FAQ: School transitions and beyond

By Melissa Athanassiou

Advanced Occupational Therapist

Change can be daunting, especially for children with disability undertaking critical life transitions such as starting kindy, going to primary school or moving into high school.

At Therapy Focus, our therapists support children with disability, their families and carers to manage these changes and transitions in their lives. While each person is different and will use strategies unique to them, we have put together some more frequently asked questions to get you started on the right path to a smooth transition.

Starting kindy

What is the best way to prepare for kindy?

Good news! There are lots of different ways to prepare your child to start kindy.

In the lead up to your child starting, you must present excitement towards this upcoming change in 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 do not have at home. You could even show them a picture of their teacher and take a trip to the kindy to show them what their classroom will look like. If you are worried or scared, your child will likely pick up on these feelings and copy them.

Setting up a consistent morning routine in the weeks before they start can help your child feel safe, control, and comfortable with all the tasks that need to be completed to get ready for kindy each morning. Once you have established what needs to be done (getting up, getting dressed, eating breakfast, cleaning teeth), try and do the tasks in the same order every morning. A visual schedule may be useful to support your child’s understanding of these tasks. This is a step-by-step flow chart that uses images of the tasks and the order they need to complete. Visual schedules are excellent in supporting children with difficulty processing or understanding information verbally (when spoken to them). Visual schedules are also very useful in the classroom to help children understand what they will be doing throughout the day.

Toileting is often a significant stressor for parents and their children. While children do not have to be toilet trained before starting kindy, it is recommended that the child is already toilet training at home. Please encourage your child to indicate to you when they need the toilet and teach them to pull their pants/underwear up and down without you, attempt to wipe their bottom and wash their hands. If your child relies on you to do these things, they might become anxious if they need to rely on a kindy teacher or education assistant to help, rather than their parent.

Your child may also benefit from attending a kindy-readiness playgroup. These groups focus on teaching children to sit and listen to a teacher, follow instructions, play with other peers, and engage in different fine motor activities, such as cutting, gluing, painting, writing, and puzzling. By attending a group such as this, your child will become familiar with the expectations of kindy and be exposed to opportunities to develop their social skills with other children their age. Therapy Focus often run Kindy Readiness groups for children and families accessing services. For more information, speak to your Key Worker or therapy team.

Social stories are also an excellent way to help prepare your child for kindy, as they can include specific information about your child’s kindy, what to expect on their first day, who their teacher will be, what their kindy room will look like and whom they can talk to if they need help. Your therapy team will be able to help you create these social stories and discuss additional strategies to help you and your child prepare for the kindy transition.

Can parents stay at kindy to help initiate routines?

While increasing your child’s independence and adaptability are vital aspects of kindy, many kindies will invite or allow parents to stay for varying periods during the first couple of weeks. Having a chat with the teacher before your child’s first day is an excellent way to make sure you are all on the same page and know what to expect. You can also then tell your child how long you are staying, so they do not get a surprise when you leave. Having a chat with the teacher is also an invaluable opportunity to discuss 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 and help the teacher to better understand and prepare for your child in their classroom.

Try to keep the communication lines open between the teacher and yourself so that everyone remains on the same page, and you can both work together to ensure your child is well supported.

When it is time to say goodbye on that first day of kindy, remember to be calm and reassuring with your child (even though this might be emotional for you). Children will quickly pick up on feelings of anxiety or stress.

child blows bubbles with therapist looking on

Starting primary school

How do I choose the right school?

When choosing a school for your child, there are a few different types of schools to consider. These include public schools, private schools, independent schools or more specialised education support centres. You must consider your child’s needs and the type of school that will be best suited to these needs.

Both public and private schools have support services for children with disability. 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, considering their individual educational and personal needs. Your family may also be eligible for additional government funding to support your child’s education.

Children with 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 provide a variety of pathways and strategies to support your child.

When you are considering a school, be sure to set up a meeting with the school to talk to them about the types of support. If possible, also request a tour around the school to determine any possible access issues for your child, such as stairs/ramps if they have mobility issues. Allowing you to get a general feel of the school’s atmosphere and how it fits with your family.

Some helpful questions to ask any school 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 concerning 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 disability are eligible to attend an education support centre or school. Education support centres are located alongside mainstream primary and secondary schools. They deliver both individualised programs with specialist staff separate to the mainstream classrooms and support the child to participate in some mainstream programs with their peers. The frequency of mainstream integration is different in each education support centre and is a fundamental question to ask a school.

Education support schools are separate primary and high schools with onsite access to specialist staff and facilities. These schools generally have smaller class sizes with a higher student to education assistant ratio. Some schools also have onsite therapists.

Both education support schools and centres have a strong focus on linking in with disability employment agencies and training organisations to make future transitions such as going to high school and looking into post-school options easier.

therapist with boy in wheelchair

Starting high school

How do I support the transition to high school?

You can do many things at home to get ready for your child’s transition to high school.

Start preparing for the transition to high school as your child reaches the end of Year 5. This could include meeting with the high 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 school’s layout (where their lockers will be, where the canteen and lunch area is, the library and gym and where their primary 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 starts high school. You can also create a high school booklet that includes pictures of the school, their teachers, education assistants, and friends who might also start high school with them. Include information such as how they are getting to and from school and what subjects they will be doing. Preparing in advance will help reduce your child’s anxiety or fears around the ‘unknown’. It is also essential to highlight the aspects of the transition to high school that will remain the same. For example, they may still have the same friends attending high school; they will still be dropped off at school; they will still wear a uniform, etc. It can also be useful to talk to your therapists about creating an information book about your child, including their communication style, interests,  and tips that support them so that their teachers can be aware before meeting them.

Organisational skills are also crucial for high school. You can support your child to develop these skills by helping them use a diary, showing them how a class timetable works, and helping them organise their textbooks. Colour coding books can often be a useful way to help your child to find the books they need quickly.

Be prepared for ups and downs, especially in the first term. By continuing to communicate with the school staff and your therapy team, you will be able to work together to support your child through this transition.

Can my child get special conditions for tests and exams?

Students with disability who could be disadvantaged 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 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 need to submit this to the Education Department in advance for approval before big exams (like ATAR). Your therapy team and school staff can work together to set up the best learning environment for your child.

If you think your child might be eligible for additional supports during exams, it is recommended this be raised with your school and therapy team early to ensure all assessments and timeframes are met.

older child reads paper at table with parents and therapist

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 allow them to earn a certificate, diploma or degree of higher learning. If your young adult wants to test the waters of higher learning, a short course or holiday course may be a good option for them.

Alternatively, if they seek 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 an excellent resource for school leavers looking for employment. The program helps people with a disability prepare for the world of work and provides them with an open employment pathway in their transition from school.

Supporting key transitions

Discover how Therapy Focus can provide support for key life transitions for teenagers and young adults.