Integrating Infants; a Playgroup for Both Visually Impaired and Sighted Infants Provides a Well-Structured Model for Mainstreaming Preschoolers with Disabilities

Article excerpt

Integrating Infants

Since the passage of PL 94-142 with its emphasis on "least restrictive environ-ment," mainstreaming and integration of students with special needs into regular education and community settings has grown steadily. Recently, this interest has extended downward as children with special needs have been integrated into pre-school and day care programs developed for non-impaired children. This trend toward providing more integration experi-ences for young children can be expecteded to grow as a result of the recent passage of PL 99-457.

Infants with visual impairments have specific developmental needs that require the specialized services of infant/visual impairment specialists working simultaneously with the infant and the parents. As with any highly diverse, low incidence group, it is very difficult to provide practical, cost-effective solutions to these service needs. Integration into community infant programs facilitated by specialists is an easily developed, cost-effective component of intervention for children with disabilities.

To date, there is essentially no literature on the integration of infants with visual impairments into parent-child playgroups designed for non-impaired infants. This may be the next frontier of the integration movement, as there are reasons to expect that integration experiences may be more easily achieved and more effective the earlier they are initiated. Some of these reasons are: 1. Parents of all infants have a common interest in the basics of physiological growth and development. During the period of infancy parents of all children share the same primary, concern with eating patterns, sleep patterns, growth, skill development, socialization and physical health. This provides the parents with a more common set of priorities related to the child than might be true later. 2. Differences between children with visual impairments and their sighted peers may be least obvious in infancy. The adaptive behaviors of infants with visual impairments are likely to be most similar from their sighted peers while both sets of infants are working to master the developmental tasks of the sensory-motor period. 3. The only prerequisite for participation in an integrated playgroup is sufficient medical stability. In a playgroup setting, adults provide guidance and support for the behavior of the infant that is attuned to the individual infant's skills and needs. Most infants require considerable assistance with activities, so there is no stigma for the infant with a visual impairment who may require extra assistance. 4. Involving the parents in integration is more effective than involving the children alone. Infant playgroup integration simultaneously impacts the attitudes of the parent and the child. The parents of sighted children, having participated in integrated infant settings will be more accepting of their children's peers with visual impairments and more willing to entertain them at home than parents who have not participated in such a program. 5. By beginning integration in infancy, an expectation of integration is developed that can then be maintained throughout school and life. Attitudes developed early carry through life; acceptance is more easily learned from the outset than later in life. It should prove true that children (both visually impaired and sighted) who have partici-pated in an integrated infant setting are easily transitioned into integrated preschools, integrated elementary schools, inte-grated secondary schools and finally integrated work places.

DEVELOPING

AN INTEGRATED

PLAYGROUP

The process for developing an integrated playgroup involves three steps: 1) locating a suitable program in the community and enlisting its cooperation, 2) providing inservice training to the staff, and 3) providing information to the parents of participating infants (both sighted and visually impaired) upon registration for the playgroup. …