Academic journal article Australian Journal of Early Childhood

Social Inclusion-The Next Step: User-Friendly Strategies to Promote Social Interaction and Peer Acceptance of Children with Disabilities

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Early Childhood

Social Inclusion-The Next Step: User-Friendly Strategies to Promote Social Interaction and Peer Acceptance of Children with Disabilities

Article excerpt


From our own experience as teachers in community early childhood settings (ECSs) we observed that children with developmental disabilities/delays were often relatively socially isolated from their peers and interacted far more frequently with adults. Our more recent experience as early childhood intervention (ECI) teachers has served to reinforce these observations through our consultation to many and varied ECSs. The families we work with constantly identify the development of friendships with other children as one of the main priorities for their child when they enter inclusive settings. Lack of friendships for the child can be a significant and ongoing stressor for families.

Examination of the research literature demonstrated that strategies to promote social interaction and social acceptance between children with a disability/delay and their peers were clearly identified and documented. Why then are these strategies not commonly used, even in the most socially-aware ECS programs? Could it be that these strategies have not moved beyond the university-based early childhood programs from where they originated, perhaps because conditions within community ECSs preclude implementation of such time-intensive methods? The aim of this project was to investigate whether a user-friendly social intervention package, devised in consultation with ECS staff, encompassing social integration activities and peer-mediated strategies, could be incorporated into the everyday activities and routines of the ECS program, and whether this would lead to increases in social interaction and social acceptance between children with developmental disabilities/delays and their peers.

Literature review

Relevant literature reinforces the observation that typically-developing children are more likely to interact socially with one another than with peers who have developmental delays or disabilities (Guralnick, 1981; Stoneman, 1993). Compared with typically-developing peers, children with disabilities in inclusive settings interact directly with adults up to 12 times more than with their peers (Hundert, Mahoney, Mund & Vernon, 1998). Social interaction within the peer culture is the basis from which friendships develop (Guralnick, 1981), and is an important medium through which language, cognitive and social learning takes place (Guralnick 1981; McEvoy & Odom, 1987). Young children who do not have access to positive social interactions with peers are at risk of social maladjustment in later life (Brown, Odom & Conroy, 2001; Strain & Odom, 1986). If the above findings are considered together then it seems reasonable to suggest that children with a disability are likely to have reduced opportunities to access the peer culture and to develop meaningful interactions and acceptance within it. Consequently, their potential to form friendships is severely limited, even within inclusive ECSs. While undoubtedly some of this increased direct adult contact is necessary, Harper and McCluskey (2003) suggest that too much direct contact with adults reduces these children's opportunities to interact meaningfully with their peers.

How then can the problem be addressed? Research into interventions aimed at facilitating social acceptance and social interaction between young children with disabilities and their peers has been prevalent for the past quarter-century. A range of social interventions has been identified within the literature, as follows:

I. Child-specific social interventions are those directed specifically at the child with a disability (Strain & Odom, 1986). An assessment is made of the child's deficits in social skills and a program worked out to try and remediate these. Much effort is put into prompting and reinforcing interaction with peers. It is interesting to note that child-specific interventions were found to have a negative effect on peer acceptance of the child with a disability (Odom, McConnell & Chandler, 1993; Odom et al. …

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