Preschool education teachers open their classrooms to children between three and five years old, where “normality” and diversity are present in their neurological, psychological, motor, psychomotor, sensory-perceptual and speech development, all closely related to the learning experience. There are greater challenges and more professional commitment when special and specific attention needs to be granted to children with a disability.
It is important to note the experience of 20 teachers from different schools, who worked in preschools attended by children with disabilities during the academic years from 2015 to 2019 (before the start of the pandemic). They worked with 60 children in total: 20 who had attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), 8 who had severe communication disorders, 8 who had an intellectual disability, 7 who had severe learning disorders, 7 who had motor disorders, 6 who had autistic spectrum disorder (ASD), 2 who had a hearing disorder, and 2 who had visual impairment. First, we must understand what happens with these children, because their access to learning through teacher intervention in the regular group gets lost in the population of children enrolled in preschool education.
“Students with a disability are those who, due to a hereditary or acquired condition, have one or more physical, mental, intellectual or sensory disorders, which might be temporary or permanent, and that might prevent them from being fully and effectively included as others when interacting with the challenges imposed by their social environment” (Public Education Secretariat, 2018, p. 15.)
The concept of taking inclusive education as a public policy means defining a process to respond to the diversity of students, so that participation in education increasingly rises and exclusion can be avoided as much as possible (Blanco, 2008).
The study of disability and inclusion of preschool children in education in this Mexican State through the viewpoint of teachers is just emerging, but it is a broad and important topic to analyze.
It was found that support towards teachers was insufficient, given that in four academic years, these 20 teachers were only offered 37 training courses. Whether it was specific academic guidance or support, in the form of curricular adaptations, reasonable adjustments or a universal learning curriculum design, the limited internal and external support drove teachers to have to look for information and strategies on their own, even when their school had the support of the Support Services Unit to Regular Education (USAER, for its Spanish acronym). Apart from this, preschools that function in silo, with one to three teachers in charge and located in semi-urban and rural settings, are left unprotected.
The participating teachers range between 31 and 58 years old, with 10 to 38 years of professional experience, 19 of whom hold a Bachelor’s degree and one a Master’s degree. Still, they are not familiar with educational intervention methodologies, with the specific medical, neurological or psychological diagnosis advisory institutions, or what is required to assist with each child’s disability. 42.2% of the teachers mentioned that support came from USAER, 40% from family members, 13.3% from Special Education and Rehabilitation Units (UBR, for its Spanish acronym), 2.2% from the National System for Integral Family Development (DIF, for its Spanish acronym), and 2,3% did not mention any support to face the different types of disability. These teachers have general knowledge about child development, disability, and learning and participation barriers from their general training curriculum.
One participant responds, “My main strategy was to gain their trust, plan special activities to measure their progress and areas for improvement opportunities. In one case, there was no diagnosis and I just assisted based on different trials; in other cases, I set personalized moments of attention, involving the child in play and team activities, trying to avoid that they were seen with pity, celebrating their successes and explaining clearly the consequences of inadequate behavior. I also relied on their families for support.”
Given the lack of theoretical and methodological knowledge about disability, coping strategies are developed, which, according to Gil-Monte and Peiró (cited in Quaas, 2006), “constitute the behavioral and cognitive effort a person does to control, reduce or tolerate stressful scenarios or to face an unstable situation.”
Apart from this, the participants mention feelings like indecisiveness, frustration, insecurity, lack of protection, stress, uncertainty, fear, helplessness, difficulty, nervousness, anguish, confusion, complexity and worry, as well as an inability to pay enough attention to the rest of the group. Still, teachers usually take these experiences as a challenge and opportunity to learn more, provide more support, develop more skills, investigate and get trained, feeling satisfaction in the ability to provide this support.
In a didactic a pedagogical sense, they cope with these situations by planning games and recreational activities where all children can take part, providing clear rules and agreements for a healthy and peaceful coexistence, using technological resources, and identifying opportunities and strengths, learning styles and rhythms, collaborative work, personalized and multi-sensory activities and having children guiding some activities.
To cope with the daily job, they need to provide support to these children, strengthen their social and emotional skills, boost their self-esteem, avoid treating them differently from their classmates, and develop skills and abilities through a safe classroom environment.
These teachers develop the ability to observe and register findings, do diagnosis tests, interview parents, provide personalized didactic attention within the school, plan multi-sensory, graphic, diverse and didactic games and develop specific material to assess how they evolve.
They point out that counting on support from trained personnel and working collaboratively makes the experience less stressful, and mention techniques, such as “being self-taught, relying on USAER’s guidance, adjusting plans to a reasonable degree, using technology like tablets that children use to learn, focus their attention and feel interested in, managing behaviors to enhance their attention and for them to understand rules for playing and working, and using music to improve their speech development (including their communicative intentions, verbal acts and first words.)”
They require to have more knowledge on the characteristics of different disabilities, frequent disorders, the possibilities and limitations, risk factors, how to support or orient the disability, educational intervention tools, methodologies, care strategies, specialized support and training, diagnosis, and how to involve families.
One participant details, “Having an inclusive attitude is not just about receiving them and adding them to the attendance sheet, but rather that they are truly part of the group, identifying the basic characteristics of the child’s situation and how to provide care and support, learning about their context and including their family’s participation.”
What we propose is to support teachers’ coping strategies and disposition towards inclusion with local educational policies to provide care to children with similar cases, extend regional support networks and have a specialized team at USAER to reduce the stressful events.
Blanco, R. (2015). Integración no es inclusión [Integration is not Inclusion]. University of Córdoba. Recovered from https://www.ucc.edu.ar/noticiasucc/integracion-no-es-igual-a-inlcusion/ (link only in Spanish)
Quaas, C. (2006). Diagnóstico de Burnout y Técnicas de Afrontamiento al Estrés en Profesores Universitarios de la Quinta Región de Chile [Burnout Diagnosis and Coping Techniques towards Stress in University Professors from Chile’s Fifth Region]. Journal on psychological perspectives of the school of psychology from Valparaíso Catholic University. V (1) 2006 [pp. 65-75].
Public Education Secretariat (2021). Estrategia Nacional de Educación Inclusiva. Acuerdo Educativo Nacional [Inclusive Education National Strategy. National Educational Agreement]. Recovered from https://infosen.senado.gob.mx/sgsp/gaceta/64/2/2019-11-14-1/assets/documentos/Estrategia_Educacion_Inclusiva.pdf (link only in Spanish)
Elvia Sánchez Villafuerte is a Preschool Education Teacher and holds a Ph.D. Special Education. She worked as a professor and researcher in the School of Science for Human Development of the Tlaxcala Autonomous University for 28 years. She has published different pieces on reading comprehension and is currently working as a Supervisor for Preschool Education and is an active member of OMEP Mexico.