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Effects of social integration on preschool children with handicaps.

ABSTRACT: This study examined the effects of (a) integrating handicapped and nonhandicapped children in preschools and (b) a condition designed to promote social integration. Fifty-six children with mild and moderate handicaps were randomly assigned to four experimental conditions: integrated/social interaction, integrated/child-directed, segregated/social interaction, and segregated/child-directed. Observation revealed a higher proportion of interactive play, as well as higher language development, in the social interaction conditions; and children in the integrated/social interaction condition received significantly higher ratings of social competence. These data suggest that structuring social interaction between higher and lower performing children can result in benefits to the lower performing students. 1-1 Proponents of integration and mainstreaming for young children with handicaps and their peers who are without disabilities rely primarily upon three rationales (Bricker, 1978). First, a legal rationale states that integration with nonhandicapped peers represents the least restrictive educational environment, which is a requirement of P. L. 99-457. A second rationale suggests that integration is appropriate because it is the most morally and ethically correct form of education (Vincent, Brown, & Getz-Sheftel, 1981). Stated simply, integration should occur because it is the right thing to do (Safford & Rosen, 1981).

The third rationale states that children with handicaps enrolled in integrated educational programs will reveive additional educational or developmental benefits by being in close proximity to and interacting with normally developing peers of similar ages (Bricker, 1978). A minimum criterion related to this rationale is that children with handicaps receive education benefits that are at least equal to those that would be received in nonintegrated placements. In a sense, the educational rationale actually serves as the foundation for the other two; that is, if young children with handicaps were harmed by their integrated placement, neither the legal nor ethical rationale could be supported.

The educational rationale for integration is based on several underlying processes. It presumes that children may acquire age-appropriate skills by observing and imitating developmentally advanced peers in their classes. Acquisition of social and certain communication skills may also occur through interactions that naturally occur in classroom settings (Guralnick, 1981; Hartup, 1983). In addition, the presence of advanced peers may create a more developmentally complex environment, which, if the complexity is not too great, may give the children with handicaps a developmental "push" toward acquiring and practicing advanced skills.

Investigators who have attempted to examine the educational or developmental benefits of integration at the preschool level have been faced with a number of roadblocks. First, integration itself is often ill defined. Some programs, which have been labeled as "mainstreamed" (Guralnick & Groom, 1988), take place in preschools that are designed for and primarily contain normally developing children. Other programs, which have been labeled "integrated special education" (Odom & Speltz, 1983), occur in special education classes in which normally developing children are enrolled as peer models. In fact, these two program types represent two ends of an integration continuum rather than two independent and distinct program types.

Further, investigators often have not had access to a comparison or control group. In a recent review of research on preschool integration, Odom and McEvoy (1988) found that studies examining the developmental effects of integration most frequently employed either a single group design with a regression equation to control for maturation, or a nonequivalent control group design, which did not involve random assignment of children to groups. The absence of clear comparison groups limits the interpretation of these studies. In addition, for most of these studies, the actual curricular program was a major confound so that it is impossible to determine if effects are due to integration or a particular curriculum.

However, in one study, Jenkins, Speltz, and Odom (1985) were able to randomly assign matched groups of children to integrated and nonintegrated special education placements and provide children in both placements with comparable curricular experiences. These investigators, who administered a broad range of developmental assessments at the beginning and end of the year, found that differential effects generally did not occur for children in integrated and segregated settings. However, the authors also found that social integration (i.e., the frequency with which children with handicaps interacted with their nonhandicapped peers) was less than the level that could be expected by chance alone. That is, in the Jenkins et al. study, physical integration (i.e., placing children in the same classroom) had occurred but social integration had not.

Social integration may be the variable that mediates developmental or educational outcomes for young children with handicaps in integrated settings. Guralnick and Groom (1988) reported that when placed in play groups with normally developing peers, children with mild developmental delays often engaged in more advanced forms of social interactions and play, but these researchers did not assess integration effects in an ongoing program (i.e., effects of year-long class placement in the same program). Moreover, in the two studies cited previously and in an extensive literature search on social interaction patterns of preschoolers with handicaps and normally developing peers (Odom & McEvoy, 1988), a general finding has been that normally developing peers interact less often with handicapped children in the classroom than with their other normally developing peers. This general finding suggests that social integration is not achieved merely by placing preschool children in the same program, but that specific programming may be necessary to promote social integration. When actual social integration does occur, integrated placements may well enhance development.

