New research has found that mainstreaming special needs children helps language develop among preschoolers.
When the language skills of the child’s classmates was measured in the fall, it was found that the child’s language skill in the spring was significantly predicted, especially for children with disabilities.
Inclusion policies that have students with disabilities in the the same classroom with peers who are developing typically are supported by this research.
“Students with disabilities are the ones who are affected most by the language skills of the other children in their class,” said Laura Justice, co-author of the study and professor of teaching and learning at Ohio State University.
“We found that children with disabilities get a big boost in their language scores over the course of a year when they can interact with other children who have good language skills.”
In fact, after one year of preschool, children with disabilities had language skills comparable to children without disabilities when surrounded by highly skilled peers in their classroom.
“The biggest problem comes when we have a classroom of children with disabilities with no highly skilled peers among them,” Justice said. “In that case, they have limited opportunity to improve their use of language.”
The study, which will appear in the journal Psychological Science, involved 670 preschool-aged children enrolled in 83 early childhood special education classrooms in Ohio.
About half of the children had an Individualized Education Plan, signaling presence of a disability. Between 25 and 100 percent of children in each classroom had a disability.
All children’s language skills were measured in the fall and spring of the academic year with a commonly used test called the Descriptive Pragmatics Profile.
The average score of all children in an individual classroom was used to determine each child’s relative status in terms of language development, and whether their classmates were more highly skilled, less skilled, or average.