Service providers for children with disability, autism or other additional needs
Children with disability, autistic children and children with other additional needs need supports for their development. Supports include things like early intervention, community health services, playgroups, equipment and much more.
The people and organisations that provide supports are called disability service providers. If your child is autistic or has disability or other additional needs, you might work with one or many service providers.
The best service providers for your child will be the ones who meet your child’s and family’s needs. They’ll also be a good practical fit for your family.
If your child has only just been diagnosed with disability, autism or other additional needs, our disability services guide can help you understand the system. Remember that the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) can help children with disability before and after diagnosis. You can phone the NDIS on 1800 800 110.
Choosing disability service providers for children
When you’re choosing service providers, it’s good to meet providers in person. You can often get more information this way, plus a better sense of whether service professionals are listening to you and trying to understand your needs and goals. If you can’t meet in person, telehealth can be good too.
It’s OK to visit services more than once before choosing, or to ask to meet with several professionals within a service.
You can work out which disability service providers meet your child’s needs by thinking and asking about:
- service provision
- service standards and staff qualifications.
These questions can help you work out how service providers can help your child:
- How will the service work with you to support your child’s development?
- How much flexibility is there? In other words, how much choice will you have about the supports you can get and the professionals you can see?
- Where will the service be provided – for example, via telehealth, at home, child care, preschool or school, or in a hospital, clinic or community centre? And can you choose?
- What support can the service give when your child moves to child care, preschool or school? For example, can a service professional come to child care, preschool or school meetings if needed?
- What support can the service offer outside sessions? For example, will they give you resources to use between sessions?
- How will the service support the mainstream or community activities that your child is involved with – for example, playgroups or sports clubs?
- What are the long-term benefits of the therapies or supports the service provides?
- What can you do if you’re unhappy with the support you’re getting from the service?
These are questions about the practical side of using service providers. Here are questions for you to think about:
- Is there a waiting list? How long will it take to get an appointment?
- Can you and your child get to the service easily? For example, is there car parking or public transport nearby?
- Are telehealth appointments an option?
- When, how often and for how long will your child need the service?
- How long is each session likely to take?
- What are the service’s operating hours?
- Is there a cost involved?
Service standards and staff qualifications
These are questions about the quality of service providers. Here are questions you can ask:
- What qualifications and experience do the service professionals have? Does the service have an accreditation system?
- Are less experienced staff members mentored or supervised?
- Is the service government funded or connected with a university or hospital?
- Does the service operate according to established practice guidelines – for example, the Early Childhood Intervention Australia National Guidelines: Best Practice in Early Childhood Intervention, the National Standards for Disability Services or the National Guideline for supporting the learning, participation, and wellbeing of autistic children and their families in Australia?
- What are the service’s mission, vision and values?
- How long has the service been operating?
If you’re looking into disability professionals, associations like the Australian Psychological Society, Occupational Therapy Australia or Speech Pathology Australia have lists of members and their areas of expertise. Many health professionals must be registered with the Australian Government to practise. You can check a professional’s details by visiting the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA). Some health professionals don’t need to be registered with the AHPRA – for example, speech pathologists, audiologists and social workers. You can find out more about accreditation by visiting Allied Health Professions Australia.
Deciding on disability service providers for children
Once you’ve visited or spoken to the disability service providers you’re considering, you could draw up a list of pros and cons to help you decide which service providers might suit your child best.
If you’re still not sure after comparing the pros and cons, here are things you can do:
- Go back to service providers and ask more questions.
- Ask other professionals what they think might be best for your child.
- Ask other parents about their experiences.
Sometimes you might decide on a service provider and get started, but then you realise that the service provider isn’t right for you and your child after all. That’s OK – you can change providers.
Information overload can easily happen, so it’s important to organise your information. You can organise and store information in many ways – computer files, binders or folders, written journals or diaries, and even shoeboxes.