Early Childhood Development: Article Reviews and Implications for Teachers
Walker, S., Carrington, S., Nicholson, J., Dunbar, S., Hand, K., Meldrum, K. […] Whitefold, C. (2012). The transition to school of children with developmental disabilities: Views of parents and teachers.” Australasian Journal of Early Childhood, 37(3), 22-29.
The beginning of school is one of the vital elements of children’s development during the early years. The success of children’s transition to school often predetermines their future academic successes (Walker et al., 2012). Children with developmental disabilities face considerable difficulties moving to school, mainly due to the problems with interpersonal communication and failure to adjust themselves to the requirements of the new school environment. In the context of early childhood development, transition to school is a serious qualitative change, since schools place emphasis on formal instruction and rules of behavior (Walker et al., 2012). Unfortunately, adequate information regarding the way children with developmental disabilities start their school years is still lacking. The goal of the present study was to assess parents’ and teachers’ perceptions of including children with developmental disabilities in mainstream classes and the appropriateness of children’s being placed in the regular school environment (Walker et al., 2012).
The most essential finding is that, in the first year of their participation in a mainstream class, parents felt extremely happy with the support, respect for children, and assistance provided (Walker et al., 2012). Parents and teachers reported numerous benefits from having a child with developmental disabilities included in a regular class (Walker et al., 2012). At the same time, for the sizeable number of children with developmental disabilities, being placed into a mainstream class was associated with numerous difficulties; consequently, teachers came to view such placement as inappropriate (Walker et al., 2012). The social advantages of including a child with developmental disabilities in a regular classroom could not be ignored, and parents were more likely to view such placement as beneficial and satisfactory, when they saw that their children received massive support and encouragement from teachers (Walker et al., 2012).
The way children with developmental disabilities operate in regular classrooms deserves professional attention. The fact is that, with the growing diversity of the student population and increased awareness of developmental disabilities, the number of children with developmental problems placed to mainstream classes is likely to increase. Unfortunately, not all teachers know how to address the developmental and educational needs of such children in regular school environments and how to make their transition to school easier and less problematic. The results of the study by Walker et al. (2012) provide several essential recommendations to teachers working with children who have developmental disabilities.
First, teachers should understand that the path of development in children with disabilities differs greatly from that in typically-developing children. Therefore, it is natural and logical that children with developmental disabilities may face difficulties in their transition to a mainstream classroom. Given that the success of children’s transition to school impacts their future academic outcomes, it is essential for teachers to provide supportive resources and assistance to children in their striving to build and sustain collaborative relationships with other children in the classroom (Walker et al., 2012).
Second, teachers confess that children with developmental disabilities experience major problems developing critical social skills, including attentiveness and teamwork (Walker et al., 2012). Consequently, teachers’ main task is to help such children build the social skills they need to succeed in mainstream classes. Third, Walker et al. (2012) have found serious incongruence between parents’ and teachers’ expectations of the way children with developmental disabilities operate in a mainstream class, and teachers’ inadequate expectations have been claimed to serve a major barrier to children’s successful inclusion in a regular classroom. Apparently, teachers should prepare themselves to the difficult and enduring work with such children and find an ideal match between the expectations they place on children with developmental disabilities and the resources they can use to make children’s transition to school easier.
Janus, M. (2011). Impact of impairment on children with special needs at school entry: Comparison of school readiness outcomes in Canada, Australia, and Mexico. Exceptionality Education International, 21(2), 29-44.
Children with special needs experience major difficulties in their transition to school. The latter is rightly considered as a turning point in the early development of all children. Many education systems fail to address the multitude of cognitive, emotional, and social problems presented by children with special needs (Janus, 2011). In this study, Magdalena Janus (2011) compared the educational and developmental outcomes of children with special needs across three countries: Canada, Australia, and Mexico. The researcher compared the social and learning outcomes of children with and without special needs and tried to establish whether any impairments presented any particular risks to children upon their transition to Grade 1 (Janus, 2011). In this study, such impairments were divided into six main categories that include: visual, physical, hearing, speech impairments, as well as learning and behavior problems (Janus, 2011).
The most important finding is that children with special needs do struggle in their transition to Grade 1 compared to their typically-developing peers (Janus, 2011). Children with behavioral problems, learning disabilities, and speech impairments are particularly vulnerable to academic difficulties in their transition to school (Janus, 2011). Another important result is that, across the three countries in this study, the type of impairment greatly impacts children’s school readiness: children with hearing and visual impairments do not fare as poorly as their peers with learning disabilities and behavior problems (Janus, 2011). Finally, and most importantly, it is the classroom context that impacts children’s academic and social outcomes (Janus, 2011). Thus, teachers must assume primary responsibilities for the way children with special needs succeed in regular classrooms.
