Therapists and other specialists provide valuable input into planning the learning and supports of many students with disabilities.
On this page:
- The value of specialist input
- Incorporating therapy into your child’s learning
- Where to get specialist input
The value of specialist input
The learning and support needs of students with a disability can vary enormously, even for those with a similar diagnosis. Thus, even if your child’s teacher has had training or significant experience in teaching students with disabilities (and many have not), advice from a therapist or other specialist can often help them better understand and meet your child’s individual needs, at this particular point in their development and learning journey.
A therapist may:
- Visit the school and observe how your child learns and interacts in the classroom or other learning environments
- Work directly with your child and school staff in the classroom and beyond
- Attend your child’s SSG meeting with you, to discuss your child’s needs, give advice about modifications to the learning environment and the curriculum, or contribute to support plans for your child’s personal care, behaviour support or safety.
Many parents or carers collect useful materials from specialists over time – such as reports or lists of strategies for supporting their child’s learning – and give a copy to their child’s teachers each school year. Some find it useful to summarise these ideas and key information into a document such as an ‘educational needs summary’.
Transition reports – documents that summarise your child’s needs, strengths and helpful strategies to support their learning – contain similar information, and are important to supporting a successful move from one education environment to another.
- Download an educational needs summary template from our tools and resources section
- Read more about planning for the transition from kindergarten to primary, and primary to secondary in the section Education planning for your child.
- Read tips from other families about getting therapist input, including raising the idea with the school, in the section Building a partnership with school.
“[We had] the help of a paediatric occupational therapist that we brought into the school. Because of the other issues we were having [the OT] was able to do a staff professional development with them. Interestingly enough, the OT set the bar really high and requested they have a mini gym set up, and all sorts of other things. We got the addition of a quiet space really easily then, because that was really simple! It was very clever, how that was done.” – Denise
Incorporating therapy into your child’s learning
Just as a therapist can advise on strategies to support your child’s learning at school, their classroom can also provide important support for their therapy. Although teachers are not expected to be therapists, there might be many aspects of your child’s therapy that can be incorporated into their learning and everyday life at school.
Indeed, this is very important to the long-term success of many types of therapy; rather than just ‘doing therapy’ in one hour-long session per week or fortnight, many therapists will work with you, your child’s teacher, your child’s education support worker (aide) and other adults who care for your child, in order to incorporate therapeutic activities into your child’s everyday activities, at home and at school.
Many therapists will work with you and your child to set goals for their therapy based on everyday activities, including those that happen at school.
- an occupational therapist might suggest specialist seating, a sloped writing board and pencil grips to optimise the student’s positioning for writing
- a speech pathologist might recommend an alternative communication system for a non-verbal student, or suggest ways the teacher or aide could help a student to build their verbal communications skills
- a physiotherapist might advise on everyday activities in class or in physical education sessions, to build gross or fine motor skills
- a psychologist might advise on strategies to help a student to feel comfortable in the classroom or playground, or to build positive social relationships and make friends.
Where to get specialist input
Your child might be seeing one or more therapists outside of school, perhaps supported by funding through the Department of Health and Human Services, the NDIS (if you are in a trial area) or a Medicare mental health plan (see your GP for a referral). Some specialist schools have therapists on staff. A number of specialists are available through DET’s Student Support Services Officer (SSSO) Program, including educational psychologists, speech therapists, social workers, visiting teachers and autism consultants.
- Read more about DET specialist staff, services and programs
- Find a therapist in our Through the Maze resource, our guide to the disability support system
If your child needs professional support not offered by the SSSO program (such as occupational therapy) – or if the availability of SSSOs is limited – you can discuss with your child’s Student Support Group the possibility of purchasing that professional support through a private provider. If a number of children at the school need occupational therapy, it may be possible for an occupational therapist to see all the children on the same day and to negotiate a reduced fee, or two or three children could be seen together in a group session if they have similar needs.
A number of disability organisations offer specialist consultation, information or training to mainstream schools – including the Victorian Deaf Education Institute, Amaze, Down Syndrome Victoria – as do some specialist schools.