National Network for Child Care's Connections Newsletter
Lynn Moore, Donna Nylander, and Anne Shannon
The Regional Technical Assistance System, Lombard, IL.
[Reprinted with permission from: Fox Valley AEYC, Elgin, Illinois.]
Copyright Access Information
Adam, a child with Down's syndrome, is entering your program. He looks different from other children, and he has developmental delays. His play is not as complex as other children's play. He feeds himself, but he only uses a spoon. He speaks, but his speech is often hard to understand. He tries to interact with other children and responds when they approach him, but these interactions are usually brief (Bredekamp and Rosegrant, 1992).
In most families, the first day of school triggers excitement and anxiety. In families with children who have disabilities, parents are also concerned about their child's rights. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 gave parents the right to enroll children with disabilities in neighborhood child care settings. The act requires that you assess each child on a case-by-case basis and decide what supports would be necessary to include that child in your program (Fink, 1992). If a child with disabilities wants to enter your program, what steps should you take to make sure it's going to work for everyone involved?
Always remember that children are more alike than different. In all important ways, disabilities don't make a difference. Children need to feel welcome, and they need to feel safe, both physically and emotionally. They also need to have friends and to feel as if they belong. All children should be encouraged to live up to their potential, and every child should be celebrated for his or her uniqueness. It's easy to focus on the differences, but there are two important things that you should keep in mind (Wolery, Strain, and Bailey, 1992). All children are first, last, and always children; and second, all children have special needs.
Louise Derman-Sparks says that teachers must become aware of their own deep-seated attitudes. One mother asked her day care provider to "try to get past his face." Try to look beyond the features that remind you of the disability, whether they are physical, mental, or emotional. If you can't see beneath the surface, it's hard to believe in the child's potential. Children who are not disabled should also gain information and express their feelings about disabilities.
"The challenge for the teacher is to treat each child as an individual. If you treat everyone the same, you are not using each child's uniqueness. Seek and recognize the differences and help the child feel comfortable with her differences. The goal is to develop an appreciation for each child as an individual. Then we can help parents value their child as an individual." (Neugebauer, 1992)
The curriculum for children with disabilities should follow the same principles found in high-quality programs for children with typical development (Woverly, Strain, and Bailey, 1992). Gear your curriculum toward individual children. Seek input from families. Work to develop the skills listed on the individualized education plan by using child-centered and teacher-led activities. Make learning activities and materials concrete, real, and relevant to the lives of young children. The classroom environment, outdoor activities, materials, and equipment should be organized and easy to obtain. Work to develop the skills listed on the individualized education plan by using child-centered and teacher-led activities.
Children do notice differences in people, although they tend to become aware of disabilities later than they become aware of gender and race. By age 2, some children begin to recognize obvious differences in physical abilities (Derman-Sparks, 1989). In the past, children were told not to point, stare, or ask questions about people with disabilities. Today, we believe that children should be encouraged to ask questions in a respectful way. They should know that it's okay to have questions and concerns. Children may believe that they can catch a disability or that it is a punishment. Acknowledge and correct these fears gently.
Always use correct language. That means using the child's name first and then the disability. Say, for example, "Adam was born with Down's syndrome. That means it takes him a little longer to do things." Include all of the children in these conversations. Answer questions as they come up and give simple and direct responses. If the child uses adaptive equipment at school, encourage him to show how it works. Or you could invite the parent or a nurse to come demonstrate the equipment. Let the other children experience how it works.
Parents often fear that a child with special needs will take time and energy away from their own child. Talk with them about this concern and set the tone for future dialogue. Invite parents and community members to take part in your programs, and get people involved during and after your activities. Help the other parents understand why parents with special-needs children want their kids in "normal" settings. Point out that having children with disabilities in the classroom is good for their children. They'll learn to accept differences, they'll benefit from a number of teaching strategies, and they'll have the chance to be a peer helper or to see how this is done. And, as you demonstrate daily your belief that everyone is special, the children will learn to feel valued for their own uniqueness. As an active learner in this environment, they learn to become supportive adults.
Most educators believe that the parent is the child's first and most important teacher. When you involve a child's family and understand their strengths and needs, the child benefits. The family also benefits as they receive support in dealing with the challenges and joys of raising their child. For the best results, parents and professionals should work together. We are only limited by our vision, our creativity, and our willingness to work as partners!
As a first step in countering bias, look at the room where children play, and the materials used. Remember that just putting children with and without disabilities together does not instantly reduce fears or create friendships. Take these steps to help the children accept and value each other.
1. Introduce disability awareness into your after-school program by using pictures, stories, and dolls. There are many excellent books and videos that discuss a variety of disabilities. Don't let disabilities become a "theme." Materials should be used naturally throughout the year.
2. Let children explore special equipment used by persons with disabilities. Local hospitals, rehabilitation institutes, physical therapists, and special education programs may let you borrow equipment or buy old equipment.
3. Recognize that a child with a disability is just like any other child. He or she may need your help in entering a group or playing a game. Part of your task with this new child may be helping him or her learn how to approach and play with peers. You may need to be the child's play partner for a while. As the child learns these skills and begins to use them, you can fade out of the picture.
4. Pair children as "buddies." Children can help each other in math, art, language activities, and in outdoor play. This gives children an organized way to get to know each other. Make sure the child with the disability has the chance to be the helper too.
Bredekamp, S. 1987. *Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children from Birth through Age 8.* Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children.
Bredekamp, S., and T. Rosegrant. 1992. *Reaching Potentials: Appropriate Curriculum and Assessment for Young Children,* vol. 1. Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children.
Edelman, L. (Ed.). 1991. *Getting on Board: Training Activities to Promote the Practice of Family-Centered Care.* Baltimore, MD: Association for the Care of Children's Health.
Fink, D. May 1992. The Americans with Disabilities Act. *Child Care Information Exchange,* pp. 43-46.
Neugebauer, B. (Ed.). 1992. *Alike and Different: Exploring our Humanity with Young Children* (rev. ed.). Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children.
Sparks-Derman, L. 1989. *Anti-Bias Curriculum Tools for Empowering Young Children.* Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children.
Chapel Hill Training Outreach Project, (919)490-5577, FAX (919)490-4905.
Illinois Early Childhood Intervention Clearinghouse. For information or bibliographies on birth to five issues, call 1(800)852-4302.
Reprinted with permission from the National Network for Child Care - NNCC. Moore, L., Nylander, D., & Shannon, A. (1995). First they are children. In Todd, C.M. (Ed.), *School-age connections*, 4(3), Urbana-Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Cooperative Extension Service.
Contact Us | Non-discrimination Statement and Information Disclosures | © Iowa State University, 2002