Preschool for children with disability, autism or other additional needs: getting ready
Once you’ve enrolled your child at preschool, there are some things you can do to help your child make a positive and successful start:
- Develop an individual education and care plan.
- Share your child’s medical management plan.
- Organise for your child to visit the centre.
- Plan regular meetings with educators during the early months.
- Get support from your child’s professionals.
Developing an individual education and care plan
An individual education and care plan is a document that outlines important information about your child. Educators will use the plan to prepare for your child’s arrival.
The individual education and care plan describes your child. This might include your child’s:
- strengths, interests and motivations
- short-term and long-term goals – for example, building social and emotional skills and self-care skills like toileting
- assistance and support needs – for example, communication, dressing, personal hygiene, toileting, feeding, mobility and sensory issues.
The plan also describes how the centre will support your child’s specific needs. This might include:
- strategies to help your child meet their development and learning goals
- adjustments for your child – for example, building modifications or special resources or equipment
- a behaviour management plan if needed
- staff training and education.
The plan should also include a timetable for regular reviews and updates, including when your child’s needs or circumstances change.
You know and understand your child better than anyone else, so it’s important that you and the centre work together to develop your child’s plan. It might also help to involve the professionals who work with your child – for example, your child’s occupational therapist or speech pathologist.
If your child has an NDIS plan, the plan will include goals that you want your child to achieve with NDIS support. It’s important that your child’s NDIS goals are consistent with the goals and strategies in their individual education and care plan.
Sharing your child’s medical management plan
If your child has special health care needs, allergies or a medical condition, you’ll need to give the preschool a medical management plan.
Your child’s doctor should prepare the plan, which should include:
- medicines – what they are and how and when to give them to your child
- special equipment – for example, feeding tubes
- plans for managing health emergencies – for example, when and who to call for emergency assistance.
Depending on your child’s needs, educators might need special training before they can care for your child. Centres might be able to apply to their state or territory government for funding to make adjustments like this. Contact your centre for more information about funding and how the centre can get it to support your child.
Organising visits to the preschool
Starting at preschool can be exciting, emotional or stressful for children and their families. It can help to organise some visits to the centre in the weeks before your child starts.
Visits give you and your child the chance to get to know the centre environment and routines, the early childhood educators, and other children and parents. Visits also give educators and children the chance to get to know your child.
You can ask about whether the centre runs an orientation program. Some preschools offer transition mornings, playgroups or playtimes for parents and children.
If you feel comfortable, you could prepare a brief profile of your child for other children and their parents. The profile could summarise the most important information from your child’s education and care plan and share basic tips to help other children safely include your child in play and other activities. The centre staff or your child’s disability professionals can help you with this.
Planning regular meetings in the first few months
Regular meetings with educators in the first few months can help your child get the most out of their preschool experience.
That’s because regular meetings help you build a good relationship with educators. You can also use these meetings to ensure that your child’s individual education and care plan is meeting your child’s needs.
You can talk with your child’s educators about the easiest way for you to meet and keep in touch regularly. It might be face to face, on the phone or online.
In addition to planning regular meetings, you could also chat informally with educators when you drop off or pick up your child. Some families use a communication book or communication app to find out about their child’s day and answer questions about their child’s support or educational needs.
Getting support from professionals
Your child’s disability and health professionals might be able to support your child’s transition to preschool. For example, your child’s speech pathologist or occupational therapist might be able to visit the centre to share information about your child and strategies they use to support your child.
Advocating for 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’re concerned about how things are going once your child starts preschool.
It’s best to raise your concerns with your child’s educators or the centre’s director as soon as possible.
Be respectful, open and honest about your worries. It’s OK to ask plenty of questions to help you understand how the service is supporting your child. It’s also OK to advocate for additional strategies, adjustments or supports to make the preschool experience better for your child.
The centre staff will want your child to have a positive and successful experience. This means they should be willing to find ways to support you and your child.
It can help to take a support person or disability advocate to your meetings with educators or other centre staff. It can be reassuring to have someone to listen, take notes, remind you of things you want to cover, or just give you support.