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Children with disabilities benefit from Head Start, study says

Head Start early education programs were found in a recent study to have an especially good effect for children with disabilities, researchers in Michigan report.

Disabled children enrolled in federal Head Start early school programs fare better on tests of literacy, math and reading than those not in the programs, and are more likely to have their disabilities verified by a doctor, according to a study by Michigan State University.

The Head Start programs, funded by the U.S. federal government and administered by individual states, are designed to improve children’s readiness for kindergarten based on family income. The programs also help connect parents to poverty- and healthcare-related social services, which have also been shown to benefit children.

“These findings align with Head Start’s commitment to addressing the complete needs of the child and connecting families to community supports,” Kristin Rispoli, an assistant professor at Michigan State University who led the study, said in a press release.

For the study, published in the Journal of Social Service Research, researchers analyzed data on 570 children with disabilities collected as part of the Head Start Impact Study, comparing the language, literacy and math skills of children ages 5 and 6 with multiple disabilities in Head Start to those who did not participate in the program.

Children in a Head Start program had higher scores on assessments of all three educational categories, and were more likely to have an individualized education plan, or IEP. The researchers note, however, that children with IEPs were likely to have lower scores in all three areas than children without IEPs.

Children in Head Start also were found to have their disabilities diagnosed or verified by doctors, and not just by the school district, suggesting other benefits of the programs for care of children with disabilities.

“Our findings suggest that children who have multiple disabilities are doing better by kindergarten age in terms of their language and early academic skills compared to children with multiple disabilities who are not attending Head Start,” Rispoli said.