Starting school can be an intimidating experience for any child. The prospect of new friends, teachers, lessons, routines and expectations often creates a heavy sense of nervousness that affects both parents and children alike. When disability is thrown into the school starting mix, the experience can be a frightening and overwhelming one. Luckily, there are a few things that families can do to prepare for school and set themselves up for success.
Barriers Faced by Children with Disabilities
Unfortunately, children with disabilities often face significantly more barriers to education than their able-bodied peers. According to the Inclusive Education for Students with a Disability report, many Australian teachers are currently unprepared to provide inclusive education for students with disabilities and, with limitations on time, training, resources, school support and capacity to individualise learning structures, students with disabilities are often subject to marginalisation.
While social, educational and participatory concerns can affect any child new to school, children with disabilities are generally more likely to struggle with bullying, a lack of suitable adjustments or aids, or even inaccessibility to suitable education services. Luckily, there are some things that parents and guardians can do to explore options and get the most out of the school system.
Your Child’s Rights
Children with disabilities in Australia have the same right to quality education as all other children and this right is protected under the Disability Discrimination Act (1992) and the Disability Standards for Education (2005). Under these documents, Australian education providers are obliged to make ‘reasonable adjustments,’ such as rearranging classrooms to improve accessibility for mobility impaired students or offering technological aids like video captioning for hearing impaired students, to promote equal opportunity. It is against the law for institutions to discriminate against students on account of disability.
Choosing a School
Choosing a good school can be incredibly difficult and is not a decision to be taken lightly. When parenting a child with a disability, school selection often becomes an even more complicated process. Many guardians begin by touring schools, meeting with education providers and discussing school experiences with other families living with a disability. These are some of the most important questions to consider:
- What are my child’s specific needs and in what type of school – specialised, government, independent, Catholic, etc. – would these be best served?
- Who will be working with my child? What services and aids will they be providing?
- How big is the school that I am considering, and how many students will be in my child’s class?
- Does the school that I am considering provide disability support programmes that my child could benefit from, or is there an alternative school that does?
- Does the school that I am considering have experience in assisting children with disabilities?
- Is the school that I am considering accessible? Are there ramps, lifts, accessible door frames, desks and toilets, or other facilities that my child will need to use?
- Where do I believe that my child will be most valued, included and happy?
Considering schools through the lens that these questions provide can help in narrowing down options and identifying which establishment is likely to the best fit for your child and your family.
Reasonable Adjustments, Funding & Supports
Learning is a personal experience and each child’s journey will be different. Australian teachers are responsible for providing a positive and effective learning environment for all students. Australian law dictates that teachers and schools must provide reasonable adjustments that make education inclusive and accessible for students with disabilities. These adjustments are developed collaboratively by parents or carers and education providers with the student’s specific needs in mind. Children with disabilities may be eligible for education support and funding. Funding program availability and usage requirements varies from state to state and between school types. When enrolling your child in school, it’s a good idea to inquire about available funding programs, how funds might be used, and the requirements of application.
What Could Funding Provide?
There are few possible supports that you and your child may be able to access through Australia’s funding programs for students with disabilities. Some of these are:
- Student Support Group
- A Student Support Group (SSG) comprises you, your child’s school and any professional who work with your child. It aims to ensure collaborative partnership as together, you work to meet your child’s educational needs.
- Individual Learning Plan
- An Individual Learning Plan outlines your child’s skills, needs, any adjustments/modifications, strategies for skill, goal and social development, and areas where extra support may be needed.
- Other Support Plans
- Further support plans may be created to outline and provide management strategies for your child’s medical, personal care or other needs at school.
- Integration Aides
- Integration Aides are school staff dedicated to supporting students with additional needs. They can provide classwork help, therapy support, supervision and personal care assistance.
- Professional Support
- Professional support might include school visits/assistance from speech or occupational therapists, psychologists, physiotherapists, social workers and more.
- Home-Based Support
- Home-based support can assist children whose disabilities prevent school attendance to access education.
- Transport Support
- Accessible transport options or a travel allowance may be able to be provided.
- Outside of School Hours (OOSH) Care
- OOSH Care programs can obtain government support in providing a disability inclusive environment.
- Professional Development
- Teachers and school staff may be eligible for learning and training funding to improve their knowledge and ability to meet your child’s needs.
- Your child’s school may be able to access funding for equipment and building modifications that your child needs.
Preparing Your Child
Preparing your child for school is paramount to ensuring a positive experience and instilling a lifelong love of learning. One of the important things that you can do is maintain an open dialogue with your child, using books, play and children’s television start conversations and get your child excited to start school.
‘Starting School’ by Jane Gowin & Anna Walker
‘Wombat Goes to School’ by Jackie French & Bruce Whatley
‘One Keen Koala’ by Margaret Wild & Bruce Whatley
The equipment your child uses is also vitally important in allowing them to interact with their environment. Sunrise Medical offers a wide range of both manual and power chairs for children, as well as positioning chairs enabling you to find the right mobility solution for your child.
At the end of the day, the most important thing is that your child leads a fulfilling life, combining education and leisure, with fun and responsibility and that you, as parents or carers, support their development and share in their successes.