ERIC Identifier: ED369581
Publication Date: 1994-06-00
Author: Diamond, Karen E. - And Others
Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood Education Urbana IL.
Integrating Children with Disabilities into Preschool. ERIC
These days, community preschool programs are increasingly likely to have at
least one child with disabilities in their classes. Although providing early
intervention to children with disabilities in an inclusive or integrated
environment designed to meet the needs of ALL children is commonly regarded as
best practice (Salisbury, 1991), concerns are sometimes raised about the ability
of preschool programs to meet the needs of children developing normally as well
as those with developmental delays. This digest examines research on preschool
programs that include children both with and without disabilities.
APPROPRIATENESS FOR CHILDREN WITH DISABILITIES
assumption in some early childhood special education programs is that children's
disabilities prevent them from taking advantage of the experiences that promote
typical child development. Recent research suggests that this assumption may not
be valid. Lamorey and Bricker, for example, in a study of integrated programs
(Peck et al., 1993, p.249-270), found that children with disabilities enrolled
in integrated early childhood programs demonstrated higher levels of social play
and more appropriate social interactions, and were more likely to initiate
interactions with peers than children in self-contained special education
preschool classes. Children with disabilities in integrated classes make gains
in language, cognitive, and motor development that are comparable to peers in
self-contained special education classrooms (Fewell & Oelwein, 1990).
Children with disabilities also display more advanced play in inclusive
settings than they do in self-contained classrooms. However, Odom and Brown, in
a discussion of social interaction skills interventions (Peck et al., 1993,
p.39-64), note that even in inclusive settings, young children with disabilities
are more likely to engage in noninteractive play, are less likely to participate
in play groups, and are chosen as playmates less frequently than are their peers
Some research suggests that it is the type of learning experiences that are
provided rather than the type of classroom setting (integrated or segregated)
that is critical in fostering children's development. Mahoney and his colleagues
(Mahoney & Powell, 1988; Mahoney et al., 1992) found that children with
disabilities were more likely to initiate play activities and communications
with their peers in settings where the adults displayed responsive and
child-oriented teaching styles than in classes where adults used directed and
instructionally oriented styles. Results of another study indicated that
child-directed teaching strategies resulted in greater gains in communication
skills for children with severe disabilities than did direct instruction (Yoder
et al., 1991). The teaching practices described in these studies are compatible
with developmentally appropriate teaching practices common in regular early
childhood education programs.
INTEGRATED PROGRAMS AND CHILDREN WITHOUT DISABILITIES
results of several studies suggest that children without disabilities benefit
from integrated classes that also address the needs of children with
disabilities. Normally developing children enrolled in integrated programs make
developmental gains at least equivalent to those made by their peers in
nonintegrated programs (Odom & McEvoy, 1988).
Parents and teachers believe that integrated programs offer additional
benefits for children without disabilities. Parents have reported that normally
developing children enrolled in integrated settings displayed less prejudice and
fewer stereotypes, and were more responsive and helpful to others, than were
children in other settings (Peck et al., 1992). Teachers have reported that
children without disabilities became increasingly aware of the needs of others
when they were enrolled in a class including a child with a severe disability
(Giangreco et al., 1993). While these findings are not based on direct
observations but on teachers' and parents' perceptions, they emphasize the
potential social benefits of integration for children without disabilities.
ADMINISTRATIVE STRUCTURE OF INTEGRATED
Administrative characteristics of successfully integrated programs,
according to Peck, Furman, and Helmstetter as reported in Peck et al. (1993,
p.187-205), are based on a philosophy that emphasizes the acceptance of
diversity and that places value on the program's role in and participation in
its community. The implementation of specialized interventions within naturally
occurring situations without disrupting the curriculum and educational routines
of the early childhood classroom was also an important factor in ensuring the
success of an integrated program.
Peck, Furman, and Helmstetter found that the progress made by individual
children in meeting developmental goals was not a critical factor in determining
whether or not a program remained integrated. Rather, the major reasons
integrated childhood programs did not survive (that is, became resegregated)
were related to the struggles between professionals over issues such as
management of time during the school day, types of classroom activities, and
intervention strategies. In other studies, teachers emphasized the need for
goals shared with special education and support personnel (Giangreco et al.,
1993; Rose & Smith, 1993).
NATURALISTIC TEACHING STRATEGIES
In addition to good
administration, appropriate teaching strategies are an important component of a
successfully integrated early childhood program. Recent research suggests that
NATURALISTIC teaching strategies provide an approach for implementing
intervention within regular classroom routines (Bricker & Cripe, 1992). In
naturalistic approaches, intervention is provided within the context of
naturally occurring activities in the child's environment. ACTIVITY-BASED
INTERVENTION is one such approach. (Although not discussed here, MILIEU LANGUAGE
TEACHING and TRANSACTIONAL INTERVENTION are other such approaches.) Naturalistic
intervention strategies reflect practices grounded in theories of Piaget,
Vygotsky, and Dewey, and complement the developmentally appropriate practice
model used in early childhood classrooms. Naturalistic intervention illustrates
the principle of nonintrusive individual instruction as applied in an integrated
preschool classroom. The goal of activity-based intervention is to develop
functional and generalizable skills. Functional skills are those that allow
children to negotiate through their environments in ways that are satisfying and
encourage independence, such as learning to request juice at snack time.