The purpose of this study was to investigate the effects of both physical and social integration in a special education preschool program. We randomly assigned children with handicaps to integrated and nonintegrated classes that were otherwise equivalent, and implemented procedures for promoting social integration in half the integrated classes. We assessed child performance across five areas of development. Based on our previous research, we did not expect that integration alone would have a pronounced effect on child performance. We hypothesized that developmental effects would be found for social integration, and that those effects would occur in language and social development. METHOD Participants Seventy-two preschool children, ages 3-6, participated in this study. Of these children 56 (13 girls and 43 boys) had mild and moderate handicaps. All of the handicapped children met Washington State criteria for special education eligibility as "developmentally delayed" on the basis of having at least a 25% measured age delay in at least two of seven developmental areas. With respect to specific diagnostic categories, 59% were labeled "communication disordered," with the remaining children classified as "behavior disordered" 26%), "mildly mentally retarded" 16%), "moderately mentally retarded" 13%), and "physically handicapped" (6%). Table I gives age, IQ, and language scores for children from the various handicapping categories.

Sixteen normally developing children were recruited for placement in the integrated classrooms. Before their enrollment, prospective models were screened with the Denver Developmental Screening Test and a clinical appraisal of social behavior drawn from a single play session. The mean chronological age of the normally developing children was 47 months (SD = 6.5). Nine were male and seven were female. Their mean Stanford-Binet IQ score was 120 (SD = 17.6).

During the course of the year, 6 children with handicaps left the program. Attrition was similar across the conditions. At the end of the year, there were 7, 8, and I I of the original children with handicaps enrolled in the two integrated and one segregated experimental classes, and 7, 8, and 9 original handicapped children enrolled in the contrast integrated and segregated classes. As children left the programs they were replaced by other children whose test data were not included in the analysis. All nonhandicapped children remained enrolled for the entire year. Setting This study was conducted in six classes at the Experimental Education Unit of the University of Washington. Class size (12) was the same in each room. Four were integrated special education classes, containing 8 handicapped and 4 nonhandicapped preschoolers, and 2 were nonintegrated classes, containing 12 children with handicaps. Each class was staffed by a teacher, assistant teacher, and at least one graduate student. Except for the experimental and contrast conditions described in the next section, methods of instruction, time allotted to instructional activities, physical space, and access to materials were identical across classes. Classes met for 2 hours per day, 5 days a week, from September to early June. Design A 2 Program Type integration vs. Segregation) x 2 Play Conditions (Social Interaction vs. Child-directed) factorial design was employed. To test the program factor, performance of the children with handicaps in all the integrated and segregated classes was compared. To test the play factor, performance of children in two integrated and one segregated class that received a social interaction treatment was compared with that of children who received a child-directed play treatment.

Students with handicaps were matched according to diagnostic category, intellectual functioning, and chronological age, then randomly assigned to experimental conditions. A chi-square analysis with Yates correction for low cell frequencies revealed that children in diagnostic categories were evenly distributed across treatment conditions X2 = 1. 18, df 9, p > . 10). Moreover, an analysis of variance revealed no significant differences across conditions for IQ or chronological age. Nonhandicapped children were matched on previous class placement (i.e., previous preschool versus no preschool) and chronological age and then randomly assigned to the four integrated classes. Treatments Two play conditions were designed: social interaction and child-directed play. The social interaction treatment consisted of two components: (a) socially integrated play groups based upon the Integrated Preschool Curriculum (Odom et al., 1988) and (b) direct social skills instruction for selected students. Social Interaction. A 30-minute period was set aside each day for social integration activities. These activities consisted of a number of structured play situations designed for classroom use with small groups (n = 4). In the integrated classes, one or two nonhandicapped children were grouped with two or three children with handicaps, and in the segregated class, one or two of the more socially competent children with mild handicaps were grouped with two or three of the less socially skilled children. On days that each play activity was first introduced, teachers (a) suggested play ideas, (b) modeled appropriate play behavior, and (c) prompted social interaction among the children as necessary. Teachers were instructed to reduce their prompting as children became well versed in the activities. Thirty-five structured play activities were developed for use across the year. Play sessions were implemented daily following the same routine: Three different activities were conducted simultaneously in the classroom with one group of children assigned to each activity. The small heterogeneous groups of children participated in one activity for the first half of the 30-minute period and then, as a group, moved on to a second activity for the last half of the period. Details about the specific play activities are available in Odom et al. (1988).

