It might seem like tots with special needs are best off in preschool classes that are exclusively for atypical kids, but that's not necessarily the case. As I know from raising my son (who has cerebral palsy), children of all ages benefit from being included in classes and programs along with their typically-developing peers. And now, federal officials are finally agreeing. The U.S. Departments of Education and Health and Human Services released guildines this week recommending that early learning programs include children with disabilities.
"As our country continues to move forward on the critical task of expanding access to high-quality early learning programs for all children, we must do everything we can to ensure that children with disabilities are part of that," said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Currently, more than half of preschoolers with special needs are in segregrated settings, a statistic that hasn't changed much over the last three decades, reports Disability Scoop.
Obviously, children with special needs stand to benefit from being in top-notch preschools and learning programs. As Linda K. Smith, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Early Childhood Development, noted, "Meaningful inclusion supports children with disabilities in reaching their full potential. We know that children with disabilities, including those with the most significant disabilities and the highest needs, can make significant developmental and learning progress in inclusive settings." Yet what may not be clear to many parents is just how inclusion benefits children who don't have special needs. Those children, Smith continued, "can also show positive gains in devleopmental, social, and attitudinal outcomes." Being a classmate of a child with special needs can help other kids see that, in many ways, our children are still children. It makes them more open-minded to the glorious variety of people that is mankind. How great is that?
It's heartening to have the government get behind the inclusion of children in learning programs at an early age. Thing is, the new guidelines are just that —guidelines. I'll bet that many schools will likely be reluctant to implement them because they won't know how to, or may have concerns about cost. I sure hope our government doesn't stop here with making inclusion happen for children with special needs.
Ellen Seidman is a mom of two, editor, and professional snacker who blogs daily at Love That Max. You can find her pondering special needs parenthood and other important topics (such as what her next snack will be) on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Google+ even though she still hasn't totally figured out what that is.