I am sure many of us have seen that article before, the one about toddlers being expelled from preschool (I’m also author to one of them), the one filled with panic, heartache and shock. We’ve seen the comments from sympathetic members of the special needs community, as well as from judgmental parents. But what we aren’t talking about is how to stop this from happening.
Back in 2005, Yale released a study that revealed a major problem in Early Education programs in the United States; that children were being expelled from pre-school programs at a rate 3x higher than K-12 combined. In fact, they stated that a child was 3x more likely to get expelled from pre-school than any other time in their academic life. More recently in 2012, a Colorado study found this number to have increased to 4.5 times more likely to be expelled during pre-school than K-12. Many of us can laugh, or find it crazy that toddlers are being thrown out of schools and child care programs…called dangerous and a threat to others, until it happens to your family.
Children with disabilities are protected against discrimination under the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), however, it seems that more and more daycare centers have learned the loophole to avoid integrating special needs or behaviorally challenged children into their programs. They do this by labeling them dangerous, yes, they are treating two and three-year-olds like an active terrorist shooter in the building. My two-year old was called “a danger to herself and others [the teachers, not students].” My TWO-YEAR-OLD. What they really are: a danger to their bottom line, and to their profits.
Children with ADHD and higher functioning or mild cases of Autism Spectrum Disorders are being tossed from daycare centers, private preschools, and camps everyday. But nobody is tracking this. How do I know its happening? Because the parent support groups that I belong to have desperate parents seeking help every single day, especially during the summer months when they are left without child care options. They panic asking for answers and help and it is heartbreaking. When it happened to me, and I tried to research solutions, I found nothing. I had to come up with my own.
The first thing that every day care center and summer camp needs is better training, and higher qualifications for their staff. This is currently a minimum wage industry, but our children deserve more. They deserve better. For what parents pay in tuition and registration fees to attend these programs, we need to raise the bar higher, much higher. Two and three-year-olds are not dangerous, they need guidance and support from adults, from those who brand themselves to be the experts in children.
Studies show that disabled children excel and do better in school with inclusive preschool settings alongside their positive peer role models. We need inclusive preschool programs, especially in the private sectors because working parents need better options. We cannot prevent the existence of special needs children on this earth, therefore, we cannot expect families to carry the financial burden of raising our children differently than we financially planned. We cannot be expected to fund $20 per hour for special needs nannies, sacrifice our careers, or live off of Social Security Income and Medicaid while we hide in the dark to avoid burdening the world with our children, who some forget are human beings with the same wants, desires, and rights as everyone else. Our children deserve access to the same childcare programs as every other child, and not at a higher expense.
Instead of tossing toddlers out of early education programs, parents need to know if a center is seeing troublesome behaviors in their children, and I am not talking about biting because biting is developmentally appropriate through 3 years old. I am talking about excessive climbing, not making eye contact, not interacting with others, not speaking, unable to perform tasks such as coloring due to poor fine motor skills. Parents need to know when their children are not functioning in a group setting, because they may need early intervention services to help their children succeed. Waiting for our children to be so out of control that they can’t function is a disservice to the child, and the family of that child. I am not saying that every misbehaved child has a disability, but regardless, if the behavior is enough of a problem to warrant expulsion, then that family needs an intervention. The sooner intervention occurs, the more successful it is to help our children succeed to their fullest capability.
Summer camps, daycare centers, and private preschools cannot exclude our children because they need extra. Our children are not a minimum wage industry, and we need to raise the bar when it comes to childcare. It takes skilled, certified, and properly trained professionals who deserve to be paid fairly to care for all children, not just children with special needs. We need to start fighting back, and get legislature in place to protect our children from being excluded from mainstream programming, because higher-functioning children with disabilities perform better with their non-disabled peers.
Training programs such as RBT (Registered Behavior Technician) trained staff members who can intervene when there are behavioral issues, inclusive classrooms, and flexibility can change this industry for the better. These institutions need training on being inclusive spaces for all children, because the rates of ADHD and Autism, amongst many other disabilities, are on the rise. 11% of children have ADHD (CDC), and 1 in 68 (CDC) has Autism in the US, 1 in 6 has a developmental disability in general (CDC), and these numbers are rising each year. If they don’t adapt themselves to include our children, they will be out of business as their preferred clientele population continues to shrink. They can’t pick and choose our children to suit their business needs, it is illegal (but it is happening). If we teach our children about inclusion and acceptance in early education and preschool, maybe we can make the world a better place as these kids grow up together, rather than apart.
If your child has been a victim of a preschool expulsion, share your story.