For posts on bullying, visit The Learn to be Buddies Series Blog.
All images and posts written by and copyright to Amanda Clements (nee Gray) 2009-2012 unless otherwise indicated.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Will my child be bullied? Things to consider when your child moves to high school

One of the things I hear from parents whose children are moving from primary to high school is the concern that their child will be bullied. This often has to do with the physical and social difference between the two environments as highlighted in a previous post. This includes fewer teachers to the number of students – which means less supervision, more freedom and responsibility.

What can we do?

Parents and schools can help protect children, and teach them to protect themselves, by knowing and/or developing appropriate policies and procedures, understanding bullying and helping children develop protective social networks.

Anti-bullying Standards and Policies

It is important that you explore these as they will
- define what is classified as bullying or harassment
- clarify how you and your child can report incidents of bullying
- clarify what actions can be taken in response to bullying

The Disability Standards for Education 2005

The Disability Standards for Education 2005 apply to all people with a disability involved in learning in the whole range of educational institutions Australia-wide. That is, they apply to children in pre-schools right up to University students. Part 8 of these Standards address harassment and victimisation.

It defines harassment as “an action taken in relation to the person’s disability that is reasonably likely, in all the circumstances, to humiliate, offend, intimidate or distress the person” (p22). It states that the Standards of Part 8 are not just about ensuring students with a disability are not harassed, but also their “associates” – such as friends, family, teachers etc.

Under Part 8, all schools are required to have well publicised policies and codes of conduct that identify and prohibit harassment, as well as outlining procedures for reporting bullying and responding to it in a “fair, transparent and accountable” (p23) way.

The Standards also state that schools should be implementing programs and strategies to help prevent harassment.

The NSW Department of Education Anti-Bullying Plan for Schools

This document is relevant to all children in NSW Department of Education Schools, whether they have a disability or not. Similar guidelines should be available from all State and Territory Education Department Websites.

On pages 5 and 6 it defines bullying. This includes the statement that bullying is “intentional, repeated behaviour by an individual or group of individuals that causes distress, hurt or undue pressure” and involves “abuse of power.”

It is important to recognise that your child will have conflicts with peers that may cause them some distress, but may not be classified as bullying. These conflicts will require a different approach than bullying. If you are unsure about this, talk your child and to a school representative such as the Year Advisor or Head teacher for Welfare – or even a teacher who your child knows well. They can help you get all sides of the story – which is very important to any effective conflict management or bullying situation.

Another section of particular interest in this Plan is the responsibilities outlined for students, families, schools and teachers on pages 7 and 8. For students, it includes the responsibility to “behave appropriately, respecting individual differences and diversity.” This is important for two reasons. Firstly, because children who behave inappropriately have been shown to be at increased risk of bullying (Carter, 2006) – so we need to help them learn social skills that will help them avoid this. Secondly, if our children are behaving without respect, it is very hard to ask others to respect them. Thus it is much more difficult to protect them from bullying.

The Plan suggests that the responsibilities of parents and caregivers is to “be aware of the school Anti-bullying Plan and assist their children in understanding bullying behaviour” and “support their children in developing positive responses to incidents of bullying consistent with the school Anti-bullying Plan.

This means that there is one more policy you should be aware of – the school’s discipline or anti-bullying policy. As the Plan states, each school has a responsibility to “develop and Anti-bullying Plan through consultation with parents, caregivers, students and the community, which clearly identified both the behaviours that are unacceptable and the strategies for dealing with bullying in the classroom and playground. I will discuss an example below.

The Plan states the responsibility of teachers is to “respect and support students”, “model appropriate behaviour” and “respond in an appropriate and timely manner to incidents of bullying.”

For more information on all these things, visit and

It is also important to recognise that serious harassment outside the school jurisdiction will need to be dealt with by the police or other relevant authorities. You might want to visit

Cyber-bullying is another issue that can be difficult for a school to monitor. For advice and tips on how to help your child be safe, visit and

School Anti-bullying and/or Discipline policies: Some Examples

While there will be similarities between school policies, each will be unique to the setting and culture of the school. So make sure that you get a copy of your child’s chosen high school’s policy and keep it on hand throughout their school career.

Here are some school policies you can browse.

Set up protective networks

While children going to high school are usually expected to make their own friends, we can do things to help them establish protective social networks – especially if they have disabilities.

