work one-on-one with this child.
Children at this age don’t have any pre-conceptions about people
with disabilities. Research and experience teaches us that early
exposure to any group that is different helps these youngsters
learn that their classmates with disabilities are just like them,
a lesson for a lifetime.
Having spent 38 years as a practicing special educator, I have
to admit that the thought of offering an integrated classroom
never entered my mind when I first started teaching in 1963. Those
were the days when special education teachers, like special education
students, were banished to isolated corners of the school. These
children were not allowed to take part in any of the regular school
activities or interact with the other students. Today I’m proud
to oversee all six of NYL’s pre-schools offering Universal Pre-Kindergarten
slots to neighborhood children in Manhattan, Queens, the Bronx
I’d like to share a story that illustrates the importance and
success of NYL’s integrated, Universal Pre-Kindergarten. Iza was
apprehensive about enrolling her typically developing son Nathaniel
in an integrated classroom. Since he is an only child, his mother
wanted him to develop his social skills with other children.
around developmentally delayed children concerned me because I
didn’t know how he would react to that,” Iza said. “To my surprise,
it has been wonderful. He loves his friends. He notices some differences,
but that’s OK with him.”If a child understands early on that we
are all very different, his life will be a whole lot easier.”
There’s no more valuable lesson than this for any 4-year-old.#
S. Lenkowsky, Ed.D., is the Director of the New York League for
Early Learning, an agency serving more than 1,500 early intervention
and pre-school children throughout the metropolitan area in center-
and home-based programs. NYL is a member of the YAI/National Institute
for People with Disabilities network.