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Special Education Column

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One-half of the extremely premature infants born in the United States may need special-education services when they enter kindergarten, a study by researchers at the State University of New York at Buffalo suggests.

The study, the results of which were published in the American Journal of Diseases of Children, involved 149 children who were born 12 to 17 weeks prematurely. At ages 4 and 5, the children were assessed by medical professionals who were unaware of their birth histories.

Looking at the children's verbal, perceptual, quantitative, memory, and motor skills, the professionals determined that 15 percent were at risk of requiring special-education services and 42 percent were in need of modified education services. Nine percent were deemed in need of even more intensive help, said the study's director, Dr. Michael Msall.

Prematurely born children from low-income families were seven times more likely than others to need special services, and minority or male children were more than twice as likely as others to need special help.

Dr. Msall said his research suggests that the special-education population will continue to grow as increasing numbers of children survive prematurity.

Placing disabled preschoolers in day-care settings with nondisabled children may enhance their social skills, according to a research review.

Virginia Buysse and Donald B. Bailey Jr., both researchers at the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, examined 22 studies that compared disabled children in integrated day-care settings with those in more segregated environments.

While the children in the integrated settings developed language and cognitive skills at about the same rates as those in segregated settings, their social skills tended to be much better.

"Mainstreamed'' children, said Ms. Buysse, who is the assistant director of the center, are "more likely to interact with other children in positive ways--to play with them and talk with them--and are less likely to play with toys in an isolated manner.''

The review appears in the current issue of the Journal of Special Education.

Seven years after a federal law began requiring states to serve disabled preschoolers, the Department of Defense Dependents Schools has announced plans to do the same in its overseas schools.

John L. Stremple, the director of the schools, said teachers are now being trained to staff up to 50 programs for disabled 3- to 5-year-olds. The services will be in place by September.--D.V.

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