Throughout your career, you have most likely been challenged to evaluate your beliefs and practices. This is an excellent practice; one that has hopefully helped you grow as a professional. One of the most common opportunities early childhood educators have to grow as professionals arises when working with children with special needs.
Having trained thousands of early care and education professionals, often on topics related to special needs, I understand that very few topics cause as much apprehension as the possibility of working with a child with special needs. On all but the rarest of occasions, this apprehension has be alleviated through knowledge and understanding of specific disabilities and instructional strategies. Which makes sense – the more information you have, the more confidence you have in your abilities.
But even before we dig into the specific strategies to use to support children in the classroom, we have the opportunity to examine our personal and professional beliefs about working with children with disabilities. One powerful resource we can use to prompt this examination is the official definition of early childhood inclusion, provided in the Joint Position Statement of the Division for Early Childhood (DEC) and the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC):
Early childhood inclusion embodies the values, policies, and practices that support the right of every infant and young child and his or her family, regardless of ability, to participate in a broad range of activities and contexts as full members of families, communities, and society. The desired results of inclusive experiences for children with and without disabilities and their families include a sense of belonging and membership, positive social relationships and friendships, and development and learning to reach their full potential. The defining features of inclusion that can be used to identify high quality early childhood programs and services are access, participation, and supports.
Without getting into the jargon, regulations, and laws associated with supporting individuals with special needs we can ask ourselves the following questions:
- Do I believe in the RIGHT of every child, regardless of ability, to participate as full members of families, communities, and society?
- Do I believe that all children deserve a sense of belonging and membership?
- Do I believe that all children deserve positive social relationships and friendships?
- Do I believe that all children deserve to develop and learn in order to reach their full potential?
Through this reflection, we can align our professional values to the spirit of early childhood inclusion. With those values firmly in place, we can move forward in our efforts to support all children, regardless of ability. When we struggle, we can remind ourselves of these values and beliefs. When we succeed, we reinforce these beliefs, increase our competence, and act as a powerful inspiration for others!
Share with us your inspiring stories of creating inclusive environments in the comments below.