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An Inclusive Approach to Early Education



Chanda, a young child with Down syndrome, attends a local childcare program while her parents are at work. A speech-language pathologist and physical therapist come to the program every week to work with her and meet with her teacher.

After preschool, in a class with six children with disabilities and six children without disabilities, Devon, a little boy with autism, takes swimming lessons at the local community center.

Jonathan, a second grader with severe communication delays, participates in the youth choir at his church.

All of these children are involved in inclusive programs.

T his book is about inclusion in the lives of young children such as Chanda, Devon, and Jonathan. Inclusion means that children with special needs attend preschool, child care, recreational programs, and school with typically developing peers. In an inclusive program, all participants are accepted by their peers and other members of the community and are supported in an appro- priate manner that ensures that their needs are met (Stainback & Stainback, 1996).


children with special needs attend preschool, child care, and recreational programs with their typically develop- ing peers.

Inclusion is not merely a place, or an instructional strategy, or a curriculum; inclusion is about belonging, being valued, and having choices. Inclusion is also about accepting and valuing human diversity and providing the necessary sup- port so that all children and their families can participate successfully in the programs of their choice. Furthermore, inclusion is about accepting all children and their families and supporting their participation in the program. This means that programs must be sensitive to and respectful of different cultural values, beliefs, and practices. Program staff need to change their practices to accommodate the cultural beliefs and practices of children and families; these accommodations will result in programs that facilitate belonging and promote optimal child development.

A major change in public educational policy came about with the Educa- tion for All Handicapped Children Act (PL 94-142) in 1975. (This law was renamed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act [IDEA] when it was reauthorized in 1990 as PL 101-476 and amended as PL 105-17 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act Amendment of 1997, and most recently as Indi- viduals with Disabilities Act of 2004, PL 108-446.) This law entitles everyone with a disability, from birth to age twenty-one, to a “free and appropriate public education.” In addition, this federal law requires every child with a disability to be educated in the least restrictive environment. This means that children should be educated in the environment most like the educational environment of their peers who are typically developing, where the child can be successful with appropriate supports in place.

least restrictive environment (LRE)

the most normalized envi- ronment in which the needs of a child with disabilities can be met appropriately; often, the LRE is interpreted as the environment in which typically developing children function.

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