By: Rachael Berringer, LAC, MA
As humans, we are born with the drive to relate and connect to others. Fostering emotional connectedness from a young age is a critical foundation for healthy development. Oftentimes, when our children receive a diagnosis, there is a race against time to start services and work on skills that may be lagging. However, what often seems to be missed is the importance of emotional development and building relationships. All children, regardless of a diagnosis, desire and deserve to have meaningful relationships. When my son started in a preschool inclusion program, I had a lot of unanswered questions. Is he mature enough to be a peer model? How will he handle observing children experiencing sensory overloads and needing support to work through these experiences? After all, he is only 3 and needs support regulating his emotions as well. What I began to realize was that it wasn’t only the “peer models,” that were modeling and helping. They were all learning from one another. They are all tiny humans that desire to be loved and have friendships with one another. The Inclusion program instills values in my child through natural experiences that can’t be taught through a textbook or expensive curriculums. Inclusion programs challenges teachers to see the whole child and nurture each and every child’s emotional self.
A strong, developmentally- appropriate social/emotional emphasis is crucial in creating a successful inclusion program. Through structured social/emotional lessons, modeling emotional coaching in the moment, as well as play experiences, children learn that we all have feelings and different coping strategies. Mirror neurons fire in our brains through observation of other human beings. By exposing our children to teachers and caregivers co-regulating with other students and working them through strong emotions, we are laying the groundwork for building empathy. Students also learn how to enter into another child’s world and see the world through another person's eyes. For example, another child may share a similar passion for Mickey Mouse, however, their play may look a little different e.g. stacking or lining a figure up. With assistance and modeling from adults in the room on how to engage with students, we are teaching them how to consider others’ interests and needs. In the future, this may help our children to include other children in their play and social interactions that may not initiate on their own. I know that my hope for my own child is to be an individual who respects and includes all people.
Enhances Communication and Interpersonal Skills
As adults, an important skill to be successful in life is learning how another individual communicates and tailor our interactions accordingly. Exposing our children to inclusion settings from an early age helps them to gain an understanding that we all communicate differently. In addition, exposing young children to a variety of communication modalities help to strengthen and develop language.
Multi Sensory supports and engaging lessons help each student access the full curriculum and accommodate all learning styles.
In an age of high-stakes testing, the importance of supporting and enhancing childhood development in an educational setting is often lost. Children need to move and experience to learn. An inclusive setting supports the critical, developmental building blocks for learning that are sometimes not emphasized in all educational settings. The importance of experience and process is lost through pressure of the “product.” Multi sensory learning experiences are critical for all children to access the curriculum through their individual learning styles. Inclusive settings create a supportive learning environment, engage a variety of learners and creates a more responsive learning environment.
When I walk into my son’s classroom, it’s difficult to distinguish between the students who have individualized education plans and those who do not. This is exactly as it should be. Through my son’s eyes, each and every one of his classmates are his buddies. Some communicate with technology and sign language. Some need cool little gadgets to make their bodies feel safe and ready to learn. Some of them like Paw Patrol just like him. Most of them like to move while learning just like him. Most importantly, they are his friends. By exposing our children to these types of educational environments from an early age, we are raising children who will grow into empathic adults and creating a more inclusive world.
Image by: Pixabay
Dr. Liz Matheis
Dr Liz Matheis and her team specialize in assisting children and their families with Anxiety, Autism, AD/HD, Learning Disabilities and Behavioral Struggles