Chapter 15, Inclusion of Children with Disabilities

We hope this guide will help accomplish having every young child with a disability and their family feel affirmed and supported for who they are and what they have to offer. To achieve this result, we must view a child with a disability first and foremost as a child, with a unique personality, abilities, likes and dislikes. This guide will be useful to all those who have just begun to reach out to and serve children with more significant disabilities and programs that have considerable experience.

This guide will lay the groundwork for inclusion, helping all those invested in early childhood services to develop a broader view of their roles and set the stage for collaboration to meet the needs of all children. In the following three sections, inclusion will be defined and discussed, effective communication techniques emphasized, and an overview of laws and regulations as they impact young children with disabilities and their families will be outlined. We hope that these materials will strengthen your capacity to reach and include children with disabilities and their families.


Setting the Stage: Including Children with Disabilities in Head Start and Training Guides for the Head Start Learning Community. (This national training guide was developed by Education Development Center, Inc., 55 Chapel Street, Newton, MA 02158-1060, under contract number 105-93-1583 of the Head Start Bureau, Administration for Children and Families, Department of Health and Human Services.)


(Four-year-old Jenny watches as Danny, a classmate, carefully traces his hand with a neon green marker. Jenny’s arms end at her elbows.)

“Wanna borrow my hand?” Danny asks her.

“That’s okay,” Jenny says, “I’ll use my own.”

Then they both trace their hands together.


Increasingly, this is becoming a typical scenario as child care programs are reaching more children with significant disabilities. Jenny and Danny are not just in the same classroom – they are also playmates. While the teacher observes the exchange, she does not interfere. She does not need to because she, along with other staff and families, has laid the groundwork for this kind of interaction. Together, they have created a climate that fosters appreciation and understanding of individual differences.

While early childhood settings have long been a mainstreaming placement for children with disabilities, today the focus is on inclusion. This means not only allowing children with disabilities to be in close proximity to their typically developing peers but also maximizing their full participation in the program. Just being in the same classroom does not automatically make a child with a disability a valued member of the group. Programs must create environments that are responsive to the diverse needs of all children.

Inclusion is a philosophy driven by the belief that individuals with disabilities can and should be integrated into all aspects of community life. The Division of Early Childhood of the Council for Exceptional Children defines inclusion as:

“A value that supports the right of all children, regardless of their diverse abilities, to participate actively in natural settings within their communities. A natural setting is one in which the child would spend time had he or she not had a disability. Such settings include but are not limited to home and family, play groups, child care, nursery schools, Head Start programs, kindergartens, and neighborhood school classrooms (1993).”


Research and practice tell us that when a classroom is truly developmentally appropriate, it can meet the needs of children with varying abilities. However, because children with disabilities have unique needs, they will often require additional services and support if they are to be fully included. Some necessary supports may be costly, while others may be relatively inexpensive or even free (e.g., asking community groups such as the Kiwanis Club or churches to make donations or lend equipment). Others may require some creativity on the part of staff (e.g., gluing corks on puzzle pieces to serve as handles, rearranging the physical space or the schedule).

But what does it mean to be fully included? The following table illustrates some examples that highlight the differences between inclusive and restrictive settings. Inclusive practices draw each child into active participation with other children. Adaptations and adjustments may be necessary, but as staff and families work together, solutions can be found and the overall program for all children enhanced.

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