Lorraine McCune, Ph.D.
was a time when students with disabilities received no education
at all. The state of New Jersey by passing laws proposed by
a state legislator named Beadleston in the mid 20th century
led the nation in guaranteeing the right of all NJ students
to a free public education. Before that time children with
Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and other disabilities often
either received no services or were consigned to institutional
care. Since the mid 1980’s federal law has guaranteed educational
services for all children with disabilities from birth, with
states allowed to determine the form and extent of such services
in the preschool years.
amazing result of this national policy has been that children
receiving services in early intervention programs are developing
the competence to join their peers in inclusive classrooms
by kindergarten time, often eliminating the stigma that so
often is attached to those who are “special”. At Rutgers University
we have developed the Infant/Early Childhood Specialist Interdisciplinary
Studies Certificate Program (ISIS) to provide specialized knowledge
to students who will do research or provide services to infants,
young children and their families. Through teaching in this
program I learn about the tremendous gains and tremendous problems
my students (many of them teachers) encounter in their professional
lives. Let me focus on the positive.
with autism have long been considered unsociable, unable to
play, and limited in language ability, the most difficult students
to teach. Now autism is considered to be a “spectrum” of disorders,
with children displaying various levels of symptoms. Children
receiving early intervention, especially intervention that
helps build their relationships with parents and peers now
stand a good chance of taking part in all aspects of school
life, including peer relationships. We are sometimes told that
these are the “high functioning” children, but their high functioning
may be an outcome of their early experience. The “magic” of
early intervention is that it takes advantage of the plasticity
of the developing brain and occurs before learned hopelessness
and helplessness invade the child and family.
of children with disabilities in regular classrooms is now
the law, except in rare cases where such placement would be
detrimental to the child’s education or well-being. Regular
teachers have resisted these placements, pleading lack of training
and overcrowding. These situations still occur and limit the
success of all children involved. But more and more school
districts seem to be providing the support of special education
teachers within the full inclusion classroom, offering opportunities
for teamwork and learning for both adults and better opportunities
for all children.
the magic of early intervention is creeping up the grade levels.
Children with disabilities who have been helped to learn and
grow during infancy and early childhood are more ready to learn
in elementary classrooms. In my classes now I hear more from
teachers who are wanting to figure out how to enhance the learning
and social development of their included students than I do
from teachers who are frightened by lack of knowledge and lack
of support. I see teachers who are being transformed by their
relationships with their students. As I have said before, they
are all “all of our children.”#
Lorraine McCune is a professor at the Rutgers University
Graduate School of Education and serves as advisor to educational
toy company, General Creation. She can be reached at generalcreation.com in
the “Ask Dr. McCune” section.
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