“When a child has a disability or developmental delay, there is a need for additional planning and support. For families the step to school usually involves navigating new systems, jargon and relationships to make decisions which impact on the child with a disability and whole family. Understandably, families report feeling anxious, worried and daunted about their child with a disability starting school.”
Let’s be honest, change can be daunting. Certainly for children, but more so for parents and caregivers who are faced with making decisions about education when their child has a disability. Whether your child is starting Kindergarten or stepping up to High School, the worries, concerns and questions you have can certainly provoke a sense of anxiety. It is hard to leave the familiar comforts and support of Early Intervention where your child (and family) are known; and goals and routines are well established. It is also hard to picture your child in a sea of High School students who seem large and boisterous in comparison to his/her Primary School peers.
Firstly, let me lay down some foundation on what this blog isn't about. I have assumed that parents or caregivers have already decided on which school their child will be attending. How you go about deciding on the most suitable educational setting and school for your child is another blog in itself, and this is already a two part blog. You can find helpful information and resources at the following link: https://www.ecia.org.au/Transition-to-School/Families/My-child-and-school#226366-thinking-about-school-options
Instead, you can expect information on forming partnerships with the school; the value of this partnership during transition planning (and beyond), and specific supports that may facilitate your child’s transition. It goes without saying that the supports portrayed do not represent a conclusive list; but rather should prompt you to reflect on what may suit your child and thus guide your dialogue with the school. The supports also reflect my professional experience, and as a result it is geared specifically towards children with Global Developmental Delay, ASD or Intellectual Disability.
It is now widely accepted that a vibrant school-home partnership is essential to positive student outcomes.
Perhaps one of the first questions to ask yourself is; who will be a part of your child’s transition team? Your child’s team may consist of family members, support workers, therapists, advocates, current and future education staff; and needless to say yourself and your child whom are central to the team. Every team member has a unique contribution to make towards a ‘successful’ transition based on their training, knowledge, skills, experience and relationship with your child.
A. Communication and Collaboration
Building effective school partnerships takes time, mutual respect, commitment and communication.
Parents know their child better than anyone else, and should be prepared to share their child’s story; your vision, dreams or aspirations for your child; and any concerns that you may have about your child starting school. There will be key information that the school requires such as; strengths, needs, behaviours, reports, successful strategies or interventions to date, and also any medical requirements, including the administration of medication.
Consider how you can share some of the information to assist the school get to know your child. A 'snapshot of my child' may include your child’s: preferred name, what they are good at, what they enjoy, what they dislike, how they communicate, their mobility, how they learn best, and how to tell if they are becoming stressed. You can find a ‘snapshot of my child’ template on the Early Childhood Intervention Australia website.
There is going to be a great deal of information being exchanged. A transition folder may therefore prove invaluable during meetings and the planning stage. The folder will permit easy access to reports and contact details to share with the school, as well as points you want to raise and handouts or new information you wish to store. Because let’s be honest, who hasn’t left a meeting and remembered something that they wished they had said?
In addition to the formal meetings, decide in conjunction with the school how communication is going to take place. What is the easiest way to ‘talk’ with your child’s teacher? How frequent and detailed will the communication be? How will information be exchanged between therapists, school and home? Be sure to sign all necessary consent forms that will allow the school and therapists to communicate directly with each other, and remind them to CC you into any emails.
What will your child’s transition look like? There should be timeliness to the transition activities. Activities clearly defined in terms of when they will take place, who is involved in the preparation and who will be involved on the day.
Schools orientation or transition programs vary greatly. Be sure to attend the parent information sessions that they have on offer. You will receive valuable practical information on the organisational arrangements for the start of school (starting date and routine); meet various staff and community members; and along with other parents have an opportunity to ask questions – which is great because quite often someone will ask a question that you hadn’t thought of at the time.
Maybe your child would benefit from an extended orientation program. Together with your transition team work out what this looks like. Include visits to the school where they can meet their teacher and other key staff members. Do their initial visits need to be at quieter times and for short periods of time? You can always build them up as they become more at ease. Who is going to attend with your child?
Perhaps there is some specific training or professional development that school staff could undertake to better support your child. Think about augmentative and alternative communication (AAC), positive behaviour supports, or mobility equipment.
The transition ought to comprise of reflection time, to evaluate how the transition is progressing and revise if need be.
In Part 2 we will look at a range of specific supports that may be included in your child’s transition plan.