The results imply that teachers need to reconsider their attitudes to children with special needs and their transition to school. Developmental disabilities and other special needs greatly impact the way children develop mentally and emotionally during their early years and through their transition to Grade 1. Not surprisingly, children with special needs experience additional difficulties during their transition to school (Janus, 2011). This, however, does not mean that teachers should avoid including such children in regular classes. On the contrary, teachers are expected to apply additional effort and utilize their skills and academic potentials to ensure that children with special needs have access to the social and learning resources that make their transition to Grade 1 easier.
Janus (2011) provides a valuable insight into what disabilities and special needs require particular attention from teachers: children with behavior problems, learning disabilities, and speech impairments may need to participate in additional Prep programs to facilitate their transition to school. Unfortunately, many present-day teachers do not differentiate among various types of special needs and disabilities and, for this reason, reduce children’s chances to enter school and succeed in their academic strivings. For this reason, teachers must be particularly thorough in identifying the special needs of pre-school children, “as identification of the needs status […] at least gives the child greater chances to receive educational supports” (Janus, 2011, p.41). Teachers should develop special tests, procedures, and interventions to have complete needs assessment results before the child with special needs enters the classroom for the first time.
It is due to the lack of skills and competence in teachers that children with special developmental needs face barriers to school transition (Janus, 2011). At the same time, from the pre-school needs identification process follows that teachers must create a learning context that responds to the special needs identified before their transition to school. They can create special accommodations or ensure the presence of education assistants, depending on the nature of the special need that has been identified (Janus, 2011). Despite policy and curriculum variations across countries, it is clear that children’s functional impairments are directly related to their academic results (Janus, 2011). Teachers should start viewing children’s developmental problems not as a barrier to learning but merely as a source of essential information on which curriculum and classroom adjustments should be made to facilitate children’s transition to Grade 1.
Wheeler, B.L. & Stultz, S. (2008). Using typical infant development to inform music therapy with children with disabilities. Early Childhood Education Journal, 35, 585-591.
According to Wheeler and Stultz (2008), Greenspan’s model of psychological development in infants and children provides a comprehensive review of children’s cognitive and emotional growth during the early years and provides numerous clues to the most common problems facing children at these developmental stages. The fundamental concept behind Greenspan’s model is that, with time, children develop and expand their emotional regulation capacities that help them handle their emotional stimulation without losing the balance (Wheeler & Stultz, 2008). Based on this model, Wheeler and Stultz (2008) initiated a music project for typically-developing children and their peers with severe disabilities, with the goal of identifying treatment and intervention strategies at each stage of early childhood development.
The results showed that music could play a role in enhancing children’s emotional regulation capacity at every stage of their cognitive and emotional development. In children with developmental delays, music helped reduce physical distress and achieve greater self-interest in the world (Wheeler & Stultz, 2008). Music was used to contain the agitated and motivate the soothing child (Wheeler & Stultz, 2008). As soon as the child was energized, music could be used to facilitate their transition to the stage of relationship building and, with time, enable children to sustain their relationships (Wheeler & Stultz, 2008). At later stages of children’s development, music was found to contribute to the development of effective two-way communication between the therapist and the child (Wheeler & Stultz, 2008).
Based on the findings of Wheeler and Stultz (2008), music displays enormous treatment potentials, especially for children with developmental disabilities and special needs. Yet, the main recommendation provided by Wheeler and Stultz (2008) is that teachers and educational therapists must possess thorough knowledge of the developmental stages children pass during their early years. Based on this knowledge, teachers and therapists can develop music interventions that match the developmental stage of the child and help reduce the emotional and cognitive gap between typically-developing children and their peers with severe developmental disabilities. Not all modern teachers recognize the value of non-traditional music approaches to infant and child development. For the most part, teachers should expand their professional worldview and understand that music motivates children to engage in two-way communication and develop better social and learning skills (Wheeler & Stultz, 2008).
Unfortunately, Wheeler and Stultz (2008) do not provide any specific recommendations as to the nature and content of the music-based interventions for children with developmental disabilities. As a result, teachers are facing the difficult task to develop interventions that help children progress in their emotional regulation and communication capacity. The best teachers can do is to analyze the way children with developmental disabilities regulate their emotions and manage their cognitive resources at different stages of their psychosocial development. The results of such assessments will lay the groundwork for the creation of various intervention models to organize children’s behaviors beyond their current level.