Module 1: Introduction

Welcome to the module on embedded interventions developed by CONNECT. This module will give you new ways of ensuring each and every child’s participation in a wide variety of early learning opportunities and environments to promote high quality inclusion.

To learn more about high quality inclusion, view the 12-minute video: Foundations of Inclusion Birth to Five (below).

After viewing this video, you will have an awareness of:

    • the legal and policy foundations of inclusion,
    • the research related to inclusion, and
    • the definition and key components of early childhood inclusion.

View Transcript


Welcome to the Foundations of Inclusion Birth to Five.

In this presentation we will hear from researchers on the Connect Project, who are creating a series of web-based professional development resources designed to focus on and respond to challenges faced each day by those working with young children with disabilities and their families.

After this presentation you will have awareness of the following:

  • The legal and policy foundations of inclusion
  • The research related to inclusion
  • A definition and key components of early childhood inclusion

It wasn’t so long ago in our history that individuals with disabilities were isolated from society. Dramatic changes have occurred that guarantee certain rights for persons with disabilities. These changes resulted from advocacy of families on behalf of their children and self-advocacy of individuals with disabilities.  One key player in bringing about those fundamental changes was Dr. Ann Turnbull and ,her husband Rud who led many legislative battles to ensure that their son had appropriate services in the least restrictive environment.  Dr. Ann Turnbull

Ann Turnbull:

Inclusion has a strong legal backing now, but in the early 70’s when my son, Jay, was six years old and ready to start his first year at school, his local school wasn’t ready for him.  The school bus came down our street to pick up other students, but it did not stop at our house to include Jay.  The reason was that Jay had an intellectual disability, and the schools were not required by law to provide an education to children with disabilities.   How would you have felt if you had been Jay’s parent and he had been excluded?


Imagine the same situation happening all across America to thousands of families.  You shouldn’t be surprised to learn that parents and their professional allies sued states,

And the courts responded by requiring states to admit and educate students with disabilities, like Jay.  Soon after, parents, professionals and state officials rallied Congress to provide federal assistance in educating all students with disabilities.

Congress agreed and in 1975 passed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, commonly called I.D.E.A.  This legislation was amended in 1987 and included a new section devoted to services and supports for Infants and Toddlers, birth to three years of age and their families. These services and supports are to be provided in the child’s natural environment.

Through continued advocacy congress enacted other laws benefiting young children with disabilities.  More specific information on legislation is available in the Policy Advisory on Inclusion. For this resource see the Connect modules website.

Now inclusion has solid legislative backing as well as research support. The Research Synthesis document provides a summary of what we have learned through research about early childhood inclusion. We will focus on of the 9 points contained in that document.  For this complete resource see the Connect modules website.

First, universal access to inclusive programs for children with disabilities is far from a reality. Today in the U.S. approximately 50% of children with disabilities below the age of 5 receive special services in an inclusive setting. Some areas of the country are doing well in this regard, while others lag far behind.

Second, research has shown that inclusion can benefit children with and without disabilities, particularly in the area of social competence with peers. There is solid research evidence that children enrolled in inclusive settings, compared to self-contained settings, make adequate progress in language and cognition and perform better in the area of social competence with peers.

There is limited evidence to suggest inclusion does not impede learning for typically developing children. In fact, inclusion likely helps these children develop tolerance and acceptance of individual differences in their peers.

Third, specialized instruction is an important component of inclusion and a factor that affects child outcomes.   Dr. Virginia Buysse:

Virginia Buysse:

A variety of research-based instructional strategies now exist to support child development and learning in the context of inclusion. Tiered models can help practitioners organize these approaches by level of intensity so that the supports they offer children are matched to their individual learning needs.  Tier 1 in this system, is the basic level of supports that all children receive in a high quality environment.  Tier 2 focuses on small group interventions. And Tier 3 children with a high level of learning needs are provided individualized interventions. The idea behind tiered models is that decisions about instructional supports are based on children’s level and rate of progress, with input from families and professionals.


Fourth, inclusion takes many different forms, as you may know from everyday experiences. The term inclusion means different things to different people, which may be a barrier to ensuring that the fundamental rights of each and every child are being fully realized.

