Children with disability in inclusive early childhood education and care

This literature review was originally published 02 September 2014.

Image: Children with disability in inclusive early childhood education and care


Context: young children with disability in NSW community preschools

In inclusive early childhood education and care services, children with and without disability learn and play alongside one another1. The provision of inclusive services is widely supported on human rights grounds2 and on the basis that all children should have access to high-quality preschool programs3.

Many preschools in New South Wales could be classified as inclusive: in 2013, there were approximately 4,400 children with disability in New South Wales’ 765 community preschools4, and around 9 per cent of children in community preschools had a disability or other additional need. For two-thirds of New South Wales preschools, children with disability make up less than 10 per cent of enrolments. However, for a small proportion (7 per cent) of preschools, children with disability make up more than 25 per cent of enrolments. Furthermore, about 85 per cent of community preschool educators work with a child with disability5.

Young children with disability can currently access specialised support through a variety of avenues. In New South Wales, funding and support from the Department of Education and Communities is available through the Intervention Support Program (ISP) and Supporting Children with Additional Needs (SCAN) programs. Depending on the disability, families are also likely to access a range of other services outside of the preschool, either in addition to or separate from preschool6.

The range of disabilities experienced by these children is significant. Of the children funded by the ISP, 37 per cent had an autism spectrum disorder; 23 per cent had a developmental delay or disorder and 14 per cent had a severe language disorder. There were also smaller numbers of children with other disabilities such as Down syndrome (4 per cent), hearing impairments (4 per cent) and cerebral palsy (3 per cent). The ISP requires diagnosis from a specialist (such as a paediatrician or speech pathologist)7 and may not capture the full range of disabilities experienced by children in preschools.

The number and diversity of children with disability attending inclusive NSW preschools means that it is important both to look at the experiences of these children; and to provide some examples of best practice that educators and teachers can use to support the engagement and development of children with disability.


This paper seeks to examine the evidence in the literature of the benefits for children with disability in inclusive childcare settings. Attention is then turned towards research on strategies to inform best practice for inclusive early childhood education.

This paper finds that, while every child’s experience will be different, overall:

  • participation in inclusive settings is beneficial for many children with disability
  • for some children with disability, inclusive early childhood education and care will be just one type of useful early intervention to assist their development
  • engagement is a key measure of the benefit children with disability receive from early childhood education and care services
  • there are some strategies that inclusive preschools can use to ensure that children with disability are reaching their full potential.

1 S Odom and K Diamond 1998, ‘Inclusion of young children with special needs in early childhood education: The research base’, Early Childhood Research Quarterly, vol.13, no.1, p.6.

2 See, for instance, Article 24 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

3 Odom and Diamond, p.6.

4 Community preschools are non-government and not-for-profit.

5 Analysis by the Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation, based on 2013 NSW Preschools census (unpublished).

6 Examples of early childhood intervention services include: Aspect (Autism Spectrum Australia, and the Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children (

7 Intervention Support Program 2014, Program Guidelines, NSW Department of Education and Communities, viewed 22 July 2014,


  • Early childhood
  • Literature review

Business Unit:

  • Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation
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