preeschool children playing togetherOvercoming a deficit in language development is a challenge. For children with disabilities, keeping pace with peers’ language development is especially difficult. According to research from The Ohio State University, when children with disabilities are integrated into classrooms with typically developing peers, their language skills grow significantly during the school year. These findings suggest that classrooms, particularly preschool classrooms, should not keep children with disabilities isolated.

The researchers monitored the progress of 670 preschool-aged children. The children were from 83 early childhood special education classrooms in Ohio. Around half of the children had Individualized Education Plans (IEPs), which are an indication that a child has a disability. In each class, 25% to 100% of the children had a disability.

The research team measured the children’s language skills using the Descriptive Pragmatics Profile. They conducted the language evaluation in the fall when school began and in the spring when school ended. Using the data, the researchers calculated the average score of all children in a class and classified the children’s language development relative to their peers: children were more highly skilled, less skilled, or average compared to their classmates.

By spring, children with disabilities in classrooms with more highly skilled peers improved their language skills 40% more than children with disabilities in classrooms with less skilled peers. Although all students are influenced by their classmates’ language skills, children with disabilities are strongly affected by their classmates’ skill level.

“We found that children with disabilities get a big boost in their language scores over the course of a year when the can interact with other children who have good language skills,” Laura Justice, co-author of the study and professor of teaching and learning at Ohio State University.

When children with disabilities do not have any highly skilled peers to interact with, they have fewer opportunities to practice their language skills. The authors suggest that schools support inclusion policies that integrate children with disabilities into classes with typically developing peers.

This research is published in the journal Psychological Science.

Previous news in education: