Promoting Social Interaction of Children with Disabilities in Integrated Preschools: A Failure to Generalize

Article excerpt

Much of the movement for mainstreaming children with disabilities is based on the compelling rationale of its social benefits for these children (Guralnick & Groom, 1988). Few empirical studies, however, have been completed on effective procedures for its implementation (Jenkins, Speltz, & Odom, 1985; Odom & McEnvoy, 1988). There is reason to believe that spontaneous improvement in the social behaviors of children with disabilities does not occur through admininstrative placement of these children with normally developing children (Gresham, 1984; Jenkins et al., 1989; Snyder, Apolloni, & Cooke, 1977). Compared with peers without disabilities, children with disabilities placed in regular pre-schools tend to be more socially rejected by peers, display more social isolation, place more demands on teacher time, are less attentive, and are more often the recipient of negative behaviors from normally developing children (Burstein, 1986; Honig & McCarron, 1988; Novak, Olley, & Kearney, 1980; White, 1980).

Successful integration of children with disabilities into regular preschools requires carefully planned and systemic procedures that result in positive social interaction between children with and without disabilities. One strategy for promoting social interaction in integrated preschools has been a "teacher mediated" approach, in which the teacher interacts with children with disabilities in ways designed to increase positive behaviors with peers (Odom & Strain, 1984). Another strategy for promoting social interaction has been a "peer mediated" approach, wherein normally developing peers are selected and trained to facilitiate improved social interaction of children with disabilities. Both of these approaches have been shown to produce initial positive effects, but results of the generalization of these effects across settings and over time are mixed at best (Odom, Hoyson, Jamieson, & Strain, 1985; Odom & Strain, 1984; Sancilio, 1987; Strain & Fox, 1977).

Durable generalization and maintenance of positive social interaction between preschoolers with and without disabilities may depend on the emergence of reciprocity intheir approach and response to social behaviors (Kohler & Fowler, 1985; Strain & Shores, 1977). Unfortunately, children with disabilities tend to be weak in social skills and are not well accepted by peers (Gresham, 1982). One way to promote social interaction among preschoolers may be to introduce a social interaction program within the context of the entire preschool class (Odom & Strain, 1984). This strategy may have a number of positive features:

* Since the intervention is focused on the group as a whole, there is minimal stigmitizing of children with disabilities.

* The regular teacher may acquire programming skills applicable across a number of situations.

* Generalization of effects may be enhanced by the use of a natural group of children.

The purpose of this research was to examine the effectiveness of a classwide social skills program (CSSP) in promoting social interaction of children with disabilities within regular preschools. The CSSP consists of a multimethod training package to promote social interaction among all children in the class, including children with disabilities. The training package included: (a) instructions on specific social behaviors (e.g., sharing) (Cooke & Apolloni, 1976); (b) puppet modeling of a social skill (Kelly, 1981); (c) rehearsal with feedback (Barton, 1981); (d) teacher prompting and praising of positive social interaction during free-play period (Cooke & Apolloni, 1976; Strain, Shores, & Kerr, 1978); (e) token contingencies for positive social interaction that are later systemically faded (Fox, Shores, Lindeman, & Strain, 1986; Odom et al., 1985); and, (f) teacher evaluation and self-evaluation of children's appropriate social behaviors (Fowler & Baer, 1981). …