The first thing you might be able to do is get your child involved in a club or social activity they really enjoy outside school hours. This could be anything from a swimming club, dancing lessons, chess club, footy team, Scouts, Guides… anywhere they may meet children who share similar interests and who will be attending the same high school. Your local paper or neighbourhood centre might be able to help if you need ideas.

The second thing is that the school and parents can work together during the orientation process to set up a buddy system. Connecting your child with an older, responsible student will mean they have someone to go to if they don’t want to talk to adults but can’t deal with an issue on their own. Make sure these buddies keep in contact and re-contact over the long break before school starts. You might want to set up a pen-pal or email connection.

Another effective resource is siblings, or family friends, or older children your child knows outside of school. They can also become a protective factor for your child.

Observe and Communicate

Having open communication lines with family and at least one teacher will help to ensure any distressing incidents can be dealt with effectively. Families and schools also need to be communicating effectively, with a focus on the child, in order to maintain a safe environment for the child.

Because at high school a child no longer has one primary teacher, schools usually have a representative teacher responsible for supporting each grade. These are usually called Year Advisors. Make sure you know this person, and help your child get to know them as well.

Another person to look for in your school is the Head Teacher for Welfare or Special Education. This staff member will also be responsible for the social and emotional wellbeing of the school’s students.

But just a little note – it is important to first help children try to solve their own conflicts before getting involved.

What to teach your child:

Measor and Fleetham (2005) have written a great book on the transition to high school. It is well worth the read. However, I want to focus on discussing the 5 key steps they suggest your child learn to help them “beat the bullies” – see page 77.

Step 1 – Avoid confrontation and places where you would not be supervised by a teacher. Identify where is it safe to work and play.

Step 2 - Make friends and stay with them and others with whom you feel safe. Go and find them if you are feeling worried or anxious.

Step 3 – Have strategies to deal with bullying. Parents and teachers can use the Mind Matters program or the ideas on Bullying – No Way! to help children with this. But some basic strategies to teach your child might be:
- Walk away… if that doesn’t work
- Ask them, firmly but calmly, to stop … if that doesn’t work
- Find your friends, tell them what is happening so they can help you tell the person to stop… if that doesn’t work
- Tell a teacher, and identify a safe place where you can play until the issue is resolved.

Step 4 – Make sure you recognize when you must speak to an adult. Also, don’t be a bystander. If a friend is being bullied, walk away and tell a teacher.


Carter, B.B, Spencer, V.G. (2006). The Fear Factor: Bullying and Students with Disabilities. International Journal of Special Education, 21(1), p11-24.

Measor, L and Fleetham, M. (2006) Moving to Secondary School: Advice and activities to support transition. Hawker Brownlow: Victoria

I have also written a range of posts on bullying which you can find here or by searching for bullying on my blog.



Sunday, October 25, 2009

Discussing the transition to school process with an Early Intervention Teacher

Recently I talked to Darren from the Firstchance Early Childhood Intervention Program: Transition To School group, a group which supports families of children going to school the following year. Here is our discussion.

Q: What do you do to help children and families prepare for school?

- Advise families of the schooling options.
- Support families with the application, transition and orientation process for their preferred school.
- Provide the school / DET with applicable reports for each child.
- Support families and school with support funding applications.
- Support families with exploring options for post-early intervention support through government and community based programs.
- Support children with developing skills they will most likely need for comfortable inclusion in a new educational setting - special emphasis is given to social skills, postural and fine motor skills, communication skills, emotional resilience, independence / self control and self help skills.

Q: What have you found to be the things parents find most difficult in the transition to school process?

- Confidence that their child will be ready for a new environment.
- Concern that they are moving from a closely supported environment to one they perceive to be less individually supportive.
- Concern that their child will not receive the individual support required to meet their specific learning needs.

Q: What things would you say children struggle with the most in the transition to school?

- Moving to an environment with more structure- such as rules and following other people’s agenda!
- Being part of a physically and socially larger environment.
- Having to be more independent.
- Longer hours and more days!

Q: What could a parent do at home to get their child ready for school?

- Speak positively about school.
- Provide opportunities for children to be independent in their decision making and problem solving - especially from a social perspective.
- Practise lots of sitting at a table, drawing, cutting with scissors, etc.
- Visit the school or drive past it, take photos and make a 'social story' as a book or Powerpoint presentation, practise getting dressed in their uniform (including shoes!).

Q: What would be a typical process you go through with a child/family in the transition to school?

