"Inclusion is a process of identifying, understanding and breaking down barriers to participation and belonging"
Early Childhood Forum (2003)
As human beings, we all need friendships and positive relationships to sustain us. When you talk to any child it becomes obvious that friendship is of vital importance in their life. Disabled children often lack opportunities to establish friendships with peers and may need support and help to enable them to establish and maintain relationships.
Some barriers are organisational. For example, disabled children may have individual routines that result in lack of time for play and social opportunities. Concerns about risk may limit their activities. Social barriers may also exist because disabled children spend more time with adults than their peers and sometimes do not get the encouragement and support they need to undertake forms of play that they want to engage in.
Recent research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation on the inclusion of disabled children in primary school playgrounds saw disabled children involved in many types of play. Their inclusion was often facilitated by themselves, by other children or by staff. For the disabled children, play friendship groups ranged from one person to a special friend or a larger sized group, although some played by themselves.
Another study that used direct observations of play in an inclusive nursery (Hanline, 1993) found that disabled children interacted with their non-disabled peers throughout the majority of the observation periods, although disabled children initiated fewer of the interactions. The children did not reject each other and the non-disabled children were tolerant of any difficulties in communication.
Recent research by the learning disability charity Mencap, however, found that eight out of ten children and young people with a learning disability are bullied at some point and are scared that they will be bullied. Encouraging disabled and non-disabled children to play with each other and form friendships when they are young could do much to alleviate this situation. The EYFS framework recognises friendship as a crucial part of every child's personal, social and emotional development.
- Mary Dickens is an early years consultant (All Together Consultancy and London Metropolitan University)