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On-Site Staff / Program Design, Development, and Quality / Staff Leadership and Management

Research on Inclusion of Children with Special Needs in Out-of-School Time


“There is a critical need for afterschool programs that can receive and handle students with special needs. I believe that programs could be strengthened by providing training for caregivers in such areas as autism and ADHD, along with encouraging practices that would provide an appropriate adult-to-student ratio to enhance care options for students with disabilities.”

Taking the Temperature of Afterschool, New Jersey School Age Care Coalition

Although the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 requires accommodations for individuals with disabilities in community settings, many out-of-school time (OST) programs struggle to successfully support youth with special needs.

In 2011, the Robert Bowne Foundation awarded an Edmund A. Stanley Research Grant research grant to the School of Public Affairs and Administration at Rutgers University in Newark, New Jersey to study the professional development needs of OST programs to support students with special needs.

The goal of this project is to employ research and analysis to raise awareness of issues surrounding the implementation of inclusive OST programs and guide policy decisions relative to professional development. It is also intended to provide local OST administrators and staff with guidance in selecting professional development activities to support inclusion.

For the purpose of the research “Children with special needs” was defined very broadly to include any physical, mental or psychological condition. In the context of the study, professional development encompassed a variety of activities designed to increase understanding of disabilities and inclusion practices. These activities include workshops, conferences, online training, mentoring/coaching, consultation with other professionals, on-site meetings, telephone technical assistance, and information provided by parents, schools and other professionals.

In addition to a review of current research and literature, the report provides descriptive statistics and correlation analysis from the OST Inclusion-Professional Development Survey conducted from March through July 2011 with 421 OST providers in New Jersey serving children in grades K-12. Survey responses were examined based on hypotheses developed from a literature review of professional development to support inclusion.

Research question (literature review): What types of professional development will most likely lead to successful inclusion of children with special needs in OST programs?

Survey question (practitioner opinion): What professional development opportunities do New Jersey OST providers perceive are necessary to support a high-quality inclusive child care program?

Research Highlights

Most of the research on inclusion to date has centered on preschool children in child care programs or school age children in typical classrooms in during the school day. Research has demonstrated positive outcomes for children with and without disabilities in these settings. Our study is based on the premise of previous studies that inclusion is beneficial for all children and explores the role of the OST provider in successfully supporting youth with special needs. We have identified four hypotheses which effect the successful inclusion of children with special needs in OST programs.

  • OST providers that have previous experience serving children with special needs are more likely to include children with special needs in the future.
  • Positive experience with inclusion is more dependent on individual experiences with youth and extensive participation in professional development than on educational background, position or type of agency offering the program.
  • Both the content of training and the delivery method effect professional development outcomes.
  • An OST provider with a positive attitude toward inclusion is more likely to include children with special needs.

Results from the OST survey provide insight into practitioners’ experiences and need for support.

  • The types of disabilities most often identified in OST programs were ADHD (93%), Asthma (84%), Learning Disabilities (75%), and Autism (70%).
  • The training topics most frequently identified as “extremely important” were Addressing Challenging Behaviors and Promoting Positive Behavior.
  • The preferred delivery methods for professional development as well as topics of interest vary according to the respondents’ education, experience, and position.
  • Those with more experience are more likely to use additional resources (schools, specialists, etc) to support youth with special needs.
  • Upper-level administrators have used many of the resources listed to support children with special needs; however, direct service staff has not.
  • Respondents who sought information from families to support youth with special needs report more positive perceptions of inclusion.
  • OST providers who said that they would need additional money, staff or other resources to accommodate children with special needs were more likely to have a positive attitude toward inclusion.

The Promise and the Challenge of Inclusion

A hopeful finding from our survey was that a significant number of respondents—90 percent—said that they had prior experience with inclusion in their programs. More importantly, 87 percent of those who had served a child with special needs indicated that their personal experience was positive or very positive. These results are encouraging for those working to promote inclusive opportunities for children with special needs. At the same time, the high level of interest in additional professional development provides a challenge for policymakers, funders, training entities, and program administrators to provide more opportunities to support inclusion.

The researchers are thankful to the funders and the many people who participated in this project, especially the OST providers who shared their experiences and opinions through the survey.

To view the complete report with research citings, recommendations for OST staff, trainers, policy makers and funders, as well as a list of resources to support inclusion go to the National Institute of Out-of-School Time website and look under “Afterschool Matters” fall 2012 addition. Readers are also encouraged to join the group “Inclusion is Belonging” on LinkedIn to share information and discuss issues.

Breakfast: I’ve recently moved and my kitchen is a mess so breakfast was microwave oatmeal, OJ and Coke Zero.

Author Profile: @janesharp

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