Early Childhood Education and Disability Bias

BIAS Word cloud

Posted in Disability Diversity, Equity, Inclusion Early Childhood Policy  |  Tagged

by Sharice Lane, October 30, 2018

I took a course in administration and leadership as participant in Georgetown University Certificate in Early Intervention. One of the course’s assignments was to complete an implicit bias quiz. I had taken similar quizzes in previous leadership courses. However, I decided to take the quiz to assess any implicit bias regarding disabilities. Much to my surprise, the results demonstrates a strong association between bias and disability. This information made me consider the thoughts of others who engage with persons with disabilities in both personal and professional spheres.

Being raised by a person with a disability and working with families affected by disabilities for over 10 years can significantly impact one’s view of persons with disabilities. Implicit bias is a relatively new field of study for those who would like to increase inclusion of all types of people and who see multiculturalism positive. The Kirwan Institute of Ohio State University (2015) defines implicit bias as “attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions and decisions in an unconscious manner. These biases, which encompass both favorable and unfavorable assessments, are activated involuntarily and without an individual’s awareness or intentional control.”

Implicit bias has been documented in all sectors of society. Unfortunately, implicit bias can negatively affect a person’s access to quality healthcare, employment and social justice. Implicit bias in early childhood education (ECE) has little empirical evidence in peer-reviewed research. Capotosto (2015) discussed the importance of addressing implicit biases in ECE due to the significant growth in development that occurs in the first five years of life. Students with developmental delays and disabilities are at a disproportionate higher risk for instructional and behavior challenges in the education settings. Educators may have negative implicit bias towards those with disabilities, which could affect how they engage such students in the classroom. Implicit bias affects all, including those considered good teachers. According to Capatosto (2015), “good” educators could demonstrate behaviors influenced by such biases, even if they explicitly express a desire to improve social equity. School leadership should develop systematic methods to address implicit bias that may affect access to quality early childhood education.

Training about disability, even when not directed solely on bias, has been shown to positively affect attitudes regarding students with disabilities Ntuli and Traore (2013) assessed the effectiveness of training ECE staff to implement disability-inclusive early childhood education best practices. This training included collaborating with related service providers, utilizing assistive technology and differentiating curriculum for children with development delays and disabilities. The authors noted significant attitudinal shifts for both professional and paraprofessional staff after receiving the trainings. Before training, staff expressed their concern that they did not understand what constituted “inclusion education” and they were inadequately prepared to support the needs for a disability-inclusive classroom for families of children with disabilities. After completing the training, the staff reported an increase in both understanding and interest of supporting young children with developmental delays and disabilities. Early childhood settings provide opportunities for staff to address implicit bias that may influence negatively educational opportunities. Measuring and collecting data about current approaches to disability-inclusive early childhood practices could provide educators a baseline of how to address specific issues. ECE leaders should use data to make decisions regarding training to promote disability-inclusive best practices.

Implicit bias assessments completed by staff would assist in creating data driven trainings, discussions, and other activities and provide opportunities for honest conversations regarding delicate issues that are often avoided. These discussions can serve as qualitative data from which to base ongoing decision-making as well. Future professional development can pair current special educators with general educators of best practices to support disability-inclusive practices in the classroom. Finally, facilitating peer support within heterogeneous small group instruction will provide young children with disabilities support from both teachers and their peers to access their curriculum (Capatosto, 2015). Addressing disability implicit bias in early childhood education is imperative for improving outcomes for young children with developmental delays and disabilities. Increasing awareness amongst educators regarding implicit bias can facilitate necessary instructional and attitudinal shifts in the classroom. As educators shed their biases they will create more welcoming environments for young children with disabilities establishing a foundation for learning, positive self-identity, and self-confidence.

Sharice Lane (Diversity Fellow, 2017-2018)


Capatosto, K. (2015). Implicit Bias Strategies. Kirwin Institute, Ohio State University. Available at: http://kirwaninstitute.osu.edu…

Ntuli, E., & Traore, M. (2013). A study of Ghanaian early childhood teachers’ perceptions about inclusive education. The Journal of the International Association of Special Education, 14(1), 50-57.