About Special Start (Early Childhood)

The Office of Student Services’s Special Start Program provides services and programming for young students 3-5 years of age. To be eligible, students must be three years old and be determined to have a disability and in need of an Individualized Education Program (IEP). Typically developing peers may participate in an integrated special start classroom by completing an application process.

Students are referred to Special Start in one of two ways:

  • Transition from Early Intervention – young students aging out of Early Intervention programming are referred to the Special Start team for transition services, support and planning in order to assure seamless service delivery when the student turns three years.
  • Screening Appointments (“Child Find”) – screenings are held bi-weekly for students whose parents, caretakers, and/or guardians suspect a child may have special education needs. Parents should call the Special Start office for more information or to schedule an appointment.

Once determined to be eligible for Special Start services, the following programs and services are available for students:

Classroom or Community-Based

Walk-in Therapy
Students in community preschools or at home come to a designated elementary school for services by related service providers (Speech/Language Pathologists, Occupational Therapists, Physical Therapists) or certified Special Educators.

Consulting Services
Related service providers, school psychologists, special educators, assistive technology and Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) Specialists work with preschool staff in Cambridge preschools or Special Start classrooms with a focus on adapting curricula and materials and creating strategies for success.

Direct Instruction & Support
Special educators, psychologists, assistive technology, ABA Specialists and other related service providers provide therapy and instruction for students in community preschools who require specially designed instruction, accommodations, and/or related service therapies. These services may be provided in the classroom or outside the regular classroom environment.

Special Start Classrooms

Integrated Preschool Classrooms (full inclusion)
Integrated classrooms are designed for young students with developmental, cognitive and/or physical disabilities who are not able to be served in community based programs. Students are functioning below their typically developing peers but are able to learn with and from them. Special Educators and related service providers collaborate to provide a hands-on, rich and stimulating curriculum based on the Massachusetts Preschool Frameworks with modifications and accommodations based on each student’s IEP. Students are assigned to this class through the IEP team evaluation process or through an annual application process for typical learners.

Substantially Separate Classrooms
Substantially separate classrooms are designed for students who require intensive, small group, or individual educational programming outside of a regular education setting. Many of of these children have a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder or severe developmental delay. Very specific and intensive, intentional, directed teaching and learning occurs within this highly structured environment. These classrooms operate six hours a day, eleven months per year in order to ensure learning, prevent regression, lessen recoupment, and support emerging skills. Teaching strategies are individualized, enjoyable, and supported by evidence-based practice.

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