Term 1 in the year before starting school
Once you’ve chosen a primary school for your child with disability, let the school know.
It’s a good idea to have a second choice of school in case you don’t get your first choice.
For most mainstream government schools, you can enrol at any time in the year before your child is due to start. But enrolling as soon as possible will give you and the school time for planning, applying for funding and so on.
If you’re enrolling your child at a specialist school, you might need relevant documentation from your child’s specialists and a cognitive assessment if your child has an intellectual disability.
If you’re enrolling your child at both a mainstream and specialist school, you need to do the enrolment procedures for both schools. This is called dual enrolment, and it’s possible in only some states and territories.
Catholic and independent schools have their own enrolment timelines. Talk with the school about how you can start planning while you’re waiting to be offered a place.
Once your child is enrolled, check with the school about important deadlines like submission dates for funding applications and so on.
Planning support for your child
The school will explain school support and funding. It’s important to talk with the school and decide together on support and school adjustments, like building modifications.
Your state or territory education department or Catholic or independent school association website can tell you more about school support.
If your child is involved with an early childhood intervention service, the service will help you with the transition to primary school. You could also consider working with a disability advocate, who can support you and your child through the transition process.
Term 2 in the year before starting school
Gather all the medical or specialist reports that you need to apply for disability learning and education support. If your child needs a cognitive assessment, the school should be able to help you organise one.
Term 3 in the year before starting school
Meet with the school to finalise your applications for support. Check specific deadlines with the school.
Term 4 in the year before starting school
Develop a transition plan
Meet with school staff to develop a transition plan for your child. The meeting might also include your child’s kindergarten teacher and early childhood intervention service staff.
A transition plan might include:
- a profile of your child, including health, medical and therapy reports, and your child’s current medical and therapy needs
- an extended orientation program or extra orientation activities to help your child get to know the school
- ways for your child to meet teachers and support staff before school starts
- school visits a few days before term starts, so your child can visit the classroom, spend time in the playground and move around the school
- a photo album with pictures of the school, your child’s classroom and teachers.
Develop an individual learning plan
Your child’s individual learning plan outlines learning goals for your child for the coming year and explains how the school will help your child achieve these goals. You’ll work with your child’s student support group to develop this plan.
Develop other support plans
If your child needs behaviour support, or has complex medical or personal care needs, this is a good time to develop these plans with your child’s support group.
Organise learning and education supports
Talk with your child’s student support group about supports and adjustments like therapies, an integration aide, IT support or staff training.
Look at car parking
If you need accessible parking, the school might be able to give you a special space in its car park. Otherwise, the school might need to speak to the local council.
Organise orientation visits
Go along to the transition sessions that the school is running, as well as any extended orientation activities that have been arranged for your child.
It can help to take a support person or disability advocate to student support group meetings. It can be very reassuring to have a second pair of ears, someone to take notes or remind you of things you want to cover, or just someone for extra support.
First few weeks at school
To help with first-day and first-week nerves, depending on your child’s disability, your child might find it useful to have:
- a visual support, like a visual timetable
- social stories about starting school
- occupational therapy to build independence with shoes, clothing, lunch boxes, school bags and so on
- a buddy for support at school
- a help card they can show an adult when they need help.
Talk regularly with your child’s teacher or other school staff to find out how your child’s day went and to see whether they have any questions about your child’s support or educational needs.
All children starting school might be very tired for the first few weeks. It might be a good idea to keep extra activities to a minimum for a while.
There are more tips for helping your child settle into school in our articles on starting school and school practicalities.
Settling in at school and doing well
When you communicate, get involved and share information with the school and the wider school community, you and your child can get the most out of the school experience.
Communicating with the school
If you have good communication and a good relationship with your child’s school, it can help your child get the most out of school.
It’s a good idea to talk with your child’s teacher about the easiest way for you both to keep in touch regularly. It might be by phone, email or quick catch-ups after school. A communication book in your child’s bag or a communication app can also work well. Both you and your child’s teacher can use it to check up on tasks, activities or events at school or home.
It’s OK for you to raise any concerns you have with the school and then work together to focus on solutions.
Getting involved with the school
Your family can get involved in the school community in many ways.
Many schools have a social event at the start of the year to welcome new families. You might also want to get involved with reading groups in the classroom, canteen, working bees, the school council or the parents and citizens association.
Sharing information about your child
You know your child better than anyone else. By sharing information and knowledge about your child with the school, you can become a partner in your child’s education.
It can help if the school community understands that your child has interests, likes and dislikes, and will progress and achieve, just like every other child.
Some families choose to write an open letter to other families, briefly explaining their child’s disability. Not everyone is comfortable with this approach. Other families don’t want the school community to know their child has a disability. Your child’s school should respect your choice and work with you.
It’s a good idea to talk with your child’s student support group about the best ways to share information while maintaining your child’s privacy.
Your belief that your child will learn and progress at school will build your child’s resilience and expectation of success. It can inspire others to have the same confidence.