Inclusion of children with developmental delay and / or disability is not an optional extra – inclusion is a human right. Emma Pierce explains inclusion is much more than just being physically in the same place alongside other people.
Inclusion should not be tokenistic, but rather should involve looking at how a young child can most meaningfully participate in experiences like their peers of the same age. Keys to true inclusion are around providing adequate support and ensuring experiences are accessible to all children regardless of their abilities. Sometimes inclusive practice may require relatively minor adjustments to the universal design of programs, at other times early childhood professionals may need to seek training to develop skills such as around communication strategies or how to position a child who has a physical disability. Working in partnership with families and early childhood intervention practitioners in a child’s team is crucial to successful early childhood inclusion.
Why is inclusion so important?
Children, with and without disability and/or developmental delay, learn from the everyday environments they spend most time in and from the relationships with those they spend time with. In the first years of life, children spend most time with their family, early childhood educators and adults and children in their community. Learning is only useful and only promotes further development if it can actually be used in a natural context with other people. Inclusion, therefore is essential to learning and quality of life for children and families.
Inclusion is beneficial for all children.
The earlier children experience differences in ability and are supported to understand these differences, the more inclusive they tend to be. Evidence suggests that the benefits for children with developmental disability exist across a range of developmental domains. There are benefits in terms of emotional, social and academic outcomes for typically developing children who attend early childhood and school settings with children who have diverse abilities.
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What does successful inclusion look like in early childhood?
Inclusion works best when all involved in a child’s life work together in a coordinated way.
- Children with developmental delay and/or disability should be given just enough support to engage with their peers and access learning experiences.
- Early childhood educators can observe young children’s play and learning in a social context and can provide learning experiences, which promote their participation.
- Families share their knowledge of their child and their priorities for their child’s participation in the early childhood setting.
- Early childhood intervention practitioners can share understanding of a child’s strengths and needs and any specific strategies, which may support a child to access learning experiences in an early childhood setting.
- All professionals monitor, reflect on and review progress towards goals, and provide regular feedback to the family.
A new Working Together Agreement package will be released in early 2017, which aims to support collaboration between early childhood intervention workers, early childhood education and care workers and families.
The Working Together Agreement package will be available to download free from mid-February on the Early Childhood Intervention Australia (ECIA) NSW/ACT website: www.ecia-nsw.org.au
Tips for inclusion in early childhood:
- Find out important information about a child’s interests, strengths and needs.
- Reflect on how inclusive your philosophy and practices are as part of quality improvement.
- Aim to adapt general programs to be more accessible to all children wherever possible.
- Ask families about what their priorities are for their child’s participation in your environment.
- Support children to practice functional skills in real life situations with peers.
The quote below from Caitlin Townsend, an early childhood teacher at Jamberoo Preschool, shares an example of how one early childhood setting has worked in partnership with early childhood intervention practitioners to promote inclusion:
“We recently worked with the support of a physiotherapist and occupational therapist to research purpose built, height adjustable tables to increase participation for children with varying support needs including those developing core strength to assist them with sitting on a chair at a table.
Our biggest strength is how we naturally embed inclusion and how we do not draw attention to modifications being made to our environment ensuring all resources are used with every child during our every day routine.”
For more information, see ECIA NSW/ACT’s Inclusion Tool at www.ecia-nsw.org.au
Emma Pierce is the Inclusion and Transition to School Coordinator, Early Childhood Intervention Australia (NSW/ACT). References and useful links are available in the online version of this article.
Cologon, K (2013) Inclusion in education: Towards equality for students with disability. Children with Disability Australia, Issues Papers.
Moore, T., Symes, L., and Bull, K. (2013). Inclusion Tool, Early Childhood Intervention Australia (NSW/ACT)