The effects of an integrative preschool program on the language development and social competence of children with disabilities

Vincenza Piscitelli, Pace University


In recent years there has been a shift towards the integration of young children with disabilities into educational programs with non-disabled children. However, there has been little information available on the characteristics of effective programs, the benefits of integration for young children with disabilities, or the characteristics of the children for whom integration is most effective. This study examined the relationship between developmental outcome variables (language development and social competence) and the interaction of program type (integrated vs. segregated) and the child's degree of disability. It also considered the contribution of other select variables, such as child (i.e., sex and cognitive development) and family characteristics (i.e., parents' level of education, number of children in the home) and program factors (i.e., early intervention services, intensity of speech/language services, number of program hours, teacher experience level), to developmental outcome variables. The sample consisted of 99 children identified as “preschool child with disability”, ages 33 months to 57 months, from a center-based preschool program. A pre-test/post-test, quasiexperimental design with nonequivalent control groups was used with an average of 6–8 month intervals between assessments. Language development and social competence were evaluated with the Preschool Language Scale-3 (Zimmerman, Steiner, & Pond, 1992) and the Social Skills Rating System (Gresham & Elliott, 1990), parent and teacher forms. Cognitive development was measured by the Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence - Revised (Wechsler, 1989), which was also used as an index of degree of disability. Results revealed that the child's sex correlated significantly with social skills, but not with language development. Cognitive ability was positively correlated with both language development and socials skills (teacher ratings only). There were no significant correlations between language development and family variables and only a few significant correlations emerged between social competence and family variables, which were inconsistent and most likely due to chance. Overall, this set of program variables were not associated with gains in developmental outcome variables. Results revealed that overall preschoolers with disabilities made significant gains in language development and social skills over time, but no significant changes were detected in problem behaviors. The main findings revealed that the interaction between program type and degree of disability did not significantly predict gains in language development and social competence (according to teacher ratings). The interaction of program type and degree of disability did have a significant effect on preschoolers' social competence according to parent ratings. The findings of this study do not confirm the effects in recent research studies that higher performing children benefit more from integrated settings and lower performing children benefit more from segregated or special education-only settings. One implication is that all children may have benefitted from the high standards and quality of the program, regardless of type of placement. However, these results cannot be generalized and need to be interpreted with caution. The impact of nonequivalent intact groups and selection effects as well as the limitations of the measure of degree of disability and the implications for evaluation of inclusive early childhood education programs and the assessment of young children with severe disabilities are discussed.

Subject Area

Preschool education|Special education|Developmental psychology

Recommended Citation

Piscitelli, Vincenza, "The effects of an integrative preschool program on the language development and social competence of children with disabilities" (2000). ETD Collection for Pace University. AAI9976193.



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