Preschool: why it’s good for children with disability, autism or other additional needs
A quality preschool experience can help your child with disability, autism or other additional needs learn and develop well.
Preschool can give your child opportunities to:
- explore and play with other children
- do a broad range of interesting learning activities
- develop social, emotional, communication and problem-solving skills
- develop physical abilities.
It can also be good for your child’s confidence, mental health and wellbeing.
When your child is at preschool, you might have the chance to work outside your home, go to appointments, do grocery shopping and so on.
Preschool might also give you time for self-care and other activities that you enjoy. When you look after yourself and do things that make you feel good, including work, you’ll have more mental and emotional energy to put into your relationship with your child. And you’re better able to give your child what they need to grow and thrive.
Preschool rights for children with disability, autism or other additional needs
All children with disability have the right to go to preschool, regardless of their disability.
In Australia, the rights of children with disability are protected under the Australian Disability Discrimination Act 1992. The Act makes it unlawful for preschools to refuse children with disability or limit their access.
Centres must also make reasonable adjustments to meet children’s needs. Reasonable adjustments include things like minor building modifications, special resources or equipment, or training for educators. But if a service can show that making an adjustment would be unjustifiably hard, it’s not against the law for the service not to make the adjustment. This might happen if the adjustment is too expensive or not best practice, for example.
The rights of children with disability are also protected by the Disability Standards for Education 2005 and state and territory anti-discrimination and equal opportunity laws, which prevent preschools from discriminating against children with disability.
And the National Quality Framework for Early Childhood Education and Care sets standards for preschools. These standards cover the needs of children with disability in relation to curriculum decisions.
Choosing preschools for children with disability, autism or other additional needs
The checklists below can help when you’re choosing a preschool for your child with disability. There might be other things you need to check, depending on your child’s specific needs and disability.
- Does the environment look safe and engaging for your child?
- Are all indoor and outdoor areas accessible for your child? For example, if your child uses a wheelchair or a walking frame, can they freely move around the service?
- Does the centre have equipment and resources that let your child fully participate and play? For example, if your child is non-verbal, does the centre have picture cards, playground signs and other resources to help your child communicate?
- If equipment and resources need to be purchased or adapted to make the environment safe, engaging and accessible, how will this happen? Do you need to do anything to help?
Early childhood educators
- Are educators keen to welcome and support your child?
- Are educators experienced in working with children with disability?
- How will educators work with you to understand your child’s specific needs? Do they need training to understand, support and plan for your child’s specific needs?
- Do educators focus on your child’s strengths and interests as well as your child’s needs?
- Does the preschool have policies that support inclusion and participation for children with disability?
- Are parents and carers of children with disability welcomed and encouraged to participate in activities at the preschool?
- Are there children with disability already at the preschool?
- Does the centre use state or territory government inclusion funding, or is it willing to apply for this funding to support your child?
One or more of your child’s health or disability professionals might be able to help you assess the service’s facilities and environment. For example, you could ask your physiotherapist or occupational therapist.
There are several types of preschool programs. You can contact your local council or state or territory education department to find out about preschool options in your area.
Inclusion funding for children with disability, autism or other additional needs at preschool
State and territory governments might provide funds to preschools to include children with disability. This funding is given to centres after children’s specific needs are assessed. It might be used for things like:
- employing additional staff
- training staff
- getting special equipment like toileting aids and handrails
- getting or modifying toys and play equipment
- getting devices and aids to help with communication.
It’s the responsibility of the preschool to apply for inclusion funding. But they’ll need your permission to apply for funding to support your child. You’ll also need to provide supporting documents from your child’s health professionals about your child’s disability.
Advocating for the rights of children with disability, autism or other additional needs at preschool
You can advocate for the rights of your child with disability, autism or other additional needs if you:
- believe that your child’s rights to inclusion aren’t being met
- feel your child is being unlawfully discriminated against
- experience significant delays with getting state or territory government inclusion funding.
It’s always best to start by talking with the preschool director about concerns like these.
You can get support from other people to help you advocate for your child. You could ask a family member, friend, volunteer or professional disability advocate to help you.
If you can’t sort things out with the preschool, you can make a formal complaint to the Australian Human Rights Commission or the human rights commission in your state or territory.
It’s best for your child’s wellbeing and development to be in a preschool environment where they feel safe, happy, respected and valued. If you feel a centre can’t or doesn’t want to provide this kind of environment for your child, it might be worth looking into other options.