Enhancing social participation of preschoolers with disabilities – RIPD/QRD/109571/2009 (2010 - 2012)

Reaserch Team:

Cecília Aguiar (Project Leader)
Júlia Serpa Pimentel
Ana Rita Moiteiro
Nadine Correia

Project's Summary:

Inclusion in an educational setting requires access to the physical, communicative, and symbolic dimensions of the environment. It also means social participation, that is, to be involved in and contribute to social interactions, relationships, and group processes in equality circumstances. Ultimately, it means to belong to the peer group. For children with disabilities, that is with functional differences, social participation is an important yet challenging inclusion goal. Previous research suggests children with disabilities are at increased risk for peer rejection (Odom et al., 2004; Moiteiro, 2009) and frequently experience vertical processes within the peer group by being given or taking subordinate roles during play and by being taken care of by peers without disabilities (Janson, 2001, 2007; Meyer, 2001). Such challenges to the horizontality that typically characterizes peer relationships (Laursen & Hartup, 2002) hinder the attainment of the social goals for inclusion and should be addressed by education professionals through informed evidence-based intervention practices.

This study aims to contribute to the Portuguese and international limited array of evidence-based interventions directed at social participation goals by investigating the effectiveness of an intervention specifically designed to increase horizontality in interactions and relationships between preschoolers with and without disabilities. The interpretative intervention aims at facilitating children’s access to the physical, communicative, and symbolic arenas of peer play by addressing group processes rather than individual behavior and by supporting shared meaning by building on the group’s current play script in a way that preserves the constructed peer culture. Implementation of such an intervention requires teachers to (1) attentively observe children’s play in order to fully capture and understand the play script and its successive symbolic transformations and (2) make intentional, selected, incisive interventions that promote target children’s access to the above mentioned physical, communicative, and symbolic contexts of play when such access is denied or limited, without vertically enforcing changes in the play script and threaten culturally defined shared believe.

The study relies on a systematic experimental analysis by taking the form of a multiple baseline single-subject research. Participants will include (a) 3 children with Down syndrome (i.e., with differences in cognitive functioning) and 3 children with cerebral palsy (i.e., with differences in motor functioning) with the purpose of documenting the effectiveness of the interpretative intervention across two different functioning profiles, (b) their preschool classroom teachers, (c) and their peers without disabilities.

Targeted outcomes (i.e., dependent variables) include three horizontality indicators: (1) leading activity in positive peer orientation, that is, extent to which the target child positively contributes (through initiations and proposals) to peer related activity; (2) success in (a) positive peer oriented initiations, that is, extent to which to activity proposals from the child with disabilities are responded to in a positive way by peers and (b) in dependent, submissive initiations; and (3) positive response to positive leads from peers.

These indicators were defined by U. Janson and their operationalization is based on an adaptation of the Individual Social Behaviour Scale categories (White & Watts, 1973; Guralnick & Groom, 1987; Guralnick, 2000; Janson & Merényi, 1992). This study is a replication of a currently ongoing research project at the Stockholm University by the team that has formulated the interpretative intervention (lead by U. Janson) and, therefore, shares its conceptual framework, and methods, and includes cross-cultural comparison goals.

If its effectiveness is empirically established, the interpretative intervention may constitute a powerful tool for preschool teachers in their efforts to provide inclusive, accessible classrooms where functional diversity may result more frequently in play contributions and symmetric interactions and relationships. With the potential to contribute with an evidence-based practice to Portuguese early childhood special education, outcomes from this study also include the provision of (a) a measure of children’s social behaviour that is consistent with the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health – Children and Youth (World Health Organization, 2007) and (b) a measure of the extent to which preschool teachers facilitate the access of children with disabilities to all contexts of play, while promoting balanced symmetry in the interactions and relationships between children with and without disabilities.

Project’s aims:

Informed by the critical review of the literature and driven by the goal of investigating the effectiveness of the interpretative intervention in increasing horizontality in interactions and relationships between preschoolers with and without disabilities, we have formulated the following research questions:
  1. Does the interpretative intervention increase, (a) prerequisites for horizontality in peer interaction, (b) actual horizontality indicators; and (c) peer group acceptance of children with disabilities?
  2. Does the interpretative intervention benefit children without disabilities? In what way?
  3. Does the interpretative intervention have differential effects depending on the type of disability (children with differences in motor ability vs. children with differences in sociocognitive ability)?
  4. Does the interpretative have differential effects in two different cultural environments (Portugal vs. Sweden)?
  5. Are there qualitative cultural differences in the degree of implementation of the interpretative intervention?

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