Written by Advanced Occupational Therapist, Alix Combe.
Changes can be daunting, especially at key life transition points like starting kindy, primary school, high school and higher education or work.
Our team of therapists and support staff help children, adults, their families and carers to manage new environments every day. While each person is different and will use unique strategies, we’ve put together some of the more frequently asked questions to get you started on the right path to a smooth transition.
Can parents stay at kindy to help initiate routines?
While increasing your child’s independence and adaptability are key parts of starting kindy, many kindies will invite or allow parents to stay for varying periods of time during the first couple of weeks. Having a chat to the teacher before your child’s first day is a good way to make sure you’re all on the same page and know what to expect. It is also a great opportunity to have a discussion regarding any concerns you may have for your child, and what strategies you currently use to support them in their daily activities.
Having this information in advance will also help you prepare your child in the lead-up to the first day. You’ll be able to tell them how long you’re staying for, so they don’t get a surprise when you leave.
Remember to be calm and reassuring when you are with your child at kindy and saying goodbye (even though this might be really emotional for you). Children will easily pick up on feelings of anxiety or worry.
What’s the best way to prepare for the transition to kindy?
There are lots of different ways to prepare your child for kindy.
It’s very important in the lead up to starting kindy that you encourage your child to feel excited about the upcoming change in their routine. Talk about the fun activities they will get to do at kindy, the children they will get to play with and the play equipment they don’t get to play on at home. You could even show them a picture of their kindy teacher and go for a walk to school to show them what their kindy looks like. If you are worried or scared, your child will likely pick up on these feelings and copy them.
Working on a morning routine in the weeks before hand can help your child to feel safe and in control within their new environment. Once you’ve established what needs to be done in the morning (getting up, getting dressed, eating breakfast, cleaning teeth) try and do these in the same order every morning.
Toileting is often a stressor for parents and their children before going to kindy. As much as possible, start early in teaching your child to pull up and down their pants/underwear without you, wipe their bottom and wash their hands. If your child is reliant on you to do these things they might be anxious if they then need to rely on a kindy teacher or education assistant to help, rather than their parent.
Children with trouble processing verbally delivered information or trouble with focusing will often benefit from a visual schedule. This is like a step-by-step flow chart using images to show tasks, and the order they need to be completed in.
Your child may also benefit from kindy-readiness playgroups. These focus on teaching children to sit and attend to a teacher, follow instructions, play with other peers and engage in different fine motor activities i.e. cutting & gluing, painting, writing and doing puzzles.
Social stories are often excellent tools to help prepare your child for kindy and can include specific information about your child’s own kindy such as what to expect on their first day, who their teacher will be, what their kindy room will look like and who they can talk to if they need help. Your speech pathologist or occupational therapist will be able to help you create these social stories and discuss further strategies to help best prepare you and your child for the kindy transition.
Starting primary school
Public or private school?
Both public and private schools have support services for children with disabilities. In a public school you, the school staff and your child will create an individual education plan. This is a plan written specifically for your child, taking into account their individual educational and personal needs. Your family may also be eligible for additional government funding to support your child’s education.
Children with a disability in independent schools are also eligible for government funding, however it is at a lower level than their counterparts at government schools.
Independent schools all operate slightly differently, and so provide a variety of pathways and strategies. If you’re considering a private or independent school, be sure to set up a meeting with the school to talk to them about what sort of supports they offer. If possible, also request a tour around the school to determine any possible access issues for your child such as classrooms up stairs if they have mobility issues. This will also allow you to get a general feel about the atmosphere of the school, and how it fits with your family. Some good questions to ask are:
- How many children are in each class?
- Will my child have access to an Education Assistant and how many support hours will they get?
- What does the support from an Education Assistant look like?
- Will my child be able to access specialist equipment if they need it? i.e. specialist seating, a wheelchair, assistive technology like a laptop with reading/writing software on it?
- Do you have inclusion policies in your school?
- If my child needs a specific education plan, what is the process for this?
- Does the school have written policies in relation to students with disability?
- How many students with a disability (or receiving additional funding) does the school currently have?
What are education support centres and education support schools?
Some children with a disability will be eligible to attend an education support centre or school.
Education support centres are located alongside primary and secondary schools. They deliver individualised programs with specialist staff in addition to supporting the child to participate in programs with mainstream peers. The frequency of mainstream integration is different in each education support centre, and is a really important question to ask a school.
Education support schools are separate primary and high schools with on-site access to specialist staff and facilities. Some schools also have onsite therapists.
Both have a strong focus on linking in with employers, training organisations and the Disability Services Commission to make future transitions (such as going to high school and onward from there) easier.
Starting high school
How do I support the transition to high school?
There are many things you can do at home to get ready for the transition to high school.
Start preparing for the transition to high school in year 6. This could include meeting with the school to ensure they are aware of your child’s needs and organising transition visits so your child can go and spend a few days at the high school with other peers from their class or a familiar support person. Your therapists will be able to attend these introductory meetings with you, if you would like their support. Transition visits will give your child the chance to work out the layout of the school i.e. where their lockers will be, where the canteen and lunch area is, the library and gym and where their main classrooms will be etc.
Talking about the new school and routine in advance, visiting the school and working out practicalities such as how to get to and from school can all be done before your child gets to high school. You can also create a high school booklet that includes pictures of the school, their teachers, education assistants and friends that might also be going to school with them. Include information such as how they are getting to and from school and what subjects they will be doing. Doing a lot of preparation in advance will help reduce your child’s anxiety or fears around the ‘unknown’.
Be prepared for ups and downs, especially in the first term. By continuing to communicate with the school staff and your therapy team, you’ll be able to work together to support your child through this transition.
Will my child get special conditions for tests and exams?
Students with a disability that could disadvantage them in timed assessments may be granted special conditions during exams. This could involve extra reading and working times, rest periods, special instructions, use of a computer or scribe and many more. Assessments to determine the type of special conditions your child needs can be completed by school staff and your therapy team.
The school may then need to submit this to the Education Department in advance for approval prior to big exams i.e. WACE exams. Your therapy team and school staff can work together to set up the best learning environment for your child.
Leaving high school
What are my child’s options after high school?
Whether the next step for your child involves building on life skills, engaging in leisure activities, gaining employment or continuing their studies, there are many options and ways to go about this.
High school graduates may be able to go to university, TAFE or study online. This will give them the opportunity to earn a certificate, diploma or degree of higher learning. If your young adult would like to test the waters of higher learning, a short course or holiday course may be a good option for them.
Alternatively, if they’re seeking employment there are many options including supported employment, customised employment, starting a micro-business or working in a full time, part time or casual capacity in a local business (open employment).
Start planning for your young adult’s transition to the workforce in Year 10 so you can discuss work experience options with your high school and link into Disability Support Services in Year 12. Your therapy team can help you with information regarding this.
Ticket to Work is a great resource for school leavers looking for employment. The program helps people with a disability as they prepare for the world of work and provides them with an open employment pathway in their transition from school.