September 26, 2003

New program will help integrate children with disabilities into the classroom

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Nadia Nik, left, and Alexander Dykens-Hodapp, two of the mentoring students in the Bear Country four-year-old class at the Susan Gray School for Children, concentrate on a coloring project. Mentoring students provide examples for their classmates. (photo by Dana Johnson)

New program will help integrate children with disabilities into the classroom

A new program developed by Robin McWilliam, Ph.D., director of Vanderbilt’s Center for Child Development, will help children with disabilities get more out of their preschool education. Through a three-year, $900,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs, the Center for Child Development will have not only a local, but a national impact on how child care providers teach children with disabilities.

“Through the National Individualizing Preschool Inclusion Project, we will provide training to help child care providers and trainers understand and use the individualizing-inclusion model for children with disabilities and using this model will increase the quality of the child’s education,” McWilliam said.

The individualizing-inclusion model consists of three practices — functional intervention planning, integrated therapy and embedded intervention — that have been proven to improve the learning experience for children with disabilities under the age of 6.

“These three practices mean the goals for the child are functional and family driven,” said McWilliam. “It also means that therapies and instruction are woven into the classroom routines and teachers can work towards children’s goals throughout the day.”

The first practice, intervention planning, allows parents and teachers to be very involved in the decision making process. Parents and teachers analyze the child’s performance in the home and during classroom routines to determine where the child needs help. Traditionally, professionals have made this decision based mostly on the child’s test scores.

The second step is integrated therapy, which puts the therapists in the classroom instead of pulling the child out. McWilliam conducted a five-year study that demonstrated it is more effective for therapists to go into a classroom, blend into routines and work with young children. With integrated therapy, therapists and teachers work together to provide services and education to the child.

“Many teachers are willing to work with children with disabilities,” said Mark Wolery, Ph.D., professor of Special Education and collaborator in the development of the inclusion model. “But it’s scary not to have the training and try to help these children. The individualizing-inclusion model will allow them to get the training they need to help the children in their classrooms.”

Building upon this, the final step in the individualizing-inclusion model is embedded intervention, which means the child’s teacher addresses his or her needs throughout the day, within the daily routines and classroom activities. Through embedded intervention, children have the opportunity to work on their skills in practical ways and are encouraged to gain independence, according to McWilliam.

“The individualizing-inclusion model provides many benefits for children, families and teachers,” said Wolery. “Not only does this model increase the amount children learn, but it allows parents to have full-time regular day care for their children, and it helps teachers gain the level of training they need to work with the children in their classrooms.”

Supported by the grant, the Center for Child Development will be providing specialized training on how to use the individualizing-inclusion model. McWilliam will guide staff members Beth Clingenpeel, Ed.D., assistant professor of Pediatrics, and Allison Uhl, training and technical assistance specialist, in developing a network of 10 states, each having a demonstration site, pre-service training and in-service training.

The National Individualizing Preschool Inclusion Project will focus on teaching current and future professionals by using both in-service and pre-service training. Pre-service training will occur at universities, where students of early childhood education, early childhood special education, occupational or physical therapy, speech-language pathology, and others, are taught the individualizing-inclusion model. In-service training will involve a statewide training agency, in which professionals will be trained. In each state, the demonstration site will be a preschool or a child care center that the project staff, in collaboration with that state’s university partner, will train to implement the individualizing-inclusion model. The university and statewide training agency will be able to visit the Centers and observe how the model works.

Tennessee will be one of the 10 network states, with the Susan Gray School for Children serving as the demonstration site and Vanderbilt University as the pre-service training site. But unlike the other states, the Center for Child Development has made a special agreement with Tennessee. They will teach all 85 members of the state’s child care training team about the individualizing-inclusion model so the trainers can in turn train every child care provider in the state.

“We are excited to have this opportunity to team up with the state of Tennessee,” said McWilliam. “Together we will be able to improve how young children with disabilities learn.”