Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Education

Starting Kindergarten: Transition Issues for Children with Special Needs

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Education

Starting Kindergarten: Transition Issues for Children with Special Needs

Article excerpt

To investigate issues in transition to kindergarten for children with special needs, we explored several sources of information (peer-reviewed literature, government websites, parent surveys, and interviews with professionals). We found that administrative issues like lack of integration and the evaluation of services available to children and families, and parent support issues like promoting advocacy were recurring themes in all sources. Although some barriers are very clear, more systematic research is needed to identify factors facilitating successful adjustment to kindergarten among children with special needs.

Key words: school entry, disability, school adjustment, special education

Desirant etudier les problemes de transition a la maternelle chez les enfants ayant des besoins particuliers, les auteures ont explore plusieurs sources d'information (publications evaluees par les pairs, sites Web gouvernementaux, sondages aupres de parents et entrevues avec des professionnels). Les auteures ont decouvert que les problemes administratifs, comme le manque d'integration et l'evaluation des services offerts aux enfants et aux families, et les problemes relies au soutien des parents, notamment la defense de leurs droits, etaient des themes recurrents dans toutes les sources. Bien que certains obstacles soient tres clairement decrits, il faudrait une recherche plus systematique pour identifier les facteurs qui favorisent l'adaptation des enfants ayant des besoins speciaux a la maternelle.

Mots cles : entree/a l'ecole, deficience, adaptation scolaire, education de l'enfance en difficulte


Transition to elementary school is an important and complicated event in any child's life, but even more so for children with special health needs and their families. Children with special needs face a complex transition to kindergarten, yet major gaps exist in the research knowledge about this process. These children often require additional support to adjust to the school environment and function at an adequate level for learning (Hains, Fowler, Schwartz, Kottwitz, & Rosenkoetter, 1989); frequently these are not in place before children enter school (Kierstad & Hanvey, 2001). It is, therefore, crucial to identify the issues that prevent a successful transition and adjustment.

Special needs status is an operational term that tends to be defined similarly, yet with subtle differences, in various jurisdictions. In Canada, provincial ministries of education are responsible for definitions and policies in the area of special education. Four provinces have accessible documents that provide detailed descriptions of special needs: Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta, and British Columbia (Janus, 2005). These definitions cover a broad spectrum of disabilities, both on the mild to severe axis and the diagnostic axis, e.g., mental, emotional, physical/medical, learning, and communication. Ontario and British Columbia specifically include autism. Alberta and Manitoba divide the conditions into mild/moderate and severe, with Alberta's categories being based on the IQ range. Two important issues have to be emphasized. First, the term special needs does not include children whose life circumstances may have put them at risk for low educational outcomes, for example, children living in poverty, in disadvantaged neighborhoods, or with abusive caregivers. Therefore research on the transition to school for these populations is not considered in this article. Second, the term special needs, originating in the field of education, indicates educational needs that are different from those of typical children. For example, although a child with a pervasive developmental disorder has dramatically different educational needs than a child with severe vision impairment, both these conditions fall under special needs. It has long been argued that it is important to consider children with health conditions in a non-categorical way, that is, based on their needs rather than specific diagnosis (Stein & Jessop, 1982). …

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