Horace Mann Hall 315
Paddy Cronin Favazza, Ed.D. Professor of Special Education
|Dr. Favazza with books used in the Special Friends program|
Year began at RIC: 2007Project: Establishing the Efficacy of the "Special Friends" Program
Drs. Favazza and Ostrosky (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) are examining the efficacy of a kindergarten intervention to promote acceptance of, and social interactions with, children with disabilities. The 4-year study began in 2008 with funding from the US Department of Education's Institute of Educational Sciences. Theirs is considered an important and timely study. With more classrooms becoming inclusive, this research will provide teachers and parents with strategies that encourage positive interactions among children with and without disabilities. Specifically, the study tests whether providing information about children with disabilities and opportunities for positive peer interactions improves children's attitudes toward individuals with disabilities. The intervention is designed to take place before negative attitudes are ingrained.
The literacy-based program developed by Dr. Favazza is entitled Special Friends. The Friends program is being tested in kindergarten classrooms throughout Rhode Island and Illinois. Classrooms in the study include at least four children with disabilities per classroom. The "Special Friends" is a 6-week, three component intervention that includes school literacy, cooperative learning, and home literacy. First, teachers are provided with training about attitude formation and given materials that will be used – evidence-based books and specially chosen play materials and activities. Teachers read books about children with disabilities three days a week then lead a discussion focused on how individuals with and without disabilities are similar. Second, the children play in diverse, cooperative learning groups with materials and activities that are rated as having a high probability of social interaction. Environmental arrangement strategies (e.g., limited amount of toys, limited space) are also employed to create opportunities for sharing and problem solving. The third component, home literacy, involves each child bringing home one of the books read in class each week. Family members read and discuss the books with the child using the same guided discussion questions used by teachers. This aspect is important as the child's first influence on attitude development is their family. Teachers and parents provide feedback about the experience and receive suggestions on navigating discussions with the children. The control group receives a similar 3 component intervention (school literacy, cooperative learning groups, home literacy), but the content of the books, discussions and activities is science.
Children are tested before and after the intervention to measure their attitudes toward children with disabilities, social acceptance of peers in their classes and their social skills. Preliminary data shows an increase in acceptance in children who have participated in the Special Friends intervention and a decrease in acceptance for children in the control group. An interesting finding is that minority children appear to be the most responsive to the presence or absence of the intervention. In other words, they had the greatest increase in acceptance in the Friends intervention and minority children in the control group had the greatest decrease in acceptance. Follow-up data is now being obtained to determine if changes in attitudes are sustained after the program is completed.
Due to the preliminary success of the Special Friends program, Drs. Favazza and Ostrosky have been asked to consider developing a subsequent program for older children (1st and 2nd grade), that focuses on accepting children with differences in disability, culture and language.