NEWTON, NJ (Sussex County) – A recently published research study led by an adjunct professor in education at Sussex County Community College (SCCC) in Newton calls for a new policy to protect children with special needs.
Dr. June Cade of Vernon Twp. conducted the study with support from the Skylands Research Institute (SRI) at SCCC. At SCCC since 2021, Cade teaches three courses through the College’s education department: Historical and Philosophical Patterns in Education, Music and Art in Early Childhood Education, and Working with Special Needs Children.
Cade calls for a stronger policy to protect children with special needs through her findings.
“ALL Children Can Learn” or ACCL, is the title of Cade’s proposed policy with hopes for adoption by an education leader to stop the segregation of children based on their special needs. Cade is advocating for “Special rights instead of special education” to include children with special needs in an inclusive classroom rather than a separate special needs classroom.
Through her work in education as a consultant and specialist in child development and early childhood theory, Cade conducted a four-month qualitative research study titled “Child-centered Pedagogy: Guided Play-Based Learning for Preschool Children with Special Needs.” She developed the theoretical framework back in January 2023 by researching journal articles on child-centered approaches and children’s special needs. From there, she constructed questions to fill in gaps missing from public research studies and submitted her proposal to SCCC and its connection with the SRI with its approval in February to conduct her study.
From February through May, Cade collected her data by interviewing seven public preschool teachers in multiple school districts in northern New Jersey, and in August, submitted her 40-page study to the Taylor & Francis Journal for publication.
It was determined that there is an “uptick in children with special needs” in preschool classes, shares Cade.
The purpose of her study was to determine what strategies preschool teachers are using in their classrooms to support the individual needs of children who may present with special needs tendencies such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and autism, why those strategies are being used; and what strategies the directors used to support their teachers.
“What is happening in preschool before kindergarten?” questions Cade. The purpose of her study was “to get an understanding with what is happening” regarding “children coming in with special needs.”
Cade based her research from interviews, lesson plan samples and creative curriculum.
The teachers she interviewed via Zoom confirmed that N.J. class sizes are capped at 15 students and that at least half of those students are classified as special needs based on their language skills, hyperactivity, inability to sit still and pay attention.
It is presumed that “3-5-year-olds need to be able to sit down and complete a task,” says Cade. That theory is not true; however, Cade argues. “They have a lot of energy in a closed space. A lot of teachers didn’t understand that pedagogy. They didn’t understand early childhood theory. It was a flaw in their thinking that they should be able to sit down and complete a task. Neuroscientists would tell preschool teachers it’s a flawed way of thinking.”
If the brain is not fully developed until age 24, and a person cannot rent a car until the age of 25, then how can a preschool child be expected to sit down, exhibit full executive functions such as fully attending, focusing, and complete a task, especially considering those being diagnosed as special needs? Cade questions.
Another finding in her study is that “they [the teachers] don’t want special needs children in their classroom because they can’t sit still,” and they possess language barriers. “Many teachers explained that those children should be in special education because it’s too much work to constantly redirect them.”
Cade shares that one teacher, for example, uses restraints to prevent a child from moving in the preschool class.
“A lot of the teachers talk about not wanting special needs children in their classroom because of the need for support services,” says Cade, such as a speech pathologist or occupational therapist. These students are pulled out of the classroom for these extra services, which causes a disruption, the teachers revealed.
From her study, Cade discovered a few themes:
- Teachers are struggling by having extra work in handling children in their classroom who exhibit special needs tendencies.
- Grouping children is preferred. The main strategy is “to push for special education,” to place children in special education classrooms rather than inclusion.
- Teachers expressed a lack of support and lack of training. “They did not get a lot of support from the director” at their preschool, says Cade.
Through her study, Cade learned that four of the preschool teachers had principals “who knew nothing about early childhood education.”
Determined Cade, “If a preschool classroom is part of an elementary school, principals should be able to guide them.”
The Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) policy on special education maintains that “the least restricted environment is the best environment for children,” explains Cade, pointing to “inclusion” as the best approach. Through her research, however, she determined that the preschool teachers do not understand the least restrictive environment and blame their lack of training in this area.
Cade plans to use her research in the special education course she teaches at SCCC and hopes the college utilizes it as training for prospective teachers in early childhood education.
“Dr. Cade’s research will be used for professional development for the internal and external college community,” says Dr. Cory Homer, director of the Skylands Research Institute. “This is the first study published through the Skylands Research Institute.”