In addition, scripted social skills intervention was designed to promote positive social interaction of the most socially isolated children. The intervention combined peer-initiation and adult-mediated (i.e., training and reinforcement by the adult) strategies for promoting social interactions, and occurred during the social integration activities. This specific intervention was used with the two most isolated children in the two integrated classrooms.

During the winter and spring months, a research assistant monitored the implementation of the interactive play sessions, collected observational data on teacher performance, and held weekly conferences with the teachers to provide feedback on implementation for the previous week. Child-Directed Play. Daily 30-minute play periods were also conducted in classrooms using a child directed play model. The procedures for these periods were adapted from the "work-time component" of the High/Scope Preschool Cognitive Curriculum (Hohmann, Banet, & Weikert, 1979). This curriculum model was primarily designed to facilitate children's cognitive development but has also been used for promoting social integration in mainstreamed classrooms (Ispa, 1981). Teachers in the contrast model planned activities for daily 30-minute periods. The 30-minute periods were divided into: (a) a planning group in which children selected an activity and stated their plans to their classmates, (b) work/play time in which children carried out their planned activity with limited assistance from the teacher, (c) cleanup time, and (d) a "recall" group in which children described what they did during the work/play time. The role of the teacher in this condition was to extend the ideas and activities of the children, rather than direct them. In this condition, unlike the interactive play condition, teachers did not group children. Children had free access to all activities after they had completed their "plans" and could interact with whomever they wished.

To ensure that the self-selected model was implemented in accordance with procedures recommended by Hohmann et al. (1979), a research assistant observed the three classes during the play/work period, using an adapted version of the Curriculum Checklist (Hohmann et al., pp. 298-301). Of the 48 items on the adapted checklist, 33 were considered to be behaviors in which teachers would engage each day. Observations were made in the classes once every 4 to 6 weeks; teachers' scores ranged from 28 to 33, indicating that teachers were adhering to the fundamentals of the curriculum. Implementation Measure To measure the degree to which the interactive play condition promoted social interaction in general, and social integration in the integrated classes, children's play was observed in all classrooms at two points during the year. The first set of observations occurred after the experimental conditions had been implemented for 3 months. The second set occurred 2 months after the first observations.

Observations were coded in five behavioral categories based loosely on Parten's (1932) scales of social participation. These were: isolate/Unoccupied (i.e., child is playing at a distance-more than 3 feet-from other children, or is not engaged in a play activity); Proximity (i.e., child is playing within 3 feet of another child, but not interacting with her); Interactive (i.e., child is talking to or communicating nonverbally with another peer); Negative (i.e., child is engaging in hostile, physically aggressive, or rejecting behavior toward a peer); and Teacher (i.e., child is communicating verbally or nonverbally with the teacher, or the teacher is communicating directly with the child). When the interactive category was coded, we identified the partner as handicapped or nonhandicapped.

Observers used an instantaneous probe system (Sackett, 1978) to record each child's play every day for a minimum of 3 weeks. Using the class roster and an audio tape for cuing time intervals, an observer watched a child (2 seconds), recorded the behavior and located the next child on the roster (4 seconds). Each child in the class was observed at least 10 times per day, with a minimum of 150 observations per child for each observation segment. The mean number of observations collected per child for the two segments was 189.6 (SD = 23.5) and 196.1 (SD = 20.5) for the interactive play groups, and 181.84 (SD = 21.02) and 191.1 (SD = 22.68) for the child-directed groups.

