Early childhood is a critical period of human development because it influences outcomes across the entire life course. For all children, the period of early childhood provides an important window of opportunity to establish the foundation for life-long learning and participation. Interventions in early childhood can prevent potential developmental delays or ensure early support for children with disabilities so all children can reach their full potential.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) defines persons with disabilities as people “who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual, or sensory impairments, which, in interaction with various barriers, may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.” A disability is neither purely biological nor social, but an interaction between health conditions and environmental and personal factors. Some children are born with disabilities, while others may experience disability due to illness, injury or poor nutrition. The complex interaction between a health condition or impairment and environmental and personal factors means that each child’s experience of disability is different.
While the identification of children with developmental delays or disabilities is critical for the development of policies, strategic planning and service provision, it is important to acknowledge that children with disabilities may not consider themselves as disabled. Working with children with disabilities requires carefully tailored approaches. Stigma and discrimination are among the most disabling factors requiring attention and solutions. Labelling a child solely in terms of a health condition or learning limitations should be avoided. They are children first and aspire to participate in family and peer-group activities. Strengths-based approaches and approaches that consider developmental and functioning profiles are more likely to foster development, rather than deficit-based approaches. Additionally, research supports the finding that inclusion does not solely benefit children with disabilities, but rather inclusion has a positive impact on all children–regardless of their abilities.
Despite being more vulnerable to developmental risks, young children with disabilities are often overlooked in programs and services designed to ensure child development. As a result, most children with disabilities do not receive the specific supports required to meet their rights and needs. Many children with disabilities are not provided the same quality education, nurturing care, health care, and social protection as their peers. Children with disabilities and their families are confronted by barriers including inadequate legislation and policies, negative attitudes, inadequate services (including education), lack of proper resources, lack of accessible environments, and lack of adequate funding for necessary interventions from the government. If children with developmental delays and/or disabilities and their families are not provided with timely and appropriate early intervention, nurturing care, support and protection, their difficulties can become more severe—often leading to lifetime consequences, increased poverty, and profound exclusion.
When children, their families and communities are afforded appropriate intervention and support, right from the start, they develop, prosper, and contribute to societies in significant ways. Using a twin-track approach is of upmost importance here; this involves combining disability mainstreaming with disability-specific interventions that are needed to achieve the full inclusion, participation, health, and wellbeing of people with disabilities. These targeted interventions are developed to identify the specific needs of children with disabilities while also ensuring that disability inclusion is mainstreamed throughout policies and services from birth onward. With this two-way approach we simultaneously enhance the strength, integrity, and quality of systems serving ALL children, those with disabilities and those without.
This thematic page provides resources for those interested in understanding how to help children with disabilities during early childhood, and thereby enhancing the quality of ECD interventions for all children.
The Inclusive Education and Early Childhood Community of Practice: This group focuses on knowledge sharing and advocacy for funding of disability inclusive education, starting in early childhood. The group meets bi-monthly, with community members and guest speakers presenting regarding topics related to inclusive education and early childhood issues – especially for children with disabilities. Please sign up and express interest in joining here.
Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities https://www.un.org/development/desa/disabilities/convention-on-the-rights-of-persons-with-disabilities.html
UNICEF, Inclusive education and early childhood development, https://www.unicef.org/kosovoprogramme/what-we-do/inclusive-education-and-ecd
Inclusive Practice in Early Childhood Development and Education https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DTs63nI9Ack
Frontiers (23 September 2022) – Global and regional prevalence of disabilities among children and adolescents: Analysis of findings from global health databases :
Wertlieb, D. (2018), “Inclusive Early Childhood Development: Ensuring The Rights And Well-Being Of Infants And Toddlers With Disabilities And Their Families”, Zero to Three
Mizunoya, S., Mitra, S., Yamasaki, I. (2016). “Towards Inclusive Education: The impact of disability on school attendance in developing countries”, Innocenti Working Papers no. 2016-03, UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti, Florence https://www.unicef-irc.org/publications/845-towards-inclusive-education-the-impact-of-disability-on-school-attendance-in-developing.html
Lynch, P. (2016), Early childhood development (ECD) and children with disabilities,
DFID: HEART, https://www.heart-resources.org/reading_pack/early-childhood-development-ecd-children-disabilities/
Turner, M. and Morgan, A. Opening eyes onto inclusion and diversity in early childhood education, https://usq.pressbooks.pub/openingeyes/chapter/chapter-4-opening-eyes-onto-diversity-and-inclusion-in-early-childhood-education/
WHO (2012), Early Childhood Development and Disability: A discussion paper,
Light for the World, Global Report: Leave No Child Behind, Invest in the Early Years
UNICEF Education Think Pieces: The challenge of inclusion for children with disabilities – experiences of implementation in Eastern and Southern Africa By Emma Sarton and Mark Smith
One out of every 20 children aged 14 or younger — 93 million kids around the world — are living with a moderate or severe disability of some kind. Many are invisible, excluded from school, hidden by their families and abandoned by their governments. We believe that regardless of ability, all children have a right to reach their full potential.
Global Survey on Inclusive ECD and ECI Programs
To find out more about Survey findings and recommendations visit GPcwd website
and ECD TF portal
Integrated Early Childhood Development – PATH
World Report on Disability – WHO
Newsletters – Early Childhood Development Task Force
“Leaving no one behind when learning starts” – Increasing disability-inclusive investment in Early Childhood Development (ECD) – IDDC
Education for Sustainability 2019 – CIES
UNICEF (2018), Essential Component Framework for Child Care and Family Support: through multi-sectoral interventions focusing on children affected by the Zika virus, other congenital malformations and developmental disabilities, https://www.unicef.org/lac/media/9636/file/PDF%20Essential%20Component%20Framework%20for%20Child%20Care%20and%
UNICEF Latin America and Caribbean Region, Programmatic Guidance Notes for Country Offices on Children and Adolescents with Disabilities, https://www.unicef.org/lac/media/6776/file/Programmatic%20guidance%20notes%20for%20country%20offices%20on%20children%
Inclusive early childhood education training videos, https://www.eenet.org.uk/inclusive-early-childhood-education-training-videos/
Global Research on Developmental Disabilities Collaborators (2016), “Developmental disabilities among children younger than”, Lancet, https://www.thelancet.com/journals/langlo/article/PIIS2214-109X(18)30309-7/fulltext#seccestitle10
Smythe, T. et al., (2021), “Early intervention for children with developmental disabilities in low and middle-income countries – the case for action”, International Health, Volume 13, Issue 3, Pages 222–231, https://doi.org/10.1093/inthealth/ihaa044
Soni, A. et al. (2020), “Facilitating the Participation of Children with Disabilities in Early Childhood Development Centres in Malawi: Developing a Sustainable Staff Training Programme”, Sustainability 12, no. 5: 2104. https://doi.org/10.3390/su12052104
Nurturing Care for Children with Developmental Delays and Disabilities, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hNDZpaC23yw
The Nurturing care framework for early childhood development: A framework for helping children SURVIVE and THRIVE to TRANS- FORM health and human potential builds upon state-of-the art evidence of how child development unfolds and of the effective policies and interventions that can improve early childhood de- velopment.