Nicole Telfer (she/her, disability and inclusion practitioner): Thinking about goals and setting goals is a really important part of the NDIS planning process. Each child is different, and each child’s goals will be different, but they’ll all relate to the child’s development, to their needs, and to their interests. Your child’s goals might be different to another child’s goals. So all funding plans are going to be different.
Caz (parent of Sam): So my name’s Caz. I have a seven-year-old son, Sam. He has level 3 autism, which is the most severe level of diagnosis. And he has a severe intelligence disability as well. He is nonverbal, and his comprehension about social norms and anything verbal is very limited. When I first came to setting goals for Sam when he was first approved for NDIS, it was about increasing his social skills, increasing his comprehension, increasing his ability to communicate with other people.
Dee (parent of Max and Oscar): So my family is comprised of my wife, Tash, or Natasha; and our 2 sons, Max, who’s just turned 9; and Oscar, who’s just turned 7. Our first lot of goals for Max were really around addressing key lagging skills that we could see in him at that time. It was about communication. It was about engaging with his peers at school. It was very much around, ‘Well, how do we up-skill you so that you can do what you want to do when you want to do it?’
Nicole Telfer: Children change over time, and their needs and interests will change over time. That means their goals will also change. It’s important to think about how you can involve your child and engage them in talking about and thinking about their goals for their NDIS plans.
Caz: Sam is now 7. He just turned 7. What he wants from the world is now very different to what he was when he was 2. And now that the goals have actually changed quite a lot, they're probably umbrella goals now. The goal, for example, might be to increase Sam’s social skills. But there’s lots of ways that we can do that in order to meet that goal. One of the things that Sam loves to do is to be in the community. He really enjoys being out with other people. But Sam has no sense of danger. He has zero impulse control. It’s a barrier for him to be in the community without one-on-one supervision.
So in order to try and address that and have him in the community, which is – he has every right to have – we’ve put in some kind of social skills and road skills in order to try and keep him safe. One of the things that we’ve been doing with Sam is taking him to the supermarket. So, in the lead up to going to the supermarket, he has a visual about what he’s going to the supermarket to buy. He carries a basket. We find the object and compare it to the visual. We put it in his basket, he scans the item, he pays for the item, and then we go home and we have the item.
And the more we do that, the more Sam learns what different things are in the community and how he can interact with them to meet his own needs. And the only way for Sam to learn that stuff is repetition.
Dee: Max’s goals have absolutely changed over time. As he grows, they need to grow with him. We are now focusing perhaps more on physical goals. Max can’t move from one end of our local Westfield to the other by himself because he gets overwhelmed. So his goals at the moment are around actually leaving the house. They're also around actually giving him the physical strength to move under his own propulsion.
Nicole Telfer: Therapy itself is not the goal. It’s part of a strategy that might be used to work towards a bigger goal. So, speech therapy, for example. Speech therapy isn’t the goal. Speech therapy might be a tool that’s used to work towards a bigger goal, which might be communicating more effectively at home.
Caz: Just for an example, so I want Sam to improve his communication ability. Or I want Sam to improve his comprehension. The overarching goal works better. And then you can engage the service that still is working towards that goal, but if it's so defined, it limits the services that you can use. The early intervention providers that were doing the plan interviews, they worked out that this is actually a much more appropriate way of doing it, and it actually allows for so much better service provision to the family and to the child. It’s about wording the goal as an umbrella term.
Dee: As parents today, we have these great expectations of what our children can do from a very young age. And sometimes you actually just need a professional to pull you back a little bit and go, ‘Actually, what they’re doing is completely age-appropriate in this area, but they're behind in this area. And so maybe we can give them skills to up-skill them in that area.’
People often think that disability, long-term disability is like an injury. So if you sprain your ankle and you have to go and see the physio, there’s a linear pathway to getting better. Disability and long-term disability, it's not a linear spectrum. His disability isn’t going to go away. How he engages and how his disability means he engages with the world is going to change, just like it does for any other human, as he changes and as he evolves.