Observers were trained to an 80% agreement criterion before the study began. To gauge interobserver agreement, a second observer recorded behavior simultaneously with the principal observer. Reliability checks were conducted on 20% of the total observational intervals. We computed interobserver agreement by dividing the number of agreements on occurrences by the total number of observations. Average agreement percentages were 84.2% (range = 72% - 91%) for the first segment and 85.5% (range = 79% - 95%) for the second segment. Standardized Measures A battery of standardized tests was used to assess performance across developmental domains. The battery was given in October and in June. Preacademic achievement (e.g., counting, matching, classifying, figure replication) was measured by the preacademic subtest of the Uniform Performance Assessment System (UPAS) (White, Haring, & Edgar, 1978). Gross (PGM) and fine (PFM) motor development were assessed by the Peabody Developmental Motor Scales (Folio & Fewell, 1983). The Preschool Language Scale (PLS) (Zimmerman, Steiner, & Pond, 1979) was used to measure both receptive and expressive language development. We obtained a broad measure of social competence by using the California Preschool Social Competency Scale (CPSCS) Levine, Elzey, & Lewis, 1969). The CPSCS is a 30-item teacher rating scale; each item on the scale contains a 4-point Likert rating with each point behaviorally anchored. The PGM, PFM, and PLS were administered outside the classroom by trained testers who were blind to the purpose of the study. The UPAS was administered by classroom staff inside the classroom. The CPSCS was completed by the head teacher in each class. Performance on the PGM, PFM, and PLS was reported in month units; scores for UPAS were total items passed, and scores for the CPSCS were total raw scores. RESULTS Implementation Measure The classroom observations provided a process measure of social integration. Using the total observational intervals for each handicapped child, proportion of occurrence for each category served as the metric for the following analyses. To analyze effects of the play conditions and program type, we used a 2 (play conditions) x 2 (program type) x 2 (time of year) MANOVA with repeated measures on the third factor. The SPSS MANOVA procedure initially analyzed effects of play and program type across the five observational categories. Main effects were found for the play conditions and time, along with a three-way interaction (see Table 2),

The significant results from the MANOVA prompted an investigation at the individual-category level using 2 (play condition) x 2 (program type) x 2 (time of observation) repeated-measures ANOVAs. For the isolate/unoccupied category, significant main effects were found for program type, F (1, 50) = 7.74, p < .01; play condition, F (1, 50) = 7.3, p < .01; and time, F (1, 50) = 12.37, p < 001. Overall, there was less isolate/unoccupied play in the segregated condition, in the interactive play treatment, and late in the year. A play treatment x time interaction, F (1, 50) = 5.02, p < .03, also emerged. Examination of the means revealed more solitary play in the child-directed condition than in the interactive play condition, but the difference diminished over time, because of reduced solitary play by the child-directed group.

No treatment effects were found for the proximity category. Analyses of the interactive play category revealed higher proportions for the interactive play treatment, F (1, 50) = 17.38, p < 001, along with an interaction between play condition and time, F (1, 50) = 4.19, p < .05. The mean proportion of interactive play was significantly higher in the interactive play treatment, and the discrepancy between the treatments increased over time.

A significant play treatment X program type interaction was found for the negative interaction category, F (1, 50) = 6.67, p < .02. The combination of the interactive play treatment and segregated program produced more negative interactions than other treatment combinations (around 1% negative interactions in the former vs. 0.4% over the remaining combinations). Noteworthy across all treatments was the very low rate of negative interactions. No effects were found for the teacher interaction category.

To measure levels of social integration in the integrated classes, the mean proportion of the handicapped children's interactive play with nonhandicapped peers was examined. A play by time repeated measures ANOVA revealed a significant main effect for the play factor, F (1, 28) = 8.07, p < .01, with more play between handicapped and nonhandicapped children in the interactive play condition. See Table 3 for means and standard deviations. Standardized Measures Analysis of Developmental Pretests. As a check on the extent to which random assignment succeeded in forming comparable groups, separate 2 (program type) x 2 (play treatment) analyses of variance were conducted on the PGM, PFM, PLS, UPAS, and CPSCS pretests. A significant main effect was found for the play factor on the CPSCS (F = 7.5, df = 1,44, p = .01), along with a borderline effect on the UPAS (F = 3.558, df = 1,44, p = .07). In both instances, means for the child-directed group were higher than those of the interactive play group. Analysis of Developmental Posttests. To control for initial differences on the UPAS and CPSCS, and to increase analytic power for the other dependent measures, separate 2 (program type) x 2 (play treatment) ANCOVAs were used to test for posttest differences, using pretests as covariates. Means and standard deviations for the adjusted means appear in Table 4.

