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About Early Childhood Inclusion


In 2009, the Division for Early Childhood (DEC) and the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) issued a Joint Position Statement that gave a much needed definition for early childhood inclusion.

"Early childhood inclusion embodies the values, policies, 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 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. The defining features of inclusion that can be used to identify high-quality early childhood programs and services are access, participation, and supports." (p. 2)

This definition continues to be the blueprint for identifying the key components of high quality inclusive programs.


A Nationwide Culture of Inclusion

On September 14, 2015, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Education released a Joint Policy Statement on Inclusion of Children with Disabilities In Early Childhood Programs. The purpose of the statement was to set a vision and provide recommendations for increasing the inclusion of infants, toddlers, and preschool children with disabilities in high-quality early childhood programs. It states that the path ahead lies in a community-wide partnership that brings together families, early childhood programs, schools and State leaders to build a nationwide culture of inclusion, supported by the legal foundations of inclusion.


What is Inclusion?

Inclusion is the practice of educating and caring for children with special needs in the same environment as their typically developing peers. In an inclusive program, children with and without special needs learn and participate in the same daily activities and routines. It's the responsibility of the provider to make the necessary accommodations and modifications so that all children have equal opportunities to participate.

Inclusion is:

  • Belonging
  • Being valued
  • Commitment
  • Acceptance
  • Supports
  • Participation


What skills do I need?

It's easier than you might think. First, it's important to be a flexible thinker and willing to step outside the box. We often think of working with children with special needs as complicated and overly specialized, but you might be surprised at how many adaptations or modifications can come from simple creative brainstorming. Second, you'll increase your success as an inclusive program by being willing to communicate and collaborate with parents, therapists, and special education staff. Working together to develop and implement strategies to accommodate the diverse needs of the children in your program will enhance the learning experiences for all, not just those with special needs.


Where do I start?

Start by making sure your daily routines and activities support optimal learning in all developmental domains. Develop curriculum based on what you already know about child development and Developmentally Appropriate Practice (DAP) and find creative and innovative ways to include children of all ability levels. An inclusive program is, first and foremost, a quality early childhood program.


How are families involved?

Family members of children with special needs can teach us a great deal due to the intimate knowledge they have of their child and their child's particular impairment. Greater family and community involvement is essential to the inclusion process. Engaging families in goal setting and the planning of activities will not only help the child to succeed, but your program as well.


Benefits of Inclusion

All Children Benefit from Inclusion!

  • Meaningful friendships
  • Diverse play opportunities
  • Greater academic outcomes
  • Increased appreciation for diversity and difference
  • Respect for all people
  • Higher expectations for all
  • Increased social interactions
  • Improved language and communication skills
  • Added opportunities to master activities
  • Preparation for adult life in an inclusive society
  • Improved persistence in the face of obstacles
  • Additional access to peer role models for academic, social, and behavioral skills


If you have questions or concerns about a child's development (physical, social-emotional, or cognitive), contact: Wisconsin First Step Information and Referral Hotline at 1-800-642-STEP (7837). Information about Early Identification/Screening and Child Find can be found at the Collaborating Partners website.