Essay: Using The Pacer Puppet Program to Reduce Isolation among Children with Disabilities

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  • Using The Pacer Puppet Program to Reduce Isolation among Children with Disabilities
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Background and Problem
Issues’ concerning children with disabilities and their participation in extracurricular activities has become a topic of discussion among many. Worldwide, childhood disabilities (0’14 years), which is estimated to be 95 million (5.1%) children, of whom 13 million (0.7%) have ‘severe disability’, according to World Report on Disability (2011). Understanding how to identify isolation and intervene earlier will allow the child to develop healthier social and physical capabilities, as well as improving social and emotional well-being. Factors that affect the child’s participation in daily activities can be related to the child’s environment. Daily activities can include; gym exercises, recess, participating in sports, etc. Factors that can influence or discourage participation can include; length of activity, type of activity, type of disability, peer pressure, or peers involved.
There is a strong urgency to promote physical activity among children with physical disabilities because there are more barriers and fewer supports for the children. There are few studies that have been conducted from the point of view of isolation in children with disabilities. The researcher is concerned with this issue among children with disabilities and feels it is an important topic that needs to be studied due to personal experiences. Reducing isolation while improving quality of life for children with physical disabilities can be accomplished early on through the Pacer Puppet Therapy. Understanding both the needs of the family and the child will help reduce isolation while enhancing participation of their child with a physical disability.
Literature Review
Disability can be defined as ‘long-term impairment leading to social and economic disadvantages, denial of rights, and limited opportunities to play an equal part in the life of the community’, according to DFID (2000). According to the U.S. Census Bureau in 2010, there are
approximately 56.7 million people who have a disability. Society plays an important role in the development and support of these individuals because it ultimately determines their level of participation in their social and economic life. There has been extensive research on the social inclusion of children at the school setting, but there has been little research done on the social inclusion of children with disabilities. Isolation interrupts the child’s ability to effectively communicate. Early intervention is essential for young children who are affected by physical disabilities because it can cause complications with social interactions, critical thinking, and ability to learn effectively. Around the world ‘children with physical disabilities are increasingly being included into the physical education program’ according to DePauw & Doll-Tepper, (2000).
However, there has been very little data collected on the child’s perceptions on being included into PE. ‘Inclusion, as used in this study, is defined as providing specifically designed instruction and support for students with special needs in regular PE settings’, according to Moore & Gilbreath, (1998). This study analyzed the relation between inclusion and empowerment of the child with a physical disability at the school setting. The child’s environment is an important factor that effects the child’s well-being because it is made up of mechanisms that hinder or improve the child’s ability to remain isolated or become included in social world. It is crucial to explore the child’s personal experiences in school related physical activities, because professionals can help support the child and connect them to valuable resources. The school setting is the basis of the child’s success because children spend a great deal of their life at school.
In 2007, Lilly Eriksson observed 66 children over a full day of school (Participation in Everyday School Activities for Children With and Without Disabilities). The participants in the
study were 33 students with a disability, and 33 students without a disability. The results collected revealed considerably lower inclusion for children with disabilities compared those without a disability. The results also showed that children with a disability received less peer support and interaction. Eriksson reported that the child’s social skills and interaction had a greater impact than the severity or type of disability. According to the U.S. Department of Education, 96% of children with a disability are educated in a general education classroom U.S. Department of Education, 2005).
Over the past 20 years there has been in increase of students with disabilities, being placed in the general education classroom. The most recent law that has been reauthorized since Public Law 94-142 (The Education Act for Handicapped Children) is Public Law 108-446 (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004). This law places a large emphasis on integrating students with disabilities in the general education classroom. ‘In the past 10 years there has been an increase in the amount of research on students with disabilities in General Physical Education’ (Porretta & Sherrill, 2005; Reid & Broadhead, 1995). Many of the qualitative studies have explored both the experience of the student in the GPE, as well as the attitudes of students without disabilities being placed in GPE. Within recent years there has been a strong urgency to collect information on this study, but there has been little to no effort on analyzing this information.
Intervention
There has been little research done on the inclusion of children into society, whom are effected by a disability. Specifically there has been little research done on interventions and therapy programs that help children with a disability become more involved with their peers. There are many perspectives and opinions as to different approaches to promote inclusion, but researchers fail to explore the perspective of the child and what they want to become more included in. For example, there are various studies that are done on the perspective of parents of therapy services, but not on the child’s perspective.
A study conducted by Snaefridur Thora Egilson explored the parents perspective of services they deemed to be the most important for their child. Within recent years there has been a strong push for family centered services for children with disabilities. The study was conducted within a qualitative framework and the participants included seventeen parents of children with disabilities, 14 mothers and 3 fathers. The process was an open interview with the researcher. The parents were asked various questions about types of services and programs that were viewed as a necessity for their child. ‘The results of this study indicate that therapists need to place emphasis on family choice and decisions, cooperation with parents and teachers, and the transference of learnings in therapy sessions to the home and school’ ,according to S.T. Egilson, (2010, p. 282). Although this study was small, it provided good insight as to changes that needed to be made for better success. There were two main flaws that were pointed out in this study. The flaw was perspective taking of only the parents. The second was providing a program that was culturally sensitive for different types of families.
