Special Education

Early Childhood Special Education

Early Childhood Special Education (ECSE) services are designed for young children (aged 3-5) with disabilities who need specially designed instruction or related services and whose disability(ies) causes the children to be unable to participate in developmentally appropriate typical preschool activities. School districts are required by law to ensure that developmentally appropriate ESCE programs and services are available. ECSE programs and services ensure that all children with disabilities have a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) that is designed to meet their unique needs and enable them to make progress in acquiring knowledge and skills, improving social relationships, and learning to take action to meet their needs within the general education program.

A young child who is deemed eligible for special education receives services in the least restrictive environment (LRE), which can include his/her home, a child care setting, or a public school, as determined by the child's Individualized Education Program (IEP) Team. Services are provided at no cost to families through ECSE programs in public school districts throughout Massachusetts. Processes for referral for evaluation and determination of eligibility are the same as those for older, school-aged children with disabilities.

Building Blocks Logo: Better Longitudinal Outcomes for Children in pre-K

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Vision and Mission

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Inclusion Policy Statement

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Strategic Areas
ESE, in partnership with the Departments of Public Health and Early Education and Care, has identified the following three strategic areas for focus in Early Childhood Special Education (ECSE):
  1. Improving systems to engage effectively with families
  2. Improving systems to assist transition from early intervention to prekindergarten and from prekindergarten to kindergarten
  3. Improving instruction to increase educational outcomes in:
    1. Social/Emotional Skills and Social Relationships;
    2. Acquiring and Using Knowledge and Skills; and
    3. Taking Appropriate Action to Meet Needs

State Agencies
The following agencies work with children with disabilities in early childhood. The Department of Public Health provides Early Intervention services to children birth through age two in their natural environment and the Department of Early Education and Care supports public and community-based early childhood programs throughout the Commonwealth.
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The Department of Early Education and Care (EEC)
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The Department of Public Health (DPH) Early Intervention (EI)

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The Federation for Children with Special Needs

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National Resources

Last Updated: March 20, 2018

Contact Us

Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
75 Pleasant Street, Malden, MA 02148-4906

Voice: (781) 338-3000
TTY: (800) 439-2370


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