Children with Disabilities

Spotlight on Child Maltreatment: Building Resilience in the Face of Adversity

Children under the age of 8 experience maltreatment (e.g., child abuse, neglect, and trauma) at an alarming rate. During the first year of life, children are at the highest risk for maltreatment, with 24 out of every 1,000 children experiencing it (Child Maltreatment, 2014). An effective way to support children who have experienced maltreatment is to help them build resilience in the face of adversity. This issue explores practices for building resilience in children with disabilities or suspected delays who have also experienced maltreatment.

Read About It

Boy sitting at a tableGuy is a Head Start teacher in a rural setting. Recently, a newly enrolled child named Edward joined his class. Edward has significant speech and language delays. He uses just a few single words. He works with a speech therapist three times per week as part of his Individualized Education Program (IEP). Edward is shy but gets along with the other children most of the time.

A recent concern for Guy is that Edward has been hiding under the table in the reading corner during free play and stays close to Guy when the class goes outside to play. Earlier this week, a fire truck drove by the school with its sirens ringing. Edward ran under the table and began to scream. Guy went over and tried talking calmly with Edward, but he continued to scream and would not come out from under the table for over an hour.

When Guy meets with Sheila, the program’s disabilities coordinator, he tells her about the behavior. Together, Guy and Shelia make a plan to meet with Edward's family to gain greater understanding of the child’s delays and some of the events that seem to elicit fearful behavior.

Take a Look

ACEs and Toxic Stress: Frequently Asked Questions
Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are stressful or traumatic events, such as abuse, neglect, and household dysfunction like witnessing domestic violence or growing up with family members who have substance use disorders. ACEs affect the development and prevalence of a wide range of health problems throughout a child’s lifespan, including those associated with substance misuse. Many educators and support staff report being overwhelmed at the type and frequency of traumatic life events the children they work with see and experience. Sheila suggests that Guy set up a consultation with the program’s mental health consultant. He can learn about how ACEs may influence children’s behavior and explore some supportive strategies to use with Edward when classroom events are stressful for him.

Division for Early Childhood (DEC) Position Statement on Child Maltreatment 
This position statement is inclusive of young children who are at risk for and have already been identified with disabilities and delays. Children with disabilities who have experienced maltreatment and their families often receive simultaneous support by multiple service systems (e.g., child care, child welfare, early intervention, pediatrics). Sheila is a member of the DEC, so she shares their position statement on maltreatment with Guy so he can understand the issue more broadly.

Try It Out

1-2-3 Care Toolkit
During their meeting, Guy shares with Sheila that when Edward is present in his class, he behaves as if he is on “high alert.” Guy finds himself questioning even simple practices and behaviors that he normally feels comfortable and confident using. Sheila acknowledges Guy’s feelings and confirms that this type of response is common. She shares a resource with tips for building resiliency [PDF, 1.6MB], which is the primary way to combat ACEs. Healthy relationships are key. It is in the context of safe relationships that we can invite children to feel like they matter. Sheila also emphasizes that some of the same resilience-building practices that we use with typically developing children need to be used with children with disabilities who may have also experienced maltreatment. 

Improve Your Practice

Environmental Support and Schedules and Routines
For children with disabilities, as well as all children who have experienced maltreatment, teachers can create safe and trusting early learning environments where healthy relationships flourish. These two 15-minute in-service suites provide strategies and resources for creating safe environments. Using these ideas, Guy is able to set up his classroom as a safe and predictable space, which allows him more time to focus on addressing Edward's specific learning needs and resilience-building.

Families, Too!

The Ability to Cope: Building Resilience for Yourself and Your Child
After meeting with Edward’s parents, Sheila suggests sharing this resource with tips for fostering resilience. Putting energy into even one of these activities each day can help families. Resilience isn’t something that people are born with; so as a parent, you can encourage resilience in your child and develop it in yourself.

Ongoing Features

Free access to a specially selected article from Young Exceptional Children (YEC)
Read the YEC article, Using a Trauma-Sensitive Lens to Support Children with Diverse Experiences. It is available through this newsletter until March 31, 2019.

Safe Foundations, Healthy Futures Campaign
Launched in August 2018, this Office of Head Start campaign is dedicated to ensuring safe and nurturing settings for children to grow up healthy and be ready to succeed in school. It shares best practices to eliminate preventable risks to children’s health, safety, and well-being. This includes a focus on staff wellness so they are better able to support children's positive outcomes. Campaign activities focus on monthly themes and provide helpful resources. 

Head Start Disabilities-Inclusion Network
Engage with Head Start and disabilities-focused colleagues around the country in an online community hosted on the MyPeers platform. Our community currently has more than 1,000 members who are sharing resources, engaging in conversations, and asking questions. Register now as a member of MyPeers. If you are already a member, find the Head Start Disabilities-Inclusion Network community under "All Communities" and select the blue "Join" button.

Save the Dates

April 29–30, 2019: Disability Services Coordinator Institute (DSCI)
Henry B. González Convention Center, San Antonio, TX
Join us for DSCI to advance your knowledge and skills and engage in all things inclusion. The Institute will provide an opportunity for disabilities services coordinators and mental health staff to discover new resources, like the updated Disability Coordinators Orientation Guide, and share strategies for serving children with disabilities and their families. Content and strategies will be provided for new and experienced staff through full group discussion, breakout sessions, and sessions with leading researchers.

The Inclusion Webinar series will include two additional webinars:

  • March 19, 2019, 3–4 p.m. ET: Practice-based Coaching to Support Inclusion
  • July 16, 2019, 3–4 p.m. ET: Practices to Support Infants and Toddlers with Disabilities or Suspected Delays through Embedded Learning Opportunities

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The Disabilities Services Newsletter is produced monthly by the National Center on Early Childhood Development, Teaching, and Learning. Submit questions or suggestions for future newsletter topics to