While it is true for all children that early education and developmental efforts go a long way to empowering healthy and fulfilled adults, this particularly applies to children with disabilities. Despite more vulnerability to developmental risks, young children with disabilities often have insufficient access to mainstream programs and services. Difficulties stemming from inadequate government policy, negative attitudes and lack of physical access make a challenging situation even tougher. If these children and their parents are not provided with timely and appropriate early intervention, support and protection, there may be severe long-term consequences, increased poverty and profound exclusion.
All children need support to reach their full potential, including parenting, play and educational efforts, to develop social skills, language, and physical and cognitive capacity. Many children with disabilities also require early medical, therapeutic and clinical intervention, which the United Nations has declared a right. The first three years of a child's life are critical in developing essential characteristics of future growth and for those with disabilities it is a window of time when the risk of future disability can be minimized. This is when partnerships and referral processes can be formed with health clinics and disability service providers. In the home, knowledge from a personal support worker course helps identify children who would benefit from further outside help. Self-help groups and organizations can be facilitated for parents to share information and seek training while a space is provided for the children to play.
Early childhood inclusion can be promoted by increasing access to a variety of organizational and community contexts, using a wide range of instructional approaches to foster participation in play and learning activities, particularly a sense of belonging, and developmental supports. It requires a fundamental shift in attitudes by society, ensuring primary schools are nurturing, welcoming environments and teachers have adequate training and support to encourage every child to reach their full potential. Inclusive pre-school and primary schooling necessitates additional investments in accessible facilities, flexible teaching methods and educational resources, which ultimately benefit all children.
Current early intervention systems are highly fragmented with parents in rural communities often having to travel long distances to reach support from children's hospitals or specialized schools. There have been recent efforts to integrate the many support services (health, education, speech and language, therapists, etc.) to enable smoother transitions to the school system. With municipalities and school boards sharing responsibilities, there will be challenges to open communication and erode territorialism but also great potential to make lasting differences for children, their families and the school system as a whole. Elementary teachers without specific developmental training can be assisted by educators from an early childhood college working with this inclusive approach. Evidence suggests inclusive, family-based early intervention with a long-term focus significantly reduces the number of children in special education programs later in school and enables children with lifelong disabilities to become happier, more productive members of society.
by Patrick Quinn