- Co-ordinate and in-service information evening for families - attended by representatives from schools and the DET.
- Send all relevant reports and support application requests to DET.
- Meet with school staff to discuss child’s areas of need, support options, and facilitate discussion around parents’ questions or concerns.
- Provide support as needed by attending school orientations, making pictorial social stories

Q: What advice would you give parents as they think about the transition

- Get in early to explore your school options. Visit schools so you can get a feel for the environment. Talk to other parents who have children going to the school. Talk to parents in your child's preschool group - you all share the same concerns!
- Be prepared that it will take time to hear confirmation of your child's placement in a support class / special school.
- You know your child better than anyone; because of this, you make things happen. That is why things WILL work out. Be confident!


For more information about the Firstchance Early Intervention Service visit

If you want to find out about early intervention in your area, you can visit - there are "chapters" for each state who will be able to give you more information.



Saturday, October 24, 2009

Transition to school and the social skills children need

In her response to my question about what children struggle most with when they first make the transition to school, Kim said “the increased independence required, communication, social skills and attention to task skills.” I want to talk a little about the things that you can do to help your child learn these skills.


Dealing with separation

A part of going to school is learning to separate from parents and/or carers. This can cause both parents and children increased anxiety if there is no preparation for this separation (Kienig, 2002).

To help your child get used to being away from you for a part of the day the best way is to start small and slowly wean your child into spending more and more time away from you. You might start with a few hours at a relative’s home. If possible, part-time enrolment in early intervention or an inclusive pre-school setting will help.

Here are some hints about making the actual separation on the day manageable for both you and your child:

- Talk to your child in a positive way about where they are going, focusing on a specific activity that you know they enjoy, or person to whom they relate well. This may be a teacher or a student buddy.

- Try to follow the same routine every time you arrive at the new setting.

- Go to the activity and/or that person you have been talking about as part of that “settling in” routine. Make sure you have let the teacher or buddy know that this is the plan so that they can be waiting for your child.

- Don’t prolong the good-byes, even if your child is upset. And never slip out without telling them. Quickly settle them into the activity, let them know who will be there to look after them, a kiss, a hug and leave. If you have confidence and try to remain positive, it will help your child be more confident even if they initially are upset.

- Make sure you ask the teacher or aide to contact you to let you know how your child is going if you feel any anxiety. Alternately, you might ask how you can contact them to find out this information.

Sharing information is very important to ensure you can keep up with your child’s progress, even when you are not there (Newman, 2004). A great way to keep up with what is happening at school even if your child struggles to communicate with you is to use a communication book. This could be a little exercise book that travels from home to school and back again with your child. Other schools might use email. In these “books”, you, your child’s teachers and anyone else who is working with your child, can record your child’s achievements and any other information about what is happening at home and at school.

Coping skills

As Margettes (2002) states, at school children will need a level of self-confidence or a range of coping skills to help them cope with new things and unexpected events. We can start helping our child to develop these skills through a range of activities at home.

The first thing you can do is to try new things. For example, a new game, a small change in routine in your day (eg. having apple juice instead of orange juice at lunch time). For some children (such as children with Autism) you will need to warn them and then keep reminding them of the change before it happens. You may even need to have a reward – like a sticker, special activity or anything else your child enjoys – that they will receive once they have participated in the new or changed routine.

To teach coping skills you can use a range of different games. However, puzzles can be a simple way to teach children to cope with difficulties. Find some puzzles related to your child’s interest. Start with simple puzzles and work up to harder ones according to your child’s ability or achievement.

To teach your child to cope by themselves, when they are struggling to find a place for a puzzle piece, prompt and encourage them to keep trying until they find a place for the puzzle piece, and give lots of praise if they do. Try not to do it for them, though you might guide them to the right place if they are about to give up. But each time they try, help them persevere for longer.

Next, teach your child to ask for help. As your child’s skills develop, teach them to ask for your help when they need it rather than getting upset or sitting back and waiting for you to jump in. Have a question or prompt that will help them remember to do this.

For example, your child might be struggling with a puzzle piece and

is becoming agitated. You could get their attention by saying “Stop” and using the appropriate hand gesture to go with this.

Then you might point to yourself and say, “Help?” (You might learn the Makaton sign, use PECs such as Boardmaker, or download the free sign from seen below – all of which your child could use at school).

Then get your child to say it by prompting them through a gesture and/or facial expression (see previous post on teaching communication).

Don’t help until they have at least attempted to ask for help. This may mean the puzzle doesn’t get finished straight away. But keep trying. This will help your child to develop coping skills.

