If the carer sensitively builds up a relationship with the children, the latter can express themselves in their own way during contact and be involved to the extent allowed by their developmental stage. The child is given help when he or she needs it, but experiences his or her own self-efficacy if the carer takes up and supports the child’s impulses.
During play and in movement, children experience themselves in handling their own body and the surrounding objects and playthings. The carer must recognise what the children need in order to come to terms with the world and be able to sharpen their senses.
All these things apply in equal measure to children with special needs or disabilities. It is not easy for the parents of these children to see that their child is developing in a different way or has to learn to handle disability in later life. They seek all conceivable support measures for their child. The daily life of children and parents is stressful which is exhausting for both sides and focused on deficits. The parents of children with special needs in crèche frequently suffer from seeing other children overtake their own in development. The narrow focus on deficits brings about grief. Understanding and communication, conversation and exchange about the good things that have happened, however small, are of help for parents and carers. The parents of the children affected also need inclusion.
The way of seeing the child is key
When we founded the Wiegestube crèche in Niederursel in collaboration with the “Haus des Kindes” early intervention centre, our particular aim was to offer these children and their parents the possibility of living in a “normal” environment.
The age and developmental stage of the child is not important. What is exclusively important is the attentive and sensitive way in which the carer sees the child, always sending the child signals that she sees what the child can already do, where he or she wants to be involved and when he or she needs help. The child’s involvement is sometimes hardly visible but provides the basis for later independence.
In free autonomous play, children look for what they need for their own development. It is the task of the educator to offer protected spaces and play materials which support development. She must ensure that the children do not disturb each other and yet can be aware of one another.
The importance of time
Time plays a crucial role. A rhythmical structure to the course of the day must take account of the individual needs of a small crèche group of up to ten children. It must be possible to give a child with special needs a greater amount time and support until he or she maybe picks up the spoon for the first time or guides it to his or her mouth. Or perhaps he or she might for a long time only accept one type of food and it requires much skill and patience to introduce him or her to other foods with great sensitivity.
Simone joined the crèche when she was just two-and-a-half years old. She could not move independently or speak and had to be fed. Her developmental stage corresponded to that of the youngest child who quickly overtook her in the first year. But Simone learnt to crawl, stand up, walk along a railing, climb on to the dining bench herself and put the spoon into her mouth. She managed up and down the stairs and on the last day, after two years, to get into a cot.
Tiny steps over the course of two years, in which she kept practicing quietly and with perseverance at her own speed, gradually led her to acquire these abilities. The adults saw and supported them without pushing or anticipating the next step.
Inclusion in crèche does not require a person whose only job is to be responsible for the children with special needs but it requires conditions which allow dealing individually with each child. It needs periods of time and the space which permit calm, uninterrupted play and independent movement. And it requires specialist support and advice for the carers. As in most cases the children with special needs are supported by early intervention or social education centres, the therapists visit the crèche. The wellbeing and development of the child must be a common concern. Discussion with the therapist can reinforce the carer and give her suggestions as to how she can support the child.
About the author: Brigitte Huisinga is the founder and director of the “Wiegestube” at the hof-Niederursel and works there in family education.