In the context of early childhood, the guiding principle that underpins equity, inclusion and diversity in the National Quality Framework (NQF) ‘recognises all children’s capacity and right to succeed regardless of diverse circumstances, cultural background and abilities'.
“Inclusive education means that all students are welcomed by their school in age-appropriate settings and are supported to learn, contribute and participate in all aspects of school,” says the Department of Education in a national resource that supports the Disability Standards for Education (2005).
“Inclusion is a basic human right, an ethical obligation and a legislative requirement,” according to Early Childhood Australia, referring to the rights of children with developmental delay or disability as set out in the Disability Discrimination Act (1992), the Disability Standards for Education 2005 and the Education and Care Services National Regulations 2011.
Another way to look at inclusion is to see it as an acknowledgement that every child and young person is unique. In an inclusive learning community, this diversity is respected and seen as an opportunity to learn, to grow and to implement changes that benefit the whole community.
“Inclusion is about how to ensure that each child or young person in our care develops a sense of belonging to the group and has equitable access to opportunities and resources, while diversity includes the differing cultural and social backgrounds of children and young people and their unique strengths, abilities, preferences and needs,” Early Childhood Australia clarifies.
“Inclusion is good for everyone,” says Professor Nicole Rinehart, founder of the AllPlay Learn program, which helps to create inclusive education environments for children and young people with developmental delay or disability.
“Research shows that having children and young people of all abilities together in the same learning community helps with acceptance and recognition, with the result that it helps develop a stronger sense of belonging for everyone. Ultimately, our society and quality of life improve if we’re fully inclusive,” Professor Rinehart says.
Connecting children and young people together in groups of mixed abilities and interests is always worth the effort. Let them learn from each other and create opportunities for each to share their area of strength.
In this story, Ashwin’s mother and his classroom teacher discuss some inclusion strategies to support Ashwin, who has a diagnosis of autism.
Ashwin is a 13-year-old boy who loves football and watching his favourite team play on weekends. Ashwin, who has a diagnosis of autism, can become overwhelmed in the classroom setting when the noise levels rise. Ashwin’s classroom teacher, Mr Mansouri, met with Ashwin and his mother Anna to discuss some strategies to help with the sensory overwhelm, which impacts on Ashwin’s learning and engagement. This discussion with Ashwin’s family included ideas to provide support when Ashwin begins to detect that noise levels are becoming uncomfortable for him. Anna suggested using Ashwin’s interest in football as a potential strategy, given that he also collects football cards. Mr Mansouri and Ashwin agreed that when Ashwin was beginning to feel overwhelmed, he would put a football card on his desk as a visual indicator that he needs a sensory break. So that Ashwin doesn’t feel singled out, Mr Mansouri and Ashwin discussed that Ashwin could pick a card related to a player from Mr Mansouri’s favourite team – to make it a shared joke with Mr Mansouri and the whole class. Upon seeing the card, Mr Mansouri would ask Ashwin to get some ‘jobs’ done for him, which would allow Ashwin to remove himself from the space for a brief break.
- What are some considerations Mr Mansouri may have had before meeting with Ashwin’s family? What questions and observations of Ashwin’s behaviour would you share with his mother and how would you frame this?
- Using a student’s strengths and interests can be a wonderful engagement tool. How has Mr Mansouri attempted to do this with Ashwin?
- Do you perceive any barriers that may impact on Mr Mansouri’s plan to engage with Ashwin? If so, how could these be overcome?
This story is about how an educator has made small but important adaptations to meet Jonas’s learning needs. Jonas has hemiplegia, a type of cerebral palsy.
Four-year-old Jonas loves to climb, has an impressive vocabulary and is a natural leader. Jonas has a type of cerebral palsy called hemiplegia, where mobility on one side of his body is affected. For Jonas this is his right side and, therefore, movement in his right arm and leg is more difficult. He has a slight limp and prefers to use his left hand.
Jonas’s educators have made some adaptations to their practices to support his wellbeing and meaningful participation. This includes providing different-sized water jugs, including a lighter one for Jonas to pour water for himself and his peers. They also have flexible expectations of all children, including Jonas, during sleep-time preparation, acknowledging it takes Jonas longer to remove his shoes before rest. They have created space for movement and have reduced the number of table-top activities to prevent over-cluttering. Working with Jonas’s occupational therapist, they’re also incorporating stretching activities into their daily yoga sessions to support Jonas’s physical needs, ensuring he is participating alongside his peers.
- Describe Jonas’s strengths and how you would enhance these. Can you think of any opportunities where Jonas’s strengths could be used to support other children’s learning?
- One of the principles of the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) is ‘high expectations of children’. How have Jonas’s educators demonstrated this?
- The educators are incorporating some of the exercises prescribed by Jonas’s occupational therapist into a pre-existing yoga routine in which all children participate. What do you think about this approach? What would you think if Jonas’s educators did the exercises separately (one-on-one) with him instead?