by Alejandra Escamilla
Early inclusion is defined as inclusion that begins in the preschool age. We are very lucky to have adopted this at ASFM. The benefits to early inclusion are endless, and apply for everyone. Children in preschool are still at a developmental stage where the socioemotional milestones are building. They are learning to identify emotions, to build relationships, develop self-awareness, and are developing their empathy (Poole, Miller & Church, n.d.). For successful inclusion in the classroom, children need to have empathy, and with that, an understanding that everyone is different, and has different needs. Unfortunately, the older a student is without having interacted with other students with a disability, the harder it is for that student to be understanding of differences. In fact, students exposed to inclusion at a young age viewed inclusion as favorable (Idol, 2006), whereas older children were less receptive of it (Siperstein, Parker, Bardon, & Widaman, 2007). Because young students are still developing these key milestones, if these are paired with exposure to others different to them, they will be even more understanding and empathetic than a student without that exposure (Cross, Traub, Hutter-Pishgahi, & Shelton, 2004).
As an inclusion assistant in a preschool classroom myself, I’ve come to observe this developing empathy in the students firsthand. Children at this age learn through modeling, and as adults, it is our responsibility to appropriately model in a way that reinforces the idea that everyone has differences, and that that is perfectly okay. In our classroom, we adopted the phrase: “everyone is different, and everyone needs different things” and repeat it to the point where students use the phrase themselves now. From the first day of school to now, students have gone from being innately curious about why another child may or may not have a different level of support and/or needs, to simply understanding that some people need it and some don’t. It is important to note that children are naturally curious and that there is nothing wrong with this. As adults, it is crucial we respond to these questions simply and matter of factly to promote the idea that there is nothing wrong with being different. The first step in avoiding misconceptions, and in developing an understanding of our differences is to just ask. The challenging piece, however, is making sure that they don’t begin seeing any other student as helpless, or in constant need of help. To avoid falling into this, it is very important to provide opportunities that emphasize the student’s strengths. These could be seen as promoting participation in that area, or in having them help another student. Essentially, students must learn to see one another as different, but also as equals.
At ASFM, we are moving towards being a school that prides itself on its socioemotional learning, and inclusion plays a key role in this. Inclusion promotes socioemotional development in all children, and thus, by adopting inclusion, and specifically, by adopting it at an early age, we are helping our students grow into empathetic, kind people, as well as ensuring that everyone feels included and welcome.
Cross, A. F., Traub, E. K., Hutter-Pishgahi, L., & Shelton, G. (2004). Elements for successful inclusion for children with significant disabilities. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, 24, 169–183.
Idol, L. (2006). Towardinclusion of special education students in general education: A program evaluation of eight schools. Remedial and Special Education, 27, 77–94.
Poole, C., Miller, S. A., & Church, E. B. (n.d.). Ages & Stages: Empathy. Retrieved from https://www.scholastic.com/teachers/articles/teaching-content/ages-stages-empathy/
Siperstein, G. N., Parker, R. C., Bardon, J. N., & Widaman, K. F. (2007). A National Study of Youth Attitudes toward the Inclusion of Students with Intellectual Disabilities. Exceptional Children, 73(4), 435–455.