The purpose of high-quality childcare is to ensure that children with and without special needs reach their full potential by collaborating with families, therapists, and community partners. For some children, that means providing the highest quality preschool education with educated teachers and low student-to-teacher ratios. For other children, that also involves incorporating therapists to address a development delay in one or more areas. An integrated preschool education environment allows children with and without special needs to interact and learn from one another in the same classroom.
Children with a diagnosed developmental delay will have peer models to show them how to achieve each developmental milestone. Children with typical abilities solidify their own learning through teaching their peers. This system is much like that used in our teaching hospitals today, “See It, Do It, Teach It”. A child is introduced to a skill when he sees another child demonstrate the activity. He moves to the next stage of learning when he is able to act out the skill himself. Finally, a skill is truly mastered once a child understands it well enough to explain it to a peer. This inclusive classroom design also allows children to associate with peers with a diversity of skills and abilities and learn to appreciate those differences.
It is essential to make sure that all children and families are treated with the utmost respect. One of the ways that we try to achieve this goal is by using People-First Language. People-First Language means always putting the person before the disability. For example, instead of saying “a CP child”, you would say a child with Cerebral Palsy. Instead of saying “an Epileptic child”, you would say “a child with Epilepsy”. Instead of saying “a disabled child”, you would say “a child with a physical delay”. Using People First Language is not about being politically-correct. Instead, it is a sign of respect that the disability is merely one characteristic of a person that may have many feelings, attributes, and talents.
The tone and characteristics of our language show our attitude and inadvertently shape our mindset. Even more concerning, our language shapes the mindset of our children who are listening to our vocabulary on a daily basis and learning to copy our every word. It is essential that we start teaching our children People-First Language now so that we eliminate this unnecessary prejudice as soon as possible. Start listening to your own speech and the speech of those around you, and challenge yourself to correct these inconsistencies. It is one small way to show additional respect to others.
Dr. Sarah Vanover has been working in the field of early childhood education for over 22 years and has had the opportunity to be a teacher, a director, and a trainer for other early childhood educators. She has a passion for making sure that children with special needs receive high-quality early care and education.