Children with Disabilities: A History of Advocacy and Change

Go make yourself a hot cup of coffee (I just refilled mine) and get ready to settle in, because there is a lot to learn when it comes to the history and lawregarding children with disabilities. A lot of this information will come from The Exceptional Child (Ch. 2)

There have been several laws passed on behalf of infants and children with disabilities (or children at risk of developing disabilities). Most of the legal progress for supporting identification, prevention and treatment has been made since the 1960s.

The legislation emphasizes family support and participation, thereby recognizing that infants and young children are best served in the context of a strong and health family. (pg 30, The Exceptional Child)

The emphasis on family is an important switch considering that in the past there was an emphasis on institutionalizing children and a lot of shame that surrounded families of children with disabilities (In the 1800s there were even lots of cases of children being hidden in backrooms or attics and the families pretended they did not exist because they weren’t fit to be in public.)  The ADL gives A Brief History of the Disability Rights Movement and mentions that the 1930’s saw some technological advances that provided some options for self-sufficiency for people with disabilities. Then in the 1940’s and 1950’s with so many disabled veterans in the view of the public there was growing pressure to provide some support for people with disabilities. Then in the 1960’s the Civil Rights Movement gave way to the idea that people with disabilities has the same rights and potentials as everybody else.

Running parallel to the Civil Rights movement was The Early Intervention Movement. Some of the first research showed that intelligence was NOT set at birth and development in infants was greatly impacted by environment and experience. The research around this area gave convincing evidence that young children develop the most during their first few years.

Important Facts About Environment and Experience Research:

  • Children are what they are, they are born that way. <–This idea has been challenged.
  • The environment and experience a child is exposed to greatly affects how they grow and develop.
  • Brain research taught people that young children need experiences often and early on to develop the synapses they will need.

One of the first results of this was compensatory education. These programs were for children who were disadvantaged and would provide them with social, educational, and medicinal opportunities that their more advantaged peers would receive. One example of compensatory education is HEAD START (that’s where I work!). The next time you hear politicians considering cutting Head Start programs or you get to vote on something like that, now you know why it is important.

The civil rights movement also gave way to advocacy groups who work collectively toward a cause. Some of these groups are :

  • the Council for Exceptional Children (ECE)
    • the Division for Early Childhood (DEC
    • the American Speech Language, and Hearing Association (ASHA)
    • the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD)
    • TASH, formerly the Association for Persons with Severe Handicaps

These groups worked to develop much of the legislation that gave way several important laws and landmark legislation for people with disabilities. My next post will cover the Landmark Legislation for People with Disabilities. So go refill your coffee and click on over to learn about the significant amount of rulings on behalf of people with disabilities.

lots of love & sunshine,

Ms. Sarah

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