Children form attitudes about people with disabilities as early as 4 or 5 years of age (Gerber, 1977; Jones, R., & Sisk, 1970), and often those attitudes are negative or rejecting (see Horne, 1985; Jones, R. L., 1984; Yuker, 1988 extensive reviews). Most research on children's attitudes has focused on assessing the attitudes of school-age children, with little attention given to effective strategies to promote positive attitudes of kindergarten-age children toward children with disabilities. An intervention at this early age might establish positive attitudes in children when they may be most malleable (Ladd, Price, & Hart, 1990) and least resistant to change (Conant & Budoff, 1982). More important, strategies for promoting positive attitudes toward people with disabilities may support the successful inclusion of children with disabilities in typical preschool or kindergarten settings (Brady, McEvoy, Gunter, Shores, & Fox, 1984; Haring, 1991).
Researchers have found several elements common to attitudes (Antonak & Livneh, 1988). Attitudes are learned through direct and indirect experiences and interactions with people, objects, and events and are highly influenced by the child's primary social group. In addition, attitudes are manifested behaviorally by a predisposition to act in a positive or negative way when the person encounters the attitude referent. When attempting to promote certain attitudes, educators must address the three fundamental influences on attitude formation (i.e., indirect experiences, direct experiences, and the child's social group; Triandis, Adamopoulos, & Brinberg, 1984).
Both indirect and direct experiences can be used in strategies designed to promote positive attitudes toward people with disabilities with older, school-age children (Jones, T., Sowell, Jones, & Butler, 1981; McHale & Simeonsson, 1980; Salend & Moe, 1983; Voeltz, 1980, 1982; Westervelt, Brantley, & Ware, 1983; Westervelt & McKinney, 1980). The findings from these representative studies clearly demonstrate that the attitudes and perceptions of elementary school-age children about people with disabilities can be altered in a relatively short period of time by providing positive, direct experience with children with disabilities, as well as indirect experience such as information through books, guided discussions, or simulation activities (see Horne, 1985; Jones, R. L., 1984; Yuker, 1988 for extensive reviews). Beyond these basic findings, researchers have indicated that girls may be influenced more than boys (Jones, T. et al., 1981; Voeltz, 1980). Voeltz examined the attitudes of children who experienced different levels of direct and indirect experiences with people with disabilities: a "no-contact" group (no opportunity for contact), a "low-contact" group (contact through routine daily activities such as lunch, recess, or library), and a "high-contact" group. Children in the high-contact group participated in a 10-week program designed to promote positive attitudes toward children with disabilities. Activities included a slide/sound presentation featuring children with severe disabilities, guided discussions, and opportunities to interact with children with disabilities in free-play or peer-tutoring activities. The discussions emphasized sensitivity and communication skills and provided an opportunity to share questions about people with disabilities. The general focus of the program was to develop relationships between children with and without disabilities.
After the intervention, children from the high-contact group scored significantly higher (more accepting) in their attitudes toward children with disabilities than did children in the other two groups. In addition, across all groups, girls were more accepting than boys. The author concluded that attitudes of children toward peers with severe disabilities can change as a function of the type of contact and Information provided. …