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Developmental delays in early childhood are predictors of learning difficulties and adjustment difficulties later in childhood.
In a study conducted in underprivileged neighbourhoods in Montréal, preschool-age children of immigrant families from developing countries demonstrate significant developmental delays when compared with non-immigrant children from the same neighbourhoods. These differences can be entirely explained by environmental factors related to the precarious conditions in which these families live.
To ensure that these children have an equal chance at academic success, we developed an innovative cognitive stimulation program, the ÉgALIté program. This program is based on interactive reading activities (IRA) where the adult uses specific, progressive communication techniques that encourage the child to lead the dialogue and initiate discussion. Interactive reading activities improve the speech of preschool children who are developing normally, as well as the language and attention skills of children with delayed speech and motor restlessness.
The purpose of this study was to evaluate the short-term effectiveness of the ÉgALIté program on language skills and pre-reading and pre-writing skills; attention skills and self-regulation of behaviour; as well as social skills.
The improved overall adjustment can be explained by a significant reduction in internalized behaviour (timidity, fears, isolation, withdrawal). These results confirm that a cognitive stimulation program encourages cognitive development as well as socio-affective development.
More research is required to better document the direct impacts of such a program on child development and evaluate its medium-term effectiveness. In fact, one question that remains is whether these benefits acquired in early childhood truly enhance the student’s school adjustment and performance. As a result, there are plans for a longitudinal study. However, it is very challenging to conduct studies of immigrant families from developing countries because these families are often isolated. Long-term partnerships with the various community organizations are therefore essential.
Finally, another major challenge remains the accessibility of such cognitive stimulation programs. The ultimate goal of our research program is to establish the ÉgALIté program directly in community settings and evaluate its effectiveness.
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