A bio-ecological case-study investigation into outlooks on the development and learning of young children with cerebral palsy
This research examined outlooks on early development and learning of young children with cerebral palsy. Using a research framework informed by Urie Bronfenbrenner’s bio-ecological model of child development, which integrates scrutiny of ‘person’, ‘process’, ‘context’ and ‘time,’ in combination with an exploratory case-study design, the study focused on the perceptions of a range of stakeholders in a local authority in the West Midlands of England as well as the observed experiences of children themselves.\ud \ud Research questions required examination of stakeholders’ perspectives of the developmental and learning identities of these children, the contextual circumstances for their early educational support, the processes by which their progression was or should be pursued, and future aspirations held for them. The final research question related the revealed outlooks to children’s own observed educational experiences. The wide-ranging review of literature highlighted differences in academic perspectives on child development and disability, also a complex national ‘patchwork’ of early intervention for disabled children in general and for those with cerebral palsy in particular.\ud \ud The empirical study was pursued through questionnaire surveys of parents and practitioners, also interviews with support-service managers and with parents and practitioners of six target children who were subsequently observed in their early educational settings. Integration of quantitative and qualitative data enabled all research questions to be answered comprehensively and in depth.\ud \ud Findings showed that stakeholders’ outlooks on the identity of children with cerebral palsy, evident in discourse and observed practice, were medically, socially or pedagogically oriented. Provision for these children was found to be extensive, but diverse in nature, not simply in terms of the services used, but also in relation to practitioners’ qualifications, experiences, levels of confidence and professional roles. A range of pedagogical processes was evident in the various contexts – differences related to use of space and equipment, adult support, opportunities for children’s socialization and other features. In terms of future aspirations, largely positive views were held, together with concern about the child’s acceptance in peer contexts, particular at times of transition.\ud \ud Drawing from findings, the study argues for a more distinctive pedagogical identity for children with cerebral palsy, echoing the Vygotskian (1993) perspective of disabled children’s development as a socio-culturally influenced, exceptional phenomenon. Their development and early education should be perceived and pursued as an all-encompassing entity, with focus on motivation, interest and independence and reflecting strengthened notions of upbringing and pedagogy. Practical implications include renewed academic and professional discourse, revitalized training for professionals and greater practical involvement of parents in early educational provision.
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