Public Policies on Including Children with Special Needs
Throughout the past 40 years there have been some significant changes in both state and federal laws, as well as with public policy and social attitudes towards integrating children with special needs and learning disabilities into typical classroom settings. Stigmas from the past have dissipated and more inclusive practices are in place. In addition to Federal laws such as the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), there are national associations such as the Division for Early Childhood (DEC) and the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) who rally to protect the rights of children with disabilities or other special needs. As stated in their joint position on inclusion, the DEC and NAEYC believe:
Early childhood inclusion embodies the values, policies, and practices that support the right of every infant and young child and his or her family, regardless of ability, to participate in a broad range of activities and contexts as full members of families, communities, and society. The desired results of inclusive experiences for children with and without disabilities and their families include a sense of belonging and membership, positive social relationships and friendships, and development and learning to reach their full potential. The defining features of inclusion that can be used to identify high quality early childhood programs and services are access, participation, and supports. (p. 141; DEC and NAEYC 2009, 1)
When early caregivers and preschool teachers practice monitoring as part of their regular routines, they demonstrate accountability and responsive caregiving. Nearly 65% of children are identified as having a special need, disability, delay or impairment, and will require some special services or intervention. As early educators our role is twofold:
Provide an environment where children feel safe, secure and cared for
Help children develop coping skills to decrease stress and promote learning and development
Individualized Education Plan?
Some children may need more individualized support and might benefit from specialized services or individualized accommodations. Children who are over the age of 3 who qualify for special education must have an individualized education program (IEP) in place. As required by both federal and state laws, IEPs must have clearly identified goals and objectives that can be regularly monitored. IEPs are designed by a TEAM that usually includes the child’s parents or guardians, the preschool teacher, special education professionals (e.g. behaviorists, speech pathologists, occupational therapists). Together the team plans appropriately accommodations, modifications and makes recommendations that will help the child meet their developmental goals.
While everyone on the team has a role, the teacher’s role is to integrate approaches that can best support the child while in class. For example, if the IEP notes that the child needs support with language development, the teacher would consider finding someone in class who could provide peer to peer scaffolding. The teacher would want to find someone who has strong language skills, and who is cooperative and kind to others. She would then partner the two children up throughout the day so that the typical child could model ideal language skills to the child with the IEP. The teacher would also provide regular updates to parents, continue observing and monitoring the child’s development, and would provide access to alternative resources and materials as much as possible.
Creating Inclusive Learning Environments
To ensure that all children feel safe, secure and nurtured, teachers must strive to create a climate of cooperation, mutual respect and tolerance. To support healthy development, teachers must offer multiple opportunities for children to absorb learning experiences, as well as process information, at their own pace. While one child may be comfortable with simple verbal instructions to complete a particular task, another child may benefit from a more direct approach such as watching another child or adult complete the requested task first. Teachers who are devoted to observing their children are motivated to provide experiences that children will enjoy and be challenged by. The classroom is not a stagnant environment - it is ever-changing. In order to maintain a high-quality classroom setting, it is essential to utilize your daily observations of children and the environment to monitor the experiences and interactions to ensure there is a good fit.