STARTING KINDERGARTEN: TRANSITION ISSUES FOR CHILDREN ?· STARTING KINDERGARTEN: TRANSITION ISSUES FOR…

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  • CANADIANJOURNALOFEDUCATION30,3(2007):628648

    STARTINGKINDERGARTEN:TRANSITIONISSUESFORCHILDRENWITHSPECIALNEEDS

    MagdalenaJanus,JessicaLefort,RuthCameron,&

    LaurenKopechanskiMcMasterUniversity

    Toinvestigateissuesintransitiontokindergartenforchildrenwithspecialneeds,weexplored several sources of information (peerreviewed literature, governmentwebsites, parent surveys, and interviews with professionals). We found thatadministrative issues like lackof integrationandtheevaluationofservicesavailableto children and families, andparent support issues likepromoting advocacywererecurring themes in all sources. Although some barriers are very clear, moresystematicresearch isneededto identifyfactorsfacilitatingsuccessfuladjustmenttokindergartenamongchildrenwithspecialneeds.Keywords:schoolentry,disability,schooladjustment,specialeducationDsiranttudierlesproblmesdetransitionlamaternellechezlesenfantsayantdesbesoins particuliers, les auteures ont explor plusieurs sources dinformation(publicationsvaluesparlespairs,sitesWebgouvernementaux,sondagesauprsdeparents et entrevues avecdesprofessionnels). Les auteures ontdcouvert que lesproblmesadministratifs,commelemanquedintgrationetlvaluationdesservicesofferts aux enfants et aux familles, et lesproblmes relis au soutiendesparents,notamment ladfensede leursdroits,taientdes thmes rcurrentsdans toutes lessources. Bien que certains obstacles soient trs clairement dcrits, il faudrait unerechercheplus systmatiquepour identifier les facteurs qui favorisent ladaptationdesenfantsayantdesbesoinsspciauxlamaternelle.Motscls:entrelcole,dficience,adaptationscolaire,ducationdelenfanceendifficult

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  • STARTINGKINDERGARTEN 629

    Transitiontoelementaryschoolisanimportantandcomplicatedeventinanychildslife,butevenmoresoforchildrenwithspecialhealthneedsandtheirfamilies.Childrenwithspecialneedsfaceacomplextransitiontokindergarten,yetmajorgaps exist in the researchknowledge aboutthisprocess.Thesechildrenoftenrequireadditionalsupporttoadjusttothe school environment and function at an adequate level for learning(Hains, Fowler, Schwartz, Kottwitz,& Rosenkoetter, 1989); frequentlythesearenot inplacebeforechildrenenterschool (Kierstad&Hanvey,2001). It is, therefore, crucial to identify the issues that prevent asuccessfultransitionandadjustment.

    Specialneedsstatus isanoperational term that tends tobedefinedsimilarly,yetwithsubtledifferences,invariousjurisdictions.InCanada,provincialministries of education are responsible for definitions andpolicies intheareaofspecialeducation.Fourprovinceshaveaccessibledocuments that provide detailed descriptions of special needs:Ontario,Manitoba,Alberta,andBritishColumbia(Janus,2005).Thesedefinitionscover abroad spectrumofdisabilities,bothon themild to severe axisand the diagnostic axis, e.g., mental, emotional, physical/medical,learning,andcommunication.OntarioandBritishColumbiaspecificallyinclude autism. Alberta and Manitoba divide the conditions intomild/moderateandsevere,withAlbertascategoriesbeingbasedontheIQ range.Two important issueshave tobeemphasized.First, the termspecial needs does not include children whose life circumstancesmayhave put them at risk for low educational outcomes, for example,children living in poverty, in disadvantaged neighborhoods, or withabusive caregivers. Therefore research on the transition to school forthese populations is not considered in this article. Second, the termspecialneeds,originating in the fieldofeducation, indicateseducationalneeds that are different from those of typical children. For example,although a child with a pervasive developmental disorder hasdramaticallydifferenteducationalneedsthanachildwithseverevisionimpairment, both these conditions fall under special needs. It has longbeen argued that it is important to consider children with healthconditionsinanoncategoricalway,thatis,basedontheirneedsratherthanspecificdiagnosis(Stein&Jessop,1982).Weassumethisapproachinthisarticle,whereaschoolboardhasdesignatedachildwithspecial

  • 630 M.JANUS,J.LEFORT,R.CAMERON,&L.KOPECHANSKI

    needs regardless of the type and severity of his or her condition.Therefore,ourinvestigationoftheissuesintransitionhasassumedthatsuchissuesaresimilartomostchildrenwithspecialneeds.

    In this article,we present our investigation of themajor issues intransition tokindergarten forchildrenwith specialneeds in twoparts.The first part consists of two systematic literature reviews: one ofrecently published peerreviewed articles, and one of the webbasedinformation on the kindergarten transitionpractices inCanada. In thesecondpartweexamineempiricaldatafromtwostudies:aquantitativestudy of parents of kindergarten children who reported on theirsatisfaction with transition to school, and a qualitative study ofprofessionals who reported on their perception of the barriers intransition.We focus on the following questions:What are themajorissues in transition to kindergarten for childrenwith specialneeds, asidentified in the literature?What is theperceptionofCanadianparentsandprofessionalsontransition?

