The Power of Inclusion: What to Expect When Your Preschooler Attends an Inclusive Preschool Program
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By Andrea Laser
Any family with a child starting preschool can testify that it can be at least a little nerve-racking—especially if it is your child’s first time in a school setting or first time away from home. As a former preschool teacher, I used to see and hear some anxiety about this new chapter. There’s a lot of newness: policies to understand, papers to fill out, and schedules to remember. Depending on where your child is enrolled in preschool, it is very likely that they will be in an inclusive preschool. An inclusive preschool serves children with and without disabilities in the same space. For some of us, this was not how our schooling looked; children with disabilities were sadly often isolated and serviced in other places. There are some important components to know about your child being in an inclusive setting.
Some disabilities are visible; others are not.
A child can be eligible for special education services with a range of qualifying factors. Sometimes these factors significantly impact every developmental domain: children may have a hard time moving or talking, and they may have complex physical and medical needs. Other times, disabilities are not visible: difficulties with language, social and emotional challenges, and fine motor issues may be hard to detect. As a family, your response to more visible special needs will impact your child’s disposition. If your child asks questions about a child in his class, try responding with, “She is learning how to ______. Everybody learns at different rates. It is important that you are friendly to everyone in the class.”
There are limits to what a teacher can discuss about other children in the classroom.
Part of a teacher’s job is to protect the confidentiality of all children in the class, including those with disabilities. Even though you might have questions about other children, the teacher will not be able to disclose specific information about their disabilities, goals, or services. Some families of children with special needs might send home a letter with your child or talk to the entire class about their individual child’s needs and how all of the children can be good classmates to her.
It is a child’s right to attend a school in an inclusive setting.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (2004) protects children’s rights to attend school alongside their peers without disabilities. This is known as the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE):
To the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities, including children in public or private institutions or other care facilities, are educated with children who are not disabled, and that special classes, separate schooling, or other removal of children with disabilities from the regular educational environment occurs only when the nature or severity of the disability is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily (2004).
Inclusion works, and research has shown benefits for those with and without special needs.
One study indicated by parents and teachers reports that children without disabilities who participated in an inclusive classroom were helpful to children with disabilities and also learned life skills such as empathy and compassion (Cross et al. 2004). Outcomes for children with disabilities include reduced autism severity (Strain & Hoyson 2000). For children with severe disabilities, increased language development (in pre- and post-test measures when compared with peers with disabilities who are in segregated classrooms) and increased social skills have been reported (again, in pre- and post-test measures) (Rafferty, Piscitelli, & Boettcher 2003). Research also suggests that inclusive classrooms score higher on measures of quality (Buysse et al.1999).
With inclusion, everyone benefits! Get excited for a great school year with your preschooler!
Andrea Laser, EdD, is a faculty member at the University of Colorado Denver, in the Early Childhood Education department. She worked in public schools for 16 years and enjoys spending her free time with her two sons, husband, chickens, and dog. You can follow her on Twitter @dr_laserbeam.
Strain, P.S., & M. Hoyson. 2000. “The Need for Longitudinal, Intensive Social Skill Intervention: LEAP Follow-Up Outcomes for Children with Autism.” Topics in Early Childhood Special Education 20 (2): 116–22.