The support system for students with disabilities is designed to enable schools to consult with both families and with expert consultants.
On this page:
- Reinforcing your messages
- Sharing strategies that help at home
- Observing and offering new insights
- A team approach – and more support for you
- Raising the idea
Many of the parents and carers we spoke with had gained valuable support from therapists and other professionals outside the school environment, to help the school better understand and meet their child’s learning and support needs.
- We explain how you can get access to outside experts in A guide to supports for students, and the range of ways that can help in Education planning for your child.
Below we talk about how you can raise the issue with school, and share other families’ experiences of using external specialists as part of their child’s education support team.
Reinforcing your messages
Many parents and carers we spoke with used external experts to back up or reinforce suggestions that they might already have made, about how to meet their child’s learning needs or address problems:
“At times when things might not be going so well at school, I’ve been able to use the support of other professionals, to reinforce what I’m asking a school to provide for him. Sometimes schools are more likely to listen when I’ve done that.” – Tania
External experts can often offer particular resources, or many years of experience in the field, that schools will often respond to:
“We use an education consultant from Down Syndrome Victoria. He comes down and helps – not mediate, but tries to steer things in the right direction, from his professional point of view. He spends time with the PSD coordinator, and some of the support staff. Then we’ll have our SSG after that. He’s another professional in the area of education, and I think they regard his input, at least initially, as more worthy than that of just a mum. We have worked closely with him since primary school, and he has a heck of a lot of resources that he can let the school know about. And just his experience of working in this field for so long.” – Marie
Sharing strategies that help at home
Sometimes you might have engaged a therapist who has made a real difference in your child’s life at home, and can suggest that they might also offer strategies to benefit your child at school.
“With Noam’s behavioural issues, it took me about a year to realize that I needed support with it at home. And if I needed support with it at home, most likely they needed support with it at school. But they don’t generally ask for support, and they use whatever they get from the government. For me, it was a bit like a no-brainer. We have this amazing child psychologist that we’ve started working with at home, why wouldn’t I get them into school to help them? She built a relationship with Noam and with me, and I only saw that as a benefit to the school to get the support. And when I offered it, they were like – fabulous!” – Limor
Observing and offering new insights
Sometimes an external professional can observe your child at school, and give you and the school new insights into their needs, or the underlying cause for some aspect of school that your child is struggling with:
“I was concerned about Patrick’s wellbeing at home and at school, and I engaged a particular services in behaviour support. And that professional also happened to have been a school teacher, and she was quite happy to go to the school, and observe Patrick’s experience in the classroom, in ways that as a mum I might not have an opportunity to.
She could share with me, ‘He seems really anxious at this time,’ or, ‘It seems a reasonable request that he has a pen and paper available in every room, if he forgets’. It really did help to define that actually he’s not so good at essays, so let’s put in place questions and answers, and let’s just simplify some of the ways that the work is being expected of him. These were things that supported me in asking for certain next steps, at our next student support group meeting. And those things did help.” – Tania
A team approach – and more support for you
Sometimes you might seek specialist input when you have particular issues to resolve. For some parents and carers, working closely with their child’s therapists is central to their approach in the long term.
Mel and Anthony take an explicit ‘team’ approach to planning their children’s learning and supports. They ask the school and their children’s therapists to work together, in consultation with them, and have found this to be a very successful approach.
“No school is perfect. But the way the occupational therapist has worked in with the assistant principal in particular, and the principal, has been fantastic. For example, when Mel or I vent to the occupational therapist, she can then translate that into professional-speak [and] the point made to the principal or the teacher. And we get away from a lot of those issues, where, ‘Oh, you’re just the annoying parent, nothing’s perfect for you, we’re bending over backwards for you’.
You’re always going to have teachers that get it, and you’re always going to have teachers that don’t. And we’re all individuals, we’re all human. So its unrealistic to expect that you’re going to get perfect relationships with every teacher you have. But if you can get that respectful working relationship between our support team and the management of the school, that’s where we have the success.”
Involving therapists or other specialists in a ‘team’ approach might also mean ensuring that they can speak to each other and share information about your child’s needs, when appropriate. As your child’s parent or carer, your permission must be sought for information to be shared:
“I think having the specialists around – if you’ve got lots of people involved, its important to have written documentation, a conversation over the telephone. Give your permission for these people to share that information amongst themselves. I think that’s important.” – Rhonda
- Read more about information sharing and confidentiality in Education planning for your child.
Raising the idea
If your child is in a mainstream school where staff might have not have much experience of getting specialist input, it might feel a bit daunting to suggest it. Staff might feel concerned that their teaching skills will be criticised, or that a therapist might make suggestions that are difficult to incorporate in a busy classroom.
However, many strategies that therapists suggest are quite straightforward, or simple to manage once introduced. In addition, adjustments that help your child – such as a visual timetable, sensory support tools or a quiet space – can often also help their classmates, including any with undiagnosed additional needs. When students’ additional needs are met, often behaviours that can be challenging for teachers will settle down, benefiting the whole class.
“I think perhaps this might not have been entirely comfortable for the school. But they were open to it, and I really appreciated that. My take was to be very gentle about about whether it was about school or not. . To share that, ‘I’ve got this fabulous person working with me at home to support Patrick’s behaviours, and I’d really love it if she could have that insight about how he’s doing at school too. Would it be okay if she comes and sits in a class, and sees how he’s travelling? And perhaps she might have some insight for you about things that could make the classroom easier, and help the teacher that way as well.’” – Tania
If your child is in a specialist school, staff might feel that they already have the expertise to meet your child’s needs without further input. Do not be put off. If you feel that your child’s needs could be better met, you have every right to raise that, and to suggest resources that could assist, including input from other specialists.
If your child is already seeing a therapist, you could talk with them about how best to raise the idea; they might be able to help, for example by writing a letter or getting in touch with the teacher directly. A support person or advocate can also help to describe the benefits of expert input, or you could suggest that the teacher look at Learning Together or our Inclusive Classroom School Resource on this website.