The Push for Greater Inclusion for Special Needs Children in Preschool Education

According to U.S. Department of Education statistics, while most preschoolers with disabilities attend general early childhood programs, the majority is educated in segregated environments. It seems the Obama administration wants to change that so that kids with disabilities are participating in classrooms alongside their typically-developing peers.

The U.S. Departments of Education and Health and Human Services have been recently seeking comment on a draft policy statement encouraging greater inclusion for young children with disabilities. Specifically, the federal agencies are urging states to create task forces focused on early childhood inclusion, implementation policies, and allocation of funding to facilitate such programs that set and track goals for expanding inclusive learning opportunities.

President Obama vistis preschool

It’s no surprise that education and developmental professionals sit on both sides of the issue for and against this push. The scales seem to be tipping as the proliferating research and pilot programs across the state are showing the efficacy of inclusion for special needs children with their typically-developing peers.

A recent study by researchers at Ohio State University shows that language skills improve when preschoolers with disabilities are included in classes with typical peers. The study, involved 670 preschool-aged children enrolled in 83 early childhood special education classrooms in Ohio. The children’s language skills were measured in the fall and spring of the academic year with a commonly used test called the Descriptive Pragmatics Profile.

The researchers found that the average language skills of a child’s classmates in the fall significantly predicted the child’s language skills in the spring – especially for children with disabilities. The study found that children with disabilities that learned alongside highly skilled peers had language scores 40 percent better than those special needs kids placed with low achieving peers. Equally important in the findings was the fact that the scores and subsequent learning ability of the high achieving students were unaffected by the learning environment with special needs children.

The fact that the study and its results appeared in the journal Psychological Science lends greater credence to the current administration’s push for inclusiveness. This also speaks to the dissenters in education who feel special needs students are best served in separate environments from traditional classrooms.

Despite that opinion, school systems around the country are moving forward with pre-school and K-12 reports and program implementations. The collective perspective is to show the need and efficacy of a more inclusive education setting for special needs children.

A California statewide task force recently unveiled a 222-page plan to dramatically improve education for students with disabilities. While the report, titled “One System: Reforming Education to Serve All Students,” calls for the “seamless integration” of special education services into schools, the goal is to make suggestions that serve all students equally.

In New Jersey, SPAN (Statewide Parent Advocacy Network) launched the NJ Inclusive Child Care Project (NJICCP) to increase education quality as well as the number of providers and resources for children with special needs. The goal is to provide a guide for parents and advocates to learn how the state’s education system works for special needs children in New Jersey, and how they can make it work better.

In Pennsylvania, the Education Law Center produced a guide for parents and advocates of special needs children. The Guide entitled “The Right To Special Education In Pennsylvania: A guide for parents and Advocates,” lays out the federal and state laws to which educational institutions must adhere in order to provide equal access to education for special needs children in the state. This is one of many efforts in the state to help improve the access and educational opportunities for special needs children of all ages.

The push for more inclusiveness from the federal level will hopefully foster more studies and actual programs that benefit special needs children in preschool education and beyond. Ultimately, as these studies and programs increase, the hope is that they serve a purpose of creating actionable plans that improve education for special needs children in ways that positively impact their lives.


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