This is the title of the children’s book that I wrote a few years ago, one outcome of four years of research and developing strategies to best support the inclusion of children with disabilities in a day care centre in Brazil.
It started in 1994…
As a clinical psychologist, I was invited to work on an innovative pilot project at a government-sponsored day care centre with about 30 young children diagnosed with disabilities or mental health issues. The challenge occurred when the government wanted to enrol children with typical development in this centre. It was an inclusive process, but backwards. Consequently, the total population rose to 65 children – 46% with development delay and/or disability, aged 2-12 years, and 54% with typical development, aged 2-7 years.
From chaos to clarity
Back in 1994, in Brazil, “inclusion” was a brand new idea. UNESCO Salamanca had just published a statement on the same. In the beginning, the situation was chaotic and everyone was ill-prepared. I conducted comprehensive research and explored several strategies for promoting an inclusive environment for children with teachers’ support, but failed to find anything practical. I organised one-hour playgroup sessions for 4 groups of 16 children each, where I observed that the teacher’s aides (called SLSOs in NSW public schools), professionals, parents, caregivers and children displayed particular behaviour towards children with disabilities and vice-verse. These behaviours included excessive protectiveness, lack of personal boundaries, rejection, criticising, or bullying. Some children were scared, and avoided being around those children with unusual behaviours. Teachers started avoiding inclusive practices, fearing failure, and some parents even requested to remove their children from the day care. I realised that the children were modelling their behaviour based on preconceptions, stereotypes on the adults around them.
I started training parents and teachers to open a channel to transformation to promote understanding and acceptance. This seemed to be the only way to reduce bias and turn individual differences into opportunities.
Once, during the therapeutic playgroup, I observed that the children were expressing various opinions, but kept repeating themselves. I started drawing pictures on the board to summarise their thoughts, help them remember, and facilitate understanding. The main idea was to encourage the children to reflect on their own behaviour. I noticed that they concentrated more and seemed to enjoy the cartoons. I then buy premarin online uk asked them to draw theme-based cartoons of their own. By exemplifying model behaviour about cultural acceptance, we were also helping children/caregivers understand how to deal with discriminatory behaviour. We did this group session with all stakeholders, and after a few months, the transformation was amazing!
I started drawing cartoons to show that everyone shared similar feelings in diverse situations. After 2 years of working with children, parents and professionals, the first draft of the activity colouring book was completed with an ancillary book for facilitators.
The program’s weekly sessions were comprised of fun activities. Children were able to learn about emotional literacy, peer role models, self-regulation, problem solving, empathy and important social skills. The secret was working on inclusion with all stakeholders in a participative and interactive way. Regular awareness meetings to support each other were also implemented. The result is an evidence-based practice book with standard scientific guidelines to determine the strength of successful inclusion.
Diversity, equity, and inclusion
Inclusion does not simply mean the placement of children with disabilities into mainstream classes. It is independent of racial, religious, disability and gender stereotypes. This process must incorporate fundamental changes in our own beliefs, and the way we address the individual needs of each child while respecting our individualities. “Are We the Same?” has several colouring activities to support the inclusion process, but it is not enough! To make inclusion a societal reality, diversity and inclusion initiatives go beyond early childhood settings and schools. It is about ‘Being, Becoming and Belonging’ to make a better place for all of us.
Ithia Farah – Assoc. MAPS – BSc (Psyc) Hons – Clinical and Educational Licentiate Degree in Psychology – Brazil – Ithia works as Family Worker with early childhood intervention services. She has won the Special Children’s Activity Book Award of National Foundation for Educational Development (1999) for authoring “Are We the Same?” Ithia has worked in the non-government disability sector for the last 25 years, where she has developed and facilitated training and resources for children, parents and professionals in Brazil and Australia.