Memorial University, February 2019
Abstract: "Given the growth of scholarship in early child education (ECE), as well as the rapid emergence of the sector as an area of academic inquiry, a team of special education/mental health scholars opted to explore its preemptive nature. Despite long and distinguished careers in childhood special educational needs (SEN), ECE has never been an area of attention for them, and they proceeded with unbiased perspectives to answer: Does participation in quality ECE lessen SEN and insulate children against requiring supports later in their school experience? Inclusive education is now an international standard for all children and the recent Canadian bilateral agreements between the federal and provincial/territorial governments strive to increase access to ECE for all children, including those with diverse needs. How inclusive is ECE and will access lessen the amount of support required by children with identified SEN, allowing them a smoother school start and ensuring better educational outcomes? Particular attention was given to children with specific needs: those with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) who typically struggle with starting school and usually require intensive supports; and those with mental health concerns. An extensive review of the literature, with particular attention to longitudinal studies, was undertaken by the team. Additionally, the Effective Pre-school, Primary and Secondary Education Project study in the UK was re-examined by Dr. Edward Melhuish to track the SEN of children across their full school experience. Public data from a representative number of Canadian provinces was also examined to help answer the questions above and illuminate the nature of inclusion in ECE programs. Surprisingly, while the literature was rich on the preemptive nature of ECE, provincial/ territorial data on inclusion during the early years was scant. Poor and inconsistent data collection processes, and an absence of policy to mandate it, sabotages the sector and leads to uninformed public policy. While all regions report policies supporting inclusive ECE programs, the absence of data and inclusive practice creates an illusion of inclusion during the early years. What emerges is significant, especially for the discipline of special education which traditionally views early identification and intervention as beginning at age six. By examining the impact of quality ECE with a common lens, both the ECE sector and the K-12 system obtain startling findings that poses an opportunity to develop earlier identification and intervention to alter the trajectory of the lives of vulnerable children. A continuum of evidence, from multiple studies in multiple countries unanimously converge on the preemptive nature of ECE on SEN. Inclusive, high quality ECE reduces SEN in young children and improves developmental outcomes, especially for vulnerable children and those with complex needs. The need for intervention is both removed for some children and reduced for others. Front loading interventions during the early years is wise public policy. Educators, parents, policy makers and governments could benefit from these findings."
- To access the report