An inclusive program is an intervention plan for the development of children with developmental delays. Children with and without developmental delays attend the same schools and interact during their studies. When young children with developmental delays study together with young children without developmental delays, more positive outcomes are realized. An increasing number of children with developmental delays are being enrolled in inclusive programs in the U.S. The government has been under pressure to support inclusive programs to ensure more young children with developmental delays are in the program (Parker et al., 1995).
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Benefits of Friendships in Inclusive Setting
The inclusive program has been realized to be of great importance when it comes to social development. This program encourages more interactions and advanced levels of play for children with developmental delays than the segregated program. According to Guralnick (2001), one of the aims of the inclusion program is social integration that encourages both social interactions and the development of significant relationships between children with and without developmental delays. Friendships are also one of the desirable results of inclusive programs, as noted by the division of early childhood. According to Buysse et al. (2008), friendship is a voluntary and reciprocated relationship between children with; a mutual liking for and attachment to one another, frequent closeness to one another, and engages in shared activities, evidence of enjoyment, and positive affect.
Researchers have shown that friendships are important in general adjustment and well being of children as well as the development of interaction skills that are important for success in school and later in life. Friendships in inclusive programs facilitate the acceptance of some children with developmental delays as a result of successful interactions. Early friendships allow children to learn how to establish and maintain relationships. Children who have problems with peer relations at an early age are more likely to have social adjustment problems when they get older (Parker et al., 1995).
Despite the great importance of friendships in children with developmental delays, enough researches have not been carried out on ways to help children establish and maintain friendships. Most of the friendships researches has been conducted on older children and children without developmental delays; thus, they cannot be fully relied on as a representative of children with developmental delays. Despite the evidence that has been shown on the importance of friendship in inclusive programs, children with developmental delays are at risk of poor peer-related social competence and friendships of short duration compared to those children without development delays (Guralnick, 2001).
Parents and Teachers Strategies in Friendships
Family members affect the development of friendships and interactions with peers. Parents are supervising their children playing with peers and instructing them on whom to relate with effects the children’s relations with peers. This affects the outcome of childhood friendships. However, researches have shown that the influence of teachers and parents is of great importance in establishing and maintaining friendships.
Research carried out showed that teachers and parents use three strategies in support of specific friendships. These strategies are setting the tone of the social environment, providing opportunities for interactions, and facilitating interactions. In setting the tone, parents and teachers supervise children playing and interacting with friends. They teach the children to be kind, polite, and to share with friends. This is important for meaningful friendships. The teachers and parents provide opportunities for interactions by arranging play dates and encouraging children to do favourite activities together.
In facilitating interactions, teachers and parents described activities such as participating in friends’ play, resolving conflicts, interpreting for children with special needs, and teaching on social skills as important in facilitating positive interactions between specific friends (Buysse et al., 2008). Studies have shown that the participation of parents and teachers in the early friendships of young children is of great importance in the development of children with and without developmental delays. Effective communication between parents and teachers is necessary for them to be able to help young children in establishing and maintaining friendships (Buysse et al., 2008).
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Buysse, V et al., (2008). Friendships In Early Childhood: Implications for Early Education and Intervention. In W. H. Brown, S. L. Odom, & S. R. Mcconnell (Eds.), Social Competence of Young Children: Risk, Disability, And Intervention. Baltimore: Brookes.
Guralnick, M., (2001). A Framework For Change In Early Childhood Inclusion. In M. J. Guralnick (Ed.), Early Childhood Inclusion: Focus On Change (Pp. 3-35). Baltimore: Brookes
Parker, J et al., (1995). Peer Relationships, Child Development, and Adjustment: A Developmental Psychopathology Perspective. In D. Cicchetti & D. Cohen (Eds.), Developmental Psychopathology: Vol. 2. Risk, Disorder, And Adaptation. New York: Wiley.