An agreed-upon definition that encompasses all of the big ideas about inclusion was needed in the early childhood field to help guide practitioners in implementing inclusion. So let’s start with Dr. Beth Rous sharing a definition and the three defining features of early childhood inclusion.

Beth Rous:

Responding to the need for an agreed upon definition, two major early childhood professional organizations the Division for Early Childhood (DEC) and the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) developed and validated the following definition.

Early childhood inclusion embodies the values, polices, and practices that support the right of every infant and young child and his or her family, regardless of ability, to participate in a broad range of activities and contexts as full members of families, communities, and society.

The definition states that the desired results of inclusive experiences for children with and without disabilities and their families include:

  • a sense of belonging and membership,
  • positive social relationships and friendships, and
  • development and learning to reach their full potential.

It is important to think about the desired results of inclusion right from the start, rather than waiting until children and families have already experienced inclusion. Understanding the desired results of inclusion helps to create high expectations for every child and leads to appropriate goals and inclusive supports.

Another important component of the definition is the focus on three defining features of inclusion that can be used to identify high quality early childhood programs and services. These include access, participation and supports.


The first feature is access. This means providing a wide range of activities and environments for every child by removing physical barriers and offering multiple ways to promote learning and development. In many cases, simple changes to the environment or learning activity can facilitate access for an individual child.

The second feature is participation. Even if environments and programs are designed to facilitate access, some children may need additional individualized accommodations and supports to participate fully in learning experiences. Adults will use a range of instructional approaches to promote engagement in play and learning activities.

The third defining feature is supports.  For inclusion to work in community settings such as classrooms and homes, an infrastructure of systems-level supports must be in place. These supports include:

  • professional development  for practitioners and families
  • resources and policies to promote communication and collaboration among professionals and families
  • a variety of structures to help integrate and coordinate special services with general early childhood services and
  • standards that address program quality and professional competencies

More information on the definition is available in the joint position statement on early childhood inclusion. For this resource see the Connect modules website.

Now returning to Jay’s story. I.D.E.A. gave Jay the right to not only board the school bus but also to enter the school.  That was important:  he had access.  He had the right to be educated alongside his peers who did not have a disability. Not only that, he was given opportunities to participate meaningfully in school activities. And an infrastructure of supports was in place for school personnel and his family. Indeed, he benefited so much from being in school with students who did not have a disability that he graduated into an inclusive life in his community.

Dr. Pam Winton, Director of Connect

Pam Winton:

Ann Turnbull’s family and the practitioners who worked with Jay received support from many, many people.  Ironically most were part of what you might call their informal support network or their family’s natural environment (for example friends, neighbors and colleagues).  And that’s an important point to remember. Building partnerships among professionals, families, recreational programs, and faith-based groups is a critical part of inclusion.

Much more work needs to be done to ensure that all young children with disabilities and their families have a sense of belonging and access to the highest quality inclusive programs and services in this country and that is where you have an important role.

There are 3 concrete steps you can take.

First of all, think about access. Become familiar with the laws and the rights of children and their parents and responsibilities for teachers related to the inclusion of children with disabilities in early childhood settings. Then consider your program’s policies. Are the admission policies and practices welcoming of all children, including those with disabilities? We have provided a resource that will help you assess your admissions policies with respect to inclusion.

Second, think about participation…do you and the other teachers in your program have the skills to implement practices that support the active participation of each and every child in multiple learning opportunities throughout the day? We have provided a description of research-based practices that support inclusion to guide your thinking about that question.

And finally, think about support. You can’t do this alone. Find allies to work with you. These allies include families and other professionals in your community with whom you can partner to ensure that each child’s needs are being met in your program.

Consider your own professional development. CONNECT courses and modules are available as resources to help you continue to develop the skills to be an effective and inclusive early childhood practitioner.

Thank you for listening and best wishes on your journey to make high quality inclusive early education a reality for each and every child in your community. To help you on this journey, all of the resources you have just heard about are available at the end of this presentation and on the CONNECT Modules website.