Supporting Inclusive Care and Education for Young Children with Special Needs and Their Families; an International Perspective

Article excerpt

Jean Paul is learning to use the controls of his new wheelchair with the assistance of the special education resource teacher in his inclusive child care center. He tentatively lurches forward, looking frightened and concerned.

Three friends run past him down the hall. One child, Simone, wears an orthotic on her leg. The teacher encourages them all to turn and call to Jean Paul, "Come." When Jean Paul reaches his friends in his wheelchair, they all cheer and Simone gives him a big hug. Jean Paul has a big smile on his face. (field note, Canada)

Katherine is lying on a flatboard swing and is being swung gently and spoken to by the inclusion teacher in the kindergarten room of the child care center. Two other girls come to see what she is doing and begin to rub her toes. (field note, Australia)

Jean Paul and Katherine are being included in the activities of their early childhood programs with their typically developing peers. Since the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1990 declared that all children, including those with special needs, have the right to be provided with a basic education and enjoy full participation in their communities, inclusive events such as these are being observed more often in child care and kindergarten programs around the world. The inclusion of young children with special needs into community child care centers, preschools, and kindergartens has been encouraged internationally as a positive means of enhancing the child's care and early development (Division for Early Childhood [DEC], 2000; Evans, 1998).

While countries have responded favorably with public policies that promote inclusion for young children, questions still remain: What international comparisons can be made among the structures and practices implemented to support the inclusion of young children with special needs and their families, pursuant to the United Nations declaration on the Rights of the Child? What do early childhood practitioners consider to be barriers to full inclusion for young children with special needs? What supports can overcome these obstacles? This article will provide us with a snapshot of barriers and supports for inclusion, based on the author's site visits at inclusive early childhood programs in western and central Canada, the southeastern United States, and eastern and southern Australia. Although continuing barriers to successful inclusion were found in each country, an ecological approach with supports at the individual, organizational, and societal levels holds promise for overcoming the obstacles to inclusion.

While definitions of full inclusion for young children vary, this article takes an ecological view of inclusion as advanced by the Council for Exceptional Children, Division for Early Childhood in 1993 (and then updated in 2000) and endorsed by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) in 1998. The DEC (2000) position states,

Inclusion, as a value, supports the right of all children, regardless of abilities, to participate actively in natural settings within their communities. Natural settings are those in which the child would spend time had he or she not had a disability. These settings include, but are not limited to, home, preschool, nursery schools, Head Start programs, kindergartens, neighborhood school classrooms, child care, places of worship, recreational (such as community playgrounds and community events) and other settings that all children and families enjoy.

An ecological model of inclusion requires that a complete analysis of inclusion must take place at the microsystem level of children, families, and classrooms; the mesosystem level of collaborations and relationships, such as those between parents and professionals; the exosystem level of organizational structures, policies, and external resources; and the macrosystem level of cultural beliefs, assumptions, and values (Odom & Diamond, 1998; Peck, 1993). …