Special education help can disrupt children’s play

'There is a risk that children who receive special education assistance may not be included in their peer-group', warns Siv Hillsøy.


Photo: Freddy Wike


Children who get special education assistance experience kindergarten differently from other children’, says the researcher Siv Hillesøy.

She has spent a year doing field work in three kindergartens. There, she shadowed the youngest children, i.e. those between the ages of one and three who received special education assistance. All the children she studied were severely hearing impaired and had cochlear implants. She also interviewed childcare workers about how they experience the children’s chances to be included in the peer-group.

Children who get special education assistance often spend many hours a week alone with a special education teacher. This interaction usually takes place in a separate room. In addition, the assistant teacher accompanies them for most of the time they are at kindergarten.

‘I see both of these factors as constituting a risk that these children will not be included in the peer-group in the same way as other children’, cautions the researcher.

‘Even though my study involves children with cochlear implants, I assume that my main findings are transferable to children with other challenges as well.’


‘Sometimes it is necessary to pull a child out of the group to give the child good special education assistance’, she explains. She questions whether it is always necessary to do this precisely when the other children are engaged in unstructured play. This happened in all three of the kindergartens she visited.

‘We know that unstructured play is extremely important for forming relationships with peers. This is why such play must be given high priority. Kindergartens and special education teachers should consider whether any of these measures can take place within the peer-group.

‘Other research shows that if children who get special education assistance are pulled out of the group often, they may have trouble carving out a position in the peer-group’, Hillesøy adds.


‘Special education support in the form of an assistant teacher is a fantastic resource both for the individual child and for the peer-group as a whole’, she points out.

However, she also observed challenges related to the constant presence of an adult during unstructured play.

‘There is no natural place for an adult in a group of children. The presence of an adult can disrupt a child’s play with others. When the adult interacts with one of the children constantly, it is easy for the other children to turn to each other.

‘The assistant teacher must be careful to include the other children in play. If not, the situation can easily devolve into a relationship between the specific child and the adult. It’s important that children in special education also get help to try things on their own and are allowed to pay attention to other children’, concludes Hillesøy.