Significant effects were found in the areas of language and social competence. Children in the interactive play condition scored significantly higher on the language measure (PLS) than did their counterparts in the child-directed condition, F (1,45) = p < .05. On the CPSCS there was a significant interaction between program type and play condition, F (1,43) = 7.07, p < . 0 1. Children who received the interactive play treatment and integrated placement scored significantly higher than did those in the other three groups.

Neither the play treatments nor program types significantly influenced performance on preacademic or motor measures. DISCUSSION The purpose of this study was to examine the effects of integration in general, and, more specifically, social integration, on the development of preschool children with handicaps. After initially matching and then randomly assigning children to experimental conditions, we implemented a set of procedures to promote social interaction between advanced and less competent peers in both integrated and nonintegrated classes. in a contrast condition we implemented a child-directed play curriculum. Our direct observations revealed that children in the interactive play treatment engaged in significantly less isolate/ unoccupied play, significantly more interactive play, and significantly more negative interaction, although this latter behavior occurred at a very low rate. A significant effect also occurred for isolate/unoccupied play in the integrated condition, with most of the difference appearing in the integrated/child-directed condition (see Table 2).

Within the integrated classrooms, children with handicaps engaged in significantly more interactive play with their nonhandicapped peers than in the child-directed condition. Taken together, these findings indicate that the social interaction treatment (i.e., the interaction play condition) produced more interactive play overall and resulted in more social integration of handicapped and nonhandicapped children in the integrated classes.

We next examined the effects of integration on the handicapped children's performances across developmental measures. With one exception, results replicated our previous research on the developmental effects of integrated preschools (Jenkins et al., 1985). Integration alone (i.e., placing handicapped and nonhandicapped students in the same classroom) resulted in minimal effects on fine motor, language, preacademic, and social competence.

A second issue investigated in this study was the developmental effects of a treatment designed to promote social interaction between more and less developmentally advanced peers. We found that children with handicaps in both the integrated and nonintegrated classes participating in the interactive play condition scored significantly higher at posttest on the adjusted measure of language development. This outcome could have resulted from differences in play group composition between the interactive and child-directed treatments, or from differences in the amount of interactive play resulting from the two treatments. The interactive play treatment guaranteed heterogeneous play groups. Lower functioning children in these groups may have been exposed to a more linguistically complex environment, with more verbal information at their level of comprehension than what might ordinarily occur (Guralnick & Paul-Brown, 1977). Alternatively, the interactive play treatment may have simply produced more frequent talking and listening, stimulating advances in language.

We also found that children in the integrated classes participating in the interactive play treatment received significantly higher scores on teacher-rated social competence. Interacting with normally developing peers in structured play activities appeared to facilitate the development of social competence for preschool children with handicaps. Our confidence in this finding would rise had we been able to obtain an independent measure of social competence. In the present study, teachers' knowledge of experimental conditions could have biased their ratings of the children's social competence, or possibly teachers in the integrated classrooms using the interactive play treatment may have judged their handicapped children more competent because they grew accustomed to observing these children engage in more sophisticated play in the groups containing nonhandicapped peers.

Given the previous record of research on integration and the role of play in the development of academic and preacademic skills, we had predicted that neither integration by itself nor social integration (i.e, the interactive play treatment) would affect preacademic performance, fine motor skills, and gross motor skills. Whereas language and social skills may develop in a child-child medium, preacademic skills such as matching, counting, and classifying probably require more deliberate instruction in an adult-child or expert-novice medium. Moreover, when teaching academic skills, teachers are generally inclined to group children whose skills are similar. Thus, the potentials inherent in heterogeneous groupings may be greater for enhancing language and social development than academic achievement.

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Author:Jenkins, Joseph R.; Odom, Samuel L.; Speltz, Matthew L.
Publication:Exceptional Children
Date:Feb 1, 1989
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