ECA Blog

Adapting for Children with Special Needs

Adapting the environment for a child with a special need can seem like a daunting task.  Here are a few suggestions to help:

  • Children with ADHD, Learning Disabilities, Autism, and Mental Handicap respond well when they receive communication not only verbally but also visually, such as using a photo or picture to communicate. For example, if you want a child to use a quiet voice, then show a picture of a person putting a finger on the lips.
  • It is really important to give children extra support when it is time to stop and start different activities. Transitioning from one activity to another can be challenging for some children with special needs. It is helpful when adults give the child an advanced notice of when the child will need to stop doing one activity and start a different one. Early Childhood teachers often give the whole classroom a notice that they have 5 more minutes before clean up time. However, children with special needs sometimes are not able to focus on an all-class announcement. Often it is best to go directly to the child with a special need and warn him/her individually with not only a 5 minute notice but also a 3 and maybe even a 1 minute warning.
  • It is important to have a variety of toys and activities available in an early childhood classroom. A 3-year-old child with a special need, such as Downs Syndrome, may not be able to utilize the toys in a 3-year-old room, such as puzzles or Legos. This child may need toys that have fewer pieces and can be snapped together more easily. However, it is important to provide toys that are similar as those in the classroom. For example, a baby rattle is not an appropriate toy in the classroom for a 3-year-old child with Downs Syndrome.

A good website for great suggestions for adapting toys for children with special needs is:


Nicole Wysong is the Inclusion Specialist at Early Childhood Alliance. Through The Indiana Partnership for Inclusive Child Care (IPICC) project, Nicole impacts families of children with special needs and their child care providers. IPICC focuses on:

  • Offering on-site technical assistance.
  • Providing training opportunities.
  • Assisting child care providers to meet criteria in Paths to QUALITY.
  • Increasing awareness of and providing resources for the unique needs of all children.

You can contact Nicole at



Here are Resource Links that might be helpful while starting to adapt materials and your environment to include all children: