"The pad is nice because sometimes when they sit in a circle, the other kids jostle to sit next to her," said Janice Blair, a special-education teacher with KU's Lawrence Early Childhood program.
The program, based at Dole Center, is a collaboration of the Lawrence school district and KU. The staff is on the district's payroll. The classrooms are furnished by the university. KU students in many disciplines, from music therapy to physical therapy, participate in the program.
"This is a fabulous program in a fabulous facility," said Doug Eicher, the district's executive director of special services.
The preschool is one piece of the district's response to federal law mandating public school districts to provide appropriate education to disabled individuals ages 3 to 21.
The Dole Center program serves children ranging from ages 3 to 5. An average of 10 children are enrolled in three classes, which meet in weekday mornings or afternoons.
Half of the preschoolers don't have a disability, but serve as "peer" models for students with disabilities.
Janet Bates, a special-education teacher in the program, said the staff also provides services to preschoolers at child-care facilities off-campus.
"We'll go to any place where the student with special needs is," she said. "We want to use the least restrictive environment, which is where they're enrolled."
Sandy Davalos, another special education teacher at Dole, said providing intense services at an early age improves a child's ability to cope with public school.
Peer mentors also learn from the experience, she said.
"We see a lot of openness and willingness to accept kids of all abilities. At this age, they don't know to be prejudiced, she said.