Generalizable skills are those that can be practiced and used in many different
settings (Bricker & Cripe, 1992).
In activity-based intervention strategies, teachers consider how children's
goals can be included in each classroom activity. An activity such as snack time
provides opportunities for working on eating independently (a self-help goal),
pouring juice (a fine motor goal), and requesting a food item (a communication
goal). Teachers are responsible for preparing an environment that is stimulating
for all children, not just those without disabilities. Regular and ongoing
evaluation of each child's progress in meeting individual goals is also a
critical component of activity-based intervention and other naturalistic
IMPLICATIONS OF INTEGRATED PROGRAMS
Knowledge about the
ways in which integrated programs can meet the needs of children and parents for
high-quality early childhood education has grown significantly in the past 10
years. The active involvement of parents, regular and special education
teachers, and administrators is now viewed as crucial in developing successful
integrated preschool programs. Most regular education preschool teachers believe
they are able to meet the needs of children with disabilities in their classes
when intervention is supportive of their expertise and respects the educational
approaches of the regular classroom.
New teaching strategies are being developed that meet the individualized
needs of children with disabilities in inclusive classes. Researchers, parents,
and practitioners are beginning to understand that participation in an inclusive
preschool classroom influences nondisabled children's understanding of
disabilities and sensitivity to their peers. The task now before the early
childhood community is to find the best ways to provide education that is
respectful of the talents and needs of individual children, parents, and
(Adapted from: Diamond, Karen E., Linda L. Hestenes, and Caryn E. O'Connor.
(1994). Integrating Young Children with Disabilities in Preschool: Problems and
Promise. YOUNG CHILDREN 49(2, Jan): 68-75. PS 521 662.)
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Bricker, D.D. and J.J. Cripe. (1992).
AN ACTIVITY-BASED APPROACH TO EARLY INTERVENTION. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes.
Fewell, R.R. and P.L. Oelwein. (1990). The Relationship between Time in
Integrated Environments and Developmental Gains in Young Children with Special
Needs. TOPICS IN EARLY CHILDHOOD SPECIAL EDUCATION 10(2, Summer): 104-116. EJ
Giangreco, M., R. Dennis, C. Coninger, S. Edelman, and R. Schattman. (1993).
"I've Counted Jon": Transformational Experiences of Teachers Educating Students
with Disabilities. EXCEPTIONAL CHILDREN 59(4, Feb): 359-372. EJ 459 583.
Mahoney, G. and A. Powell. (1988) Modifying Parent-Child Interaction:
Enhancing the Development of Handicapped Children. JOURNAL OF SPECIAL EDUCATION
22(1, Spring): 82-96. EJ 373 542.
Mahoney, G., C. Robinson, and A. Powell. (1992). Focusing on Parent-Child
Interaction: The Bridge to Developmentally Appropriate Practices. TOPICS IN
EARLY CHILDHOOD SPECIAL EDUCATION 12(1, Spring): 105-120. EJ 449 978.
Odom, S.L. and M. McEvoy. (1988). Integration of Young Children with
Handicaps and Normally Developing Children. In S. Odom and M. Karnes, Eds. EARLY
INTERVENTION FOR INFANTS AND CHILDREN WITH HANDICAPS: AN EMPIRICAL BASE.
241-248. Baltimore: Brookes.
Peck, C.A., P. Carlson, and E. Helmstetter. (1992). Parent and Teacher
Perceptions of Outcomes for Typically Developing Children Enrolled in Integrated
Early Childhood Programs: A Statewide Study. JOURNAL OF EARLY INTERVENTION 16(1,
Winter ): 53-63. EJ 445 822.
Peck, C.A., S.L. Odom, and D.D. Bricker. (Eds.). (1993). INTEGRATING YOUNG CHILDREN WITH DISABILITIES INTO COMMUNITY PROGRAMS. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes. ED 352 773. Not available from EDRS.
Rose, D.F. and B.J. Smith. (1993). Preschool Mainstreaming: Attitude Barriers
and Strategies for Addressing Them. YOUNG CHILDREN 48(4, May): 59-62. EJ 463
Salisbury, C.L. (1991). Mainstreaming during the Early Childhood Years.
EXCEPTIONAL CHILDREN 58(2,Oct-Nov): 146-155. EJ 437 653.
Yoder, P.J., A.P. Kaiser, and C.L. Alpert. (1991). An Exploratory Study of
the Interaction between Language Teaching Methods and Child Characteristics.
JOURNAL OF SPEECH AND HEARING RESEARCH 34(Feb): 155-167. EJ 427 098.