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Early Childhood Alert 21st January 2013 - On Special Needs and Disability

After receiving a stunning article from Tim Kahn our London correspondent on the value for children's learning of having contact with  disabled children we decided this should feature in our second newsletter for 2013 and we would like to invite you to add your questions, views and experiences to Tim's article - click here to read this online.

Being 'disabled' is a term that defines a child by what the child can't do rather than what the child can do. Early childhood educators commonly believe in focusing on a child's strengths but how may they do this with children with needs they are unfamiliar with because they have no experience of working with children who have a disability?  It begins with something as simple as letting parents and children know through the design of your building that they are welcome - for example is there a step making wheelchair access impossible or is there a lip in the doorway preventing a person from easily wheeling into the building without someone giving them a push? Once inside the building does the layout allow for easy movement or are there chairs and tables in the way and toys scattered on the floor?  

Last year we reported on the findings of an Education Review Office evaluation of how inclusive and how well 268 early childhood services were meeting the learning needs of children with moderate to severe special needs (click here to read this).  A high number of these services, 164 did not have children with special needs enrolled. The Parent and Family Resource Centre in Auckland reported at the end of last year that children with disabilities and their parents can still struggle to access early childhood education and the support they need (click here to read about the PFRC survey).  


1. Disabled, but not really so different

When our daughter, Sarah, was very young, we used to visit our friend Micheline who uses a wheelchair. Her daughter, Lucy, who is just older than Sarah, could not walk and Sarah used to - intuitively - get down on her hands and knees and crawl around with Lucy.  Fast forward a few years to a time when they were both in their respective primary schools; when we visited Micheline, a special treat for Sarah was to stand on the platform at the back of Lucy's electric wheelchair as the two of them whizzed to the local shops.

Fortunately Micheline is a committed fighter for inclusion, which not only meant that Lucy got to stay in mainstream provision right until school-leaving age (rather than going to a segregated school for disabled children – this was still radical in the 1980s when Lucy was growing up) but also that all her friends lived in the local community. And, as an offshoot, all those friends got the opportunity to learn that some children and adults have an impairment and that’s just part of life.

Now, I would say this is not the everyday kind of learning that children pick up at school. It’s not on the school curriculum – but what Sarah learned from being friends with Lucy was the profound lesson that we may be different in abilities or appearance, but we are the same underneath in that we are all human. Not literacy or numeracy, but certainly as important, if not more so.

*  READ MORE: A new article by Tim Kahn on Learning from Disabled People


2. A selection of information articles and guidance 

Can An Early Childhood Centre Cater for a Child with Sensory Integration Disorder?

Children with Disabilities in ECE and How an Education Support Worker Can Help

Oppositional Defiant Disorder

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and Helping Very Young Children with ADHD

Asperger's Syndrome - Early Signs and Suggestions for Supporting a Young Child with Asperger's

Asthma Signs, Causes, Treatment, and What You Can Do to Improve the Home & ECE Environment

Diabetes and Helping Children Manage Diabetes

Autism (ASD): Caring for and Teaching a Child with Autism Spectrum Disorder 

Food Allergy Management and Meeting Children's Needs 

How to Reduce and Control Noise Levels in the Environment 


See our website at for more early childhood information, research, and guidance. Members of our early childhood network can also add comments, ask questions and access a great range of resources and help.

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