    PARTI.ISSUESINTRANSITIONTOKINDERGARTENFORCHILDRENWITHSPECIALNEEDS

    METHODS

    Wecarriedout two reviews toestablish the issuesandpractices in thetransitiontokindergartenamongchildrenwithspecialneeds.Inthefirst,weconductedasystematicsearchofpeerreviewedliteratureusingkeywords transition, kindergarten, special needs, and specialeducationusingtheOvidInterfaceofPubMedandPsychInfo.Contentsofjournalsforthepast10yearswhosemandateinvolvedyoungchildrenwithspecialneedswereexplored. Inaddition,bibliographiesofpapersidentified with the first two strategies were scanned for relevantliterature. We retained articles published before 1995 and thoseappearing inanonpeer reviewedsource (e.g.,agovernment report) iftheinformationwasrelevanttothereview.Allfourauthorscarriedoutthissearch,withtheseniorauthor(MJ)makingfinaldecisionsastotherelevanceof the articles.For the second review, two authors reviewedsources available through Statistics Canada on the demographics ofCanadian childrenwithdisabilities, and one author (RC) explored thewebsites of all provincial and territorial ministries of education in

  • STARTINGKINDERGARTEN 631

    Canada,followinglinksthatwereidentifiedasleadingtoinformationonpracticesrelevanttochildrenwithspecialneeds.Theresearchliteraturereview findings are presented first, followed by the information fromCanadiangovernmentsources.

    FINDINGS

    With few exceptions, the papers identified in our literature searchreportedonstudiescarriedoutintheUnitedStates.Moreover,wefoundthatalthough the issueof theeducationofchildrenwith specialneedsmadeupa largeproportionof literaturepublished inrelevant journals,the transition tokindergartenofchildrenwith specialneedswasnotaveryfrequentsubjectofresearch.Intheidentifiedbodyofliterature,fourthemes appearedwith regularity: family issues, administrative issues,intervention/training,andteacherpractices.

    AdministrativeIssues

    Tomake the transition from preschool to schoolbased kindergarten,familieshavetoidentifythestepsnecessarytotake(Rous,Hemmeter,&Schuster, 1994). Frequently, parents have to establish contacts andcommunication between the agencies serving their children currentlyandthosethatwoulddosoafterthetransitiontokindergarten.Becauseofthemultitudeofconditionswithinthecategoryofspecial/exceptionalneeds, different sets of agencies usually serve different children.Therefore,multipleagenciesneedtobeinvolvedinthetransfer,bothatthesendingandthereceivingend(Wolery,1999).Twostudiesreportedthat special education team members had difficulties not only inidentifying their specific roles and responsibilities, but also incommunicatingbetweenprogramsatbothendsofthetransitionprocess(ConnPowers, RossAllen, & Holborn, 1990; Fowler, Schwartz, &Atwater, 1991). This complicated process has led to calls to establisheither intraagency transition policies (Fowler et al., 1991,Rous et al.,1994), or perhaps even a distinct committee or a person to facilitatecoordinationoftransition(Pianta&KraftSayre,2003).

    Involvement of multiple agencies is likely to be associated withseveralwaysofrecordkeepingandmanypointstoaccessfortransferofrecords.Anothermajorobstacleforsmoothtransitionisobtainingallthe

  • 632 M.JANUS,J.LEFORT,R.CAMERON,&L.KOPECHANSKI

    relevantinformationonachildwithspecialneeds.Duetoconfidentialityofrecords,parentsneedtobeinvolvedinsuchtransfers,whichinitselfmayoccasionallyproveproblematic.However,foraflowofinformationtooccur,theremustbeanestablishedprocessbetweenschoolsandmanyagencies,andgoodwillonallsides(Rousetal.,1994).Thisinformationflow isoftenchallengingdue to themultitudeofagenciesachildmayhavehadtoaccess,andtothetimeavailableforsuchconsultations.Theworst possible outcome of lack of information is that a childseducationalplanmayhavetobedesignedfromscratch,andthusdelaytheinschoolintervention.

    Anotherproblemmaybecreatedbyalackofcompatibilitybetweenpreschooland schooldiagnosticanddefinitioncriteria (e.g.,Mallory&Kerns,1988). Insomecases,achildwithanemotionaland/orcognitivedelaymaynothavereceivedanofficialdiagnosispriortoschoolentry,and therefore would not receive any additional classroom support,furtherhinderinghisorheradjustment to school.Conversely, in somecasesa childmaybeeligible forpreschool servicesbutnoteligible forsuch services at school entry (Barnett,Macmann, & Carey, 1992). Arelatedissueisthebureaucracysurroundingthetransferfrompreschoolenvironment in terms of duplicate assessments, and the paperworkneeded to access funding (Shotts, Rosenkoetter, Streufert, &Rosenkoetter, 1994). Lack of clearly established channels of communication between services may lead to assessments of childrensneeds being repeated at various administrative levels to provide thenecessaryrequirementstoapplyforfunding.IntheUS,specialser