Another important study conducted by Robert J. Palisano, explored both home and community participation of children with disabilities. This study indicated that there are many factors that need to be taken into consideration for improving the well-being of a child with a disability. Factors that were examined in this study include the child’s age, gender, race, environment, and type of disability. The objectives of this study were to develop goals for both the home and community participation, assess the child, family, and environment, and then develop an intervention plan that was designed for the family and the child. However this study
was conducted in 2012 and has little support. Both intervention programs are relatively new and have the potential to help the child, but neither focuses on reducing inclusion of the child with a disability. The Pacer Puppet program is a program that has been around since 1979. The goal of this program is to teach children about their peers with disabilities early on in childhood. The program is designed to promote education and inclusion through information in the school setting. In order to make an impact on not only the child with a disability but the child who does not have a disability, trained volunteers introduce puppets that are multicultural. The puppets are presented in a way that represents many cultures, races, and ethnicities, as well as different types of disabilities and different types of disabilities.
The target population of this program is children between kindergarten and fourth grade. This program is imperative for the promotion of inclusion for children with disabilities. This program is unique because it discusses and informs children about a wide variety of disabilities such as; blindness, deafness, spina bifida, cerebral palsy, or Down syndrome. This program is dynamic because it accomplishes two things. First, this program allows children to learn about the different types of disabilities so that children without disabilities can adopt positive behavior and perceptions about them. The second accomplishment of this program is the inclusion of children with a disability, which is gained through the acceptance from peers. This intervention is imperative for this population because it tackles negative views that are created in society early on. For example, children with and without a disability become more comfortable with others that are different from themselves. Children can relate to and identify with specific puppets. Overall this program is successful because it acknowledges the target population as well as children without a disability.
Implementation
The data that was collected on this program has acknowledged a growing population. The biggest barrier that people with a disability face is the discrimination and stigma other individuals may have. Disability awareness is imperative for children early on and it is important that implementing this is done correctly. In order to effectively implement this program there must be extensive training for all faculty of the school before it is presented to the target population. Specifically volunteers need to be trained to use the puppets as way to communicate with the children. Volunteers must attend training seminars to learn proper presentation skills as well as become informed on a wide variety of disabilities that will be presented. In order to make it more flexible for those to join and volunteer, programs will only be presented two to three times a month. In order for the program to be successful, trained professionals will be on sight. The goal is to spread disability awareness from school to school. It is important to cover all topics and questions before addressing these issues in front of a group of children.
First and foremost, training will be provided at a basic level for the school staff members (volunteers at the school). This program will also be run by full time staff members that provide on sight training to volunteers at the school setting. Each program will last between 45 minutes to 60 minutes. Schools will request the show to come to their school and will be presented to no more than 100 children at a time. The show will be held in the gymnasium or any other large auditorium space in the school. Finally, schools will be contacted by our agency (PACER) through flyers, emails, and phone calls.
Conceptual Framework
An evaluation of the program will be guided by the effectiveness of reducing isolation at the school setting. The program will address the research question: To what extent does
disability awareness reduce the effects of isolation among children with disabilities? The model presented depicts the relationship between disability awareness (Pacer Program) and isolation. The hypothesis being tested is: Pacer program reduces isolation among children with disabilities.
Figure 1: Conceptual Model
Methods
In order to evaluate the effectiveness of the Pacer Puppet Program, a pre-post study will examine whether or not the participants in the intervention improved or regressed. This pre-post experimental design will be used to measure the level of isolation the participants reported prior to the Pacer Puppet Program as well as after the Pacer Puppet Program. The study will be evaluated by using the Inventory of Parent and Peer Attachment’Revised (IPPA-R) for Children. This scale was created by Greenberg, Seigel, and Leich in 1984. This scale will consist of 25 questions that will be distributed to all 100 participants that take part in the Pacer Puppet Program.
Participants
Participants will be invited to take part in the Pacer Puppet Program as well as take part in the assessment tool that will be distributed to all 100 participants. The evaluation tool will be administered by faculty of the school prior to the program. However, the evaluation tool will be completely voluntary. Those who volunteer to take part in the evaluation and the program will be characterized as ‘participants.’ The information that is provided and collected from this group will be used to monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of the program.
Variables and Measurement
In order to evaluate the program, the measurement requires both an independent and dependent variable. The independent variable will be referred to as the Pacer Puppet Program, while the dependent variable will be referred to as isolation among children with a disability. The goal of the study is to reduce social isolation among children whom have disabilities. This study will also highlight covariate variables. Covariate variables that may affect the outcome of the study include; family dynamics, health, financial issues, and the environment. The IPPA is a tool that measures both parent and peer attachment among young and older adults. However, the IPPA-R is a revised tool that focuses on parent and peer attachment among children and young adolescent. The scale was revised and simplified for children. The inventory is a self-report scale that assesses the child’s perceptions of attachment to their parents and peers. The revised version consists of 25 questions that relate to attachment to the mother, father, and peers. The scale is scored based on negatively worded items by reverse scoring each section and then totaling up the responses provided.
Strengths and Weaknesses of Design
‘The IPPA conceptual structure, psychometric characteristics, agility, and easy administration procedure make it a particularly useful and valuable measure for psychological research in adolescence’, according to Guarnieri, Ponti, & Tani, (2010). However, the scales weakness is that it relies on self-reporting, which does not promote strong validity.
Conclusion
Reducing isolation among children with disabilities is an important issue that society faces. Reducing isolation among this population will promote social inclusion and improve quality of life. The intervention will help reduce isolation by educating children often and early in their life. The intervention will allow children without disabilities to become more
aware of others that are affected by a disability, as well as promote social inclusion to children with a disability. This intervention is vital for assessing and providing information as to ways in which children with disabilities can live healthy lives.

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