You can use this same procedure in every day events, such as tying shoelaces, getting dressed, opening containers etc. Waiting until your child asks for help is important as they will need to be able to do this to get teacher or peer assistance at school.


I have already discussed ways of teaching communication, and what words might be important for school. Kim also suggested similar words in her interview.

Social skills

Margetts (2002) and Dockett and Perry (2006) discuss a range of social skills important for children on entering school.


Saying and responding to “hello” (picture above from and “good-bye” are important social skills for your child to learn before going to school. These greetings can be the first step in developing friendships with peers. If you prompt and praise your child for using the “greetings” it is not just about politeness – it is about decreasing the likelihood that they will be isolated on the playground.

Joining in

I told the story of “Isaac” who struggled with this in a previous post. It is fairly common for children with communication and social difficulties to make themselves unpopular with their peers by just “barging in” to their games. At home, in early intervention and pre-school settings it will be important to start teaching your child key phrases to help them join in games without “barging in”. Insisting that your child ask before they join in what you and/or their siblings are doing is a great way to start teaching this skill. Again, remembering that if your child struggles with language, using pictures and gestures is just as effective.

Sharing, taking turns and waiting

The ability to wait for your turn and share is a significant part of cooperating with peers in the school environment. So start teaching these skills early.

Play games where there is one toy that must be shared. For example, playing ball games. You and your child sit at opposite ends of a room. Then you take turns rolling the ball to each other.

Card games, board games, party games such as pass the parcel – all are examples of ways to help your child learn to take turns and share.


Margetts (2002), Dockett and Perry (2006) and Kim highlight the importance of self-control, concentration and paying attention. Some of the games mentioned above can help with this.

Puzzles require sustained attention. Drawing and craft do as well. Reading together is another important activity to help increase your child’s ability concentrate and pay attention.

You may find that when you start, your child only pays attention for a very short period of time. But use prompts, praise and encouragement to gradually increase the length of time your child stays at a task, keeping in mind that they may be expected to work on one task for around 15 minutes at a time when they first go to school.


One of the concerns that parents often have when their child goes to school is the issue of bullying. This is often most concerning when a child is moving to high school. I have discussed bullying elsewhere, but I will write a bit more on this topic… but I will do that in a future post.

Just a final note

As Dockett and Perry (2006) state:

Encourage your child to play with and use pens, paper, paint, water, balls etc. Through play, young children learn naturally. Play activities provide opportunities for your child to explore, interact and solve problems. (p44)


Dockett, S, and Perry, B. (2006). Starting School: A Handbook for Early Childhood Educators. Pademelon Press: Castle Hill.

Kienig, A. (2002). The importance of social adjustment for future success. In H. Fabian & A. Dunnlop (Eds), Transitions in the Early Years, p23-37. Routledge Falmer: London.

Margetts, K. (2002). Planning transition programmes. In H. Fabian & A. Dunnlop (Eds), Transitions in the Early Years, p111-122. Routledge Falmer: London.

Newman, S. (2004). Stepping Out: Using Games and Activities to Help Your Child with Special Needs. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.



Monday, October 19, 2009

A family support worker speaks about the transition to school

An interview with Kim from Firstchance Strengthening Families for Stronger Kids
The notes in square brackets [ ] are my additions.

Q: What is the name of your service and what children/families does it support?

Firstchance Strengthening Families for Stronger Kids (SFSK) supports families in the Lake Macquarie area (NSW, Australia) who have a child with a diagnosed disability.

Strengthening Families for Stronger Kids provides information support, quarterly newsletters, parent training/information sessions, parent mentor/coffee mornings and access to the Firstchance Resource Library (very up to date).

Some of our events in the past that have met a group need are the Hunter Movie Club (in partnership with ASPECT and Stuart Centre), Family Camp, Siblings Group, and a Family Picnic.

Q: What do you do to help children and families prepare for school?

We can support families in the Lake Macquarie Area transition their child to school if they do not have access to any other early intervention or service that can do this.

Q: What have you found to be the things parents find most difficult in the transition to school process?

Communicating with the school: Parents can often feel daunted by the number of school staff present compared to parent/s in attendance at Transition meetings/IEP(Individual Education Plan) meetings. Parents can often feel as though they don't know enough about what they can expect the school can offer them, and this is why each term SFSK has a parent information session called "Getting the most out of your school."

Q: What things would you say children struggle with the most in the transition to school?

The increased independence required, communication, social skills and attention to task skills [such as concentration, sitting still].

Q: What could a parent do at home to get their child ready for school?

