September 30, 2015

Early Learning Programs Urged to Include Children with Disabilities

On September 14, the U.S. Departments of Education and Health and Human Services (HHS) released a joint policy statement urging early learning programs to include children with disabilities. The guidance recommends that states, school districts, schools, and early childhood programs develop policies that support the inclusion of children with disabilities, and that professional development opportunities be offered to early childhood educators. An executive summary of the policy statement can be downloaded in PDF format.

The statement says: “Inclusion in early childhood programs refers to including children with disabilities in early childhood programs, together with their peers without disabilities; holding high expectations and intentionally promoting participation in all learning and social activities, facilitated by individualized accommodations; and using evidence-based services and supports to foster their development (cognitive, language, communication, physical, behavioral, and social-emotional) , friendships with peers, and sense of belonging. This applies to all young children with disabilities, from those with the mildest disabilities, to those with the most significant disabilities.”

The statement also summarize the scientific base for the benefits of inclusion:

  • Individualized evidence-based strategies for children with disabilities can be implemented successfully in inclusive early childhood programs.
  • Children with disabilities, including those with the most significant disabilities, can make significant developmental and learning progress in inclusive settings.
  • Research suggests that children’s growth and learning is related to their peers’ skills and the effects are most pronounced for children with disabilities.
  • These outcomes are achieved when children with disabilities are included several days per week in social and learning opportunities with their typically developing peers and specialized instructional strategies are used.
  • Typically developing children show positive developmental, social, and attitudinal outcomes from inclusive experiences.