Academic journal article Exceptional Children

After Preschool Inclusion: Children's Educational Pathways over the Early School Years

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

After Preschool Inclusion: Children's Educational Pathways over the Early School Years

Article excerpt

   It's really imperative to me that he's in a regular classroom because he
   learns so much that you're not aware of him learning ... I don't want to
   shortchange him. (Mother of Lester, a kindergartner diagnosed with autism)

   I think we have to try [inclusion]. If it doesn't work ... then we can
   always make a change. (Mother of Ella, a first grader with Down syndrome)

   If he were in a regular classroom, he wouldn't get as much attention as he
   does now. (Mother of Lenny, a second grader with physical disabilities)

These quotations from parents hint at the many factors that influence educational placement decisions for children with disabilities in the early school years. Though the provision of educational services in least restrictive or inclusive environments has been a central goal in recent decades, the decision to place a child in an inclusive or self-contained special education program is seldom a clear cut decision. Rather, these decisions reflect a complex transactional process involving multiple factors that often interact and may change over time. Educational placements and the goals and decisions surrounding placements, thus, are not static phenomena.

Inclusion in the early years has been the target of many educational initiatives (Buysse, Wesley, & Keyes, 1998; Guralnick, 1990, 1999; Harvey, Voorhees, & Landon, 1997; Peck, Odom, & Bricker, 1993; Salisbury & Vincent, 1990; Wolery et al., 1993; Wolery & Wilbers, 1994) and the subject of a host of educational research studies (Buysse & Bailey, 1993; Guralnick & Groom, 1988; Lamorey & Bricker, 1993; Mills, Cole, Jenkins, & Dale, 1998; Odom & Diamond, 1998; Odom et al., 1996; Peck, Odom, & Bricker, 1993). Despite this policy and research attention, support for inclusive educational placements for children with disabilities has not been without controversy regarding its benefits for all children (Bricker, 1995; Filler, 1996; Fuchs & Fuchs, 1994; Peck, 1995; Siegel, 1996).

Inclusion is a complex process influenced by many factors within families, classrooms, communities, and society. An individual child's experience both affects and is affected by her or his family beliefs and values, aspects of the classroom (e.g., curricular activities, teacher's philosophy) and school (e.g., services offered, philosophy), as well as the policies and values espoused in the larger community.

Children's placement decisions are rarely made on the basis of a single factor. The nature of decision making with respect to inclusion highlights the complexity of these decisions. Often professionals and parents must weigh a variety of factors in this process. Bailey, McWilliam, Buysse, and Wesley (1998) identified potentially competing factors families must weigh as they consider various educational alternatives; these factors included program quality, availability of specialized services to address children's special needs, and access to family-centered approaches. Though schools and communities may hold these values, it is often difficult to simultaneously achieve all these goals and receive inclusive services as well. The diverse needs of children and families and the degree to which these needs match the existing services within communities further influence options for inclusion (Hanson et al., 1998). Thus, educational planning and decision making is complex with the potential for competing values and practices from which professionals and parents must choose. The influence of these factors and the combination or interaction among factors changes over the course of the children's school experiences as well.

This article, therefore, examines multi-setting and multilevel influences on decision making regarding young children's participation or nonparticipation in inclusive programs. Shifts in influential factors were studied over the course of a 5-year period as children moved from inclusive preschool placements to elementary school environments over their early school years. …

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