In 2011, DSIEF in partnership with Noah’s Ark preschool in Cape Town, launched a pilot inclusive education project called the Early Impact programme. By 2017, the programme has been able to support 14 children across four classes aged between 3-6 years.
Early Impact models international best practice in implementation of inclusive education curricula in a mainstream school environment. Early Impact was developed by Marc Koebler of DSIEF, with support of institutions and professionals from Germany, United Kingdom and the Netherlands.
Each child with Down Syndrome in the Early Impact programme has an Individual Education Plan (IEP) that identifies goals for social, behavioral, communication and motor skill development. This plan helps staff and parents to focus on specific age appropriate targets and measure progress accurately. The plan incorporates the use of specialist educational support materials and the services of expert professionals in areas such as Occupational Therapy, Physiotherapy, Speech and Music Therapy.
Speech therapy is encouraged and parents invited to participate in therapy sessions on specific days. Music therapy will support with early communication and development of gross motor skills. Occupational therapy and/or physiotherapy are provided on a consulting basis depending on the special needs of the children in the class.
Research has shown that the optimal level of inclusion is for children with Down Syndrome to work and play in a mainstream classroom 70% of the time, with the remaining 30% of the time spent in a dedicated learning area working on their “Individual Education Plan” (IEP) with trained assistants and professional therapists.
The mainstream classroom can accommodate both neuro-typical children and children with special needs in one setting provided adequate classroom support. Early Impact can be described as a multiple inclusion model (as opposed to single inclusion where each special needs student has a dedicated facilitator). Early Impact is the first programme of this kind in South Africa to practice multiple inclusion.
Dedicated staff supporting the Diamonds is the key to the success of the Early Impact programme. Called “Learning Support Assistants” (or “LSAs”), they are essential for maximum learning, progress and inclusion. The LSAs receive ongoing training from DSIEF supplemented by consulting from trained professional therapists.
Early Impact aims to provide children with a nurturing educational environment and school community that demonstrates the values that we wish to see in our adult communities. Developing caring inclusive environments improves the quality of life of all members of our community. Given the chance to develop their self-help skills and independence in a mainstream environment early on, our Diamonds will be more able to integrate and participate meaningfully in community life.
DSIEF is very excited to announce that we plan to create our second Early Impact programme in partnership with Kinder Ark preschool in Paarl in 2016.