Professionals & Therapists in Early Childhood

There are a variety of therapists, educators, and professionals who might be involved with children between the ages of 3 and 5. These professionals are typically employed by the local school district or special education cooperative to serve the children within the district that have special needs. Each professional has a specific area of expertise and can offer insight into that area of a child's development.

What are the various roles of professionals & therapists?

Educational professionals and therapists might work directly with a child on a specific goal (direct services), or they may provide consultative services to other adults who are then able to better work with a child (consultation). The professionals will likely be involved in the evaluation of the child to determine whether the child is eligible for services. They will then be involved in the subsequent development of the child's Individualized Education Program (IEP).

What are the types of professionals & therapists that might be involved in Early Childhood? 

  • Physical Therapists, many times referred to as PT, are involved in the large muscle movements such as crawling, walking, and throwing a ball and the fine motor movements such as grabbing toys, buttoning clothing, and using a crayon.
  • Occupational Therapists, referred to as OT, are involved in the "occupation" of childhood – daily living skills and play. "Occupational Therapy for Young Children" (PDF) describes the various aspects of this therapy.
  • Speech Language Pathologists (SLP) are involved with the acquisition of speech and language, feeding issues, and oral-motor control.
  • Audiologists are concerned with a child's ability to hear and process the auditory world.
  • Psychologists are involved in assessing a child's development through a variety of psychological tests and assisting families in understanding their child's development.
  • Social Workers help the family to understand the emotional and social aspects of their child and may provide counseling and support to help families cope with a variety of stressors.
  • Nurses provide information and support surrounding health and wellness issues as they relate to the school day.
  • Child Development Specialists provide expertise in the area of child development, helping families to understand the sequential nature of development and how best to promote their child's development.
  • Classroom Teachers (General & Special Education) provide direct instruction to students. Historically special education teachers have taught in self-contained classrooms providing direct instruction to a group of children with disabilities. However, the goal of including children with disabilities in the general education classroom has expanded the role of the special educator to include co-teaching with a general education classroom teacher, providing consultation support to the classroom teacher, and providing direct instruction services to a child with additional needs.
  • Paraprofessionals assist in classroom settings to provide support to the child with a disability and help him/her achieve the goals set through the IEP.
  • Mobility Specialists work with a child with a visual disability to maximize orientation and mobility skills and with a child with a physical disability to maximize mobility possibly through assistive devices.
  • Vision Specialists deal with all areas of a child's vision.

Contact Us

Johnna Darragh-Ernst

Professor Early Childhood Education

1500 W Raab Road
Normal, IL 61761
Phone: 309-268-8746

Email: johnna.darragh@heartland.edu