This article is translated and reprinted from the Benesse newsletter, "Thinking about the Future of Infant Education," Special Issue 2012 (The contents are only available in Japanese).
It is important to support children with special needs by arranging, in cooperation with parents, places where they can feel safe. To achieve this purpose, childcare and educational facilities should not entrust this work to individual teachers, but deal with it organizationally as a "team." What is important for childcare and educational facilities to do in order to realize this policy and ensure implementation with teachers? We interviewed Mr. Yutaka Oda, President of National Institute of Special Needs Education.
Concern for Every Child During Early Childhood
In recent years, I often hear from those who are engaged in early childhood education that children who show unusual behavior are increasing. This view seems to stem from the fact that ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), LD (Learning Disability), autism, Asperger syndrome, etc. have become widely known as they are formally categorized as "developmental disorders" under the Act for Support for Persons with Development Disabilities that came into force in 2005. It is necessary to be conscious of the fact that behavior that was once felt "a little strange" is apt to be recognized as a possible developmental disorder.
Researchers' opinions are divided on whether the number of developmental disorders has actually increased or not. So far, the view that the incidence has been increasing is dominant because the number of children with developmental disorders is unchanged while the total number of children is decreasing, but this view is not conclusive.
The Act for Support for Persons with Developmental Disabilities emphasizes the importance of early diagnosis of developmental disorders. This is because by providing support adequate to each child's condition as early as possible, a place where the children can feel safe can be created, which eventually leads to developing their inherent capabilities.
Generally speaking, language and behavior characteristic of developmental disorders appear at the age of 3, so teachers are in a position to easily spot developmental disorders. In this sense, all teachers are required to have correct knowledge of developmental disorders and observe children accordingly.
However, attention must be given to the fact that individual difference in development of children in early childhood is very large. For example, typical tendencies of ADHD such as a constant need to move about and "to say whatever comes to mind one-sidedly" are often seen among young children. It is not easy even for experts to decide whether or not the child has a developmental disorder during this period. If the child is a little different from other children, it is quite dangerous to label the child as "worrisome child."
What teachers should have is the attitude that "Every child undergoing development during early childhood is basically worrisome." Please keep in mind that you can improve childcare for all children, including those with developmental disorders, by returning to the origin of early childhood education to pursue support appropriate for the child in front of you.
Catering to the Child by Being Conscious of 4 Approaches
As problems related to developmental disorders are very difficult, childcare and educational facilities should not entrust this work to individual teachers, but deal with it organizationally as a team. I would like to see that all facilities share the following four approaches that are also important support for children with developmental disorders. These attitudes are important not only for children with developmental disorders but also for other children.
The first approach is to listen to what the child is saying. You can give the child a feeling of security and trust by giving a strong impression that you are seriously listening to what the child is saying instead of not paying proper attention.
At the same time, make sure to accept the child. Every child wants to be accepted and you have to sufficiently satisfy this desire.
I will give you one example. There was a three-year child who would not observe the rule that his bag should be kept in a certain place after arriving the nursery school. The child kept the bag on his shoulder all day long. The teacher accepted his persistency and did not force him to observe the rule, occasionally asking if it bothered him to have the bag on his shoulder. Then, in one day at the end of his third year, he suddenly put his bag in the fixed place, and thereafter had no problem. Because the teacher patiently accepted his persistency, the child accepted the rule and then changed his behavior, though it took longer than other children around him.
Another important approach is to pay keen attention while leaving the child alone. Children with developmental disorders are sensitive to receiving directions, orders, and reprimands from people around them who want to make the child the same as other children. However, in most cases, this has an adverse effect. The child's feeling of self-affirmation goes down so that consequently he/she becomes vulnerable to the development of secondary disorders such as truancy and violence. I understand the feeling of wanting to admonish the child when he or she does not listen to what you are saying, but try leaving the child alone and bring it up on other occasion when you can face him/her fully.
Finally, let me explain the approach of following the flow of the child's mind. For example, when a child asks a question, an adult is prone to think that he/she has to give the right answer. However, instead of giving the right answer impetuously, please ask "What do you think about this?" Surely, the child will give an answer that an adult would not come up with. The attitude of listening to what the child is saying and trying to know how his/her mind is one that follows the flow of the child's mind. This approach is quite important for deeply understanding the child.
In particular, many children with developmental disorders do not have intellectual disabilities, so the way that their minds work differently from other children is liable to be overlooked. Many of children with ADHD or LD become strongly irritated with themselves when they cannot do something they should. For example, imagine that you are told to take dictation within a certain amount of time with your non-dominant hand wearing a cotton work glove. Surely, you would get irritated because you can't move your hand as you like. It is possible to see the needs of each child and provide individual support by paying attention to how the child's mind working and staying close to what he or she is feeling.
4 Important Approaches in Supporting Children with Developmental Disorders
Showing Parents the Attitude of Thinking Together
Childcare and educational facilities also need a consistent policy to respond to parents.
Many parents of children with developmental disorders find that their children "may be a little bit strange" in infancy and childhood, and they often subtly seek the advice of teachers. Teachers who are aware of the possibility of developmental disorders often tell them "That's all right," or "Let's continue to watch the situation." Though such language is meant to reassure parents, it has a bad consequence. This occurs when some parents develop a feeling of distrust, thinking that "the teacher didn't give full attention to my consultation," while others may put off a good opportunity to find better support as they feel reassured, thinking "That it's all right because the teacher said so." If the teacher conveys how the child is doing in the facility and shows the attitude" "Let's think together about support," the parents will not have to worry by themselves and can provide effective support in cooperation with the teacher.
It is common for parents who have children with developmental disorders to suffer from strong pressure to be a good parent. Though developmental disorders are not attributable to upbringing, many parents have guilt feelings that their way of upbringing may have been bad. As you may assume, it is all right for the teacher to deal with parents of children with developmental disorders in the same way as parents of other children except in response to developmental disorders, because it will be a great encouragement for parents of children with developmental disorders when the teacher lets them know that they need not overextend themselves, but it is all right for them to be as "ordinary" as other parents.
Again, I would like teachers to bear in mind that returning to the basic focus on early childhood education and providing support that meets the needs of each individual child leads to effective support for children with developmental disorders. Unlike education in elementary school and after in which students are guided to fulfill the objective of each subject, early childhood education fosters the individuality of each child by attending to how the child's mind is working and closely following what he or she is feeling.
On "Thinking about the Future of Infant Education"
Benesse provides information that will improve the quality of early childhood education and care to those involved in the field. Based on extensive research and survey data, it considers the teachers and their aims in seeking to raise the quality of child education and care together.