Ensure their child can communicate with other people who are not familiar with them because even though you may know what your child is telling them others may not understand them. For children with communication difficulties, consider using augmentative communication such as a key-ring with "survival" Boardmaker pictures including, but not restricted to: toilet, eat, drink, help, happy, sad, angry. [See example here]

Support your child to become more independent in putting clothes on, shoes, toileting, eating and blowing their own nose.

Support your child to be able to take turns with other children and some simple games to play with other children at recess and lunch whilst at school.

Support your child to increase their attention to task through cognitive activities they enjoy and then extending them in the activities that are less preferred. [Cognitive tasks might include playing card games, drawing, listening to stories and so on]

Q: What advice would you give parents as they think about the transition process?

Prepare early and start to think about the best environment for your child that is going to assist them reach their maximum potential.

Don't assume the school knows things about your child or have read reports, it doesn't hurt to take a copy of recent reports along to every meeting to ensure class teacher sees them.

Always take a support person to any meeting you go to at school for emotional support and to write down minutes.


Thanks so much, Kim, for your contribution. Visit to find out more about SFSK.



Saturday, October 17, 2009

Helping teachers know your child and visa versa…

One of the things Gina said in her guest blog about Mac’s transition to school was:
“First term was very much about … settling in and literally giving the teachers and aides time to ‘learn how to drive Mac’.”

This is a very significant point when we are thinking about our child’s transition either to school or to high school. As Seefeldt and Wasik (2002) explain, teachers need to get to know the unique strengths and difficulties of their students to make adaptations so they can be included effectively in the classroom. And your child needs to adjust to the new adult or adults that will be a big part of their weekdays for the next phase of their life.

This will take time.

We also need to recognise that the process may take longer and be a little more difficult if your child is transitioning to an inclusive or mainstream classroom rather than a specialist one.

A note for teachers of inclusive classrooms

Including a child with different needs into your classroom can be a challenging task. But here are some things to think about that may help with the process.

1- Collaboration and teamwork
As teachers we are often used to working alone, having full control over what happens in our classrooms. However, when we include a child with a disability we need to be ready to listen, learn and adapt. We can learn a lot from parents about a child’s likes, dislikes, abilities and communication strategies. This is essential information to help us engage the child in the classroom.

We need to be open and willing to learn from specialist staff such as support teachers and speech therapists. For example, you may have a support teacher for integration who will be helping the child make the transition to school or high school. They may have some strategies and ideas for you to incorporate into your lessons. Working with them will play a significant part in helping the inclusion process successful.

Some children will have a teacher’s aide for a certain number of hours per week. Just remember that a teacher’s aide is not a trained teacher. You still have the primary responsibility for curriculum planning and assessment for the child, in collaboration with a learning support team. A teacher’s aide is there to assist you in the day to day implementation of the program and supervision of the child.

For both teachers and parents, Who's Going to Teach My Child is a useful document to help you become familiar with different types of services. It is a document written by the NSW Department of Education.

2- Attitudes
Attitudes play a very big part in the success of inclusion because there will be challenges and the road may be a bit bumpy at first. As teachers we need to retain the following:

- a recognition that it is the right of every parent and child to choose to be educated in an inclusive environment. This is called equal opportunity. You can read more about this in part 4 (p17) of the Disability Standards for Education 2005.

- a realistic, but optimistic view of our abilities. Know what support you can get, but also know that your skills as a teacher can be used for children of all abilities so long as we have a basic understanding of the child’s unique characteristics. This might involve reading about or going to an in-service course to learn about the disability the child has been diagnosed with.

- openness to and respect for ideas and information from parents and other support staff.

- a willingness to creatively and collaboratively problem-solve. This often means prioritising – dealing with one set of difficulties at a time, taking small steps to ensure you and the child are not overwhelmed.

- a sense of humour LoL

Helping teachers get to know a new student

Butt and Cosser (2004) discuss a program established by the Derby City Special Educational Needs Support Service for children transitioning to school. One of the strategies they used to help teachers get to know students with special needs who were transitioning into their classroom was a personal passport.

They stated that these passports could be in the form of a simple notebook, or a small pocket photo album. The smaller, the better as this could mean that a teacher can carry it around and show it to all other teachers and staff who will need to interact with the child on the playground, in the library, on assembly, at the canteen and so on.

The elements of this passport included:

Child’s name and title page – a photo can ensure easy recognition by school staff as they work on the playground etc.

Important things about me – This information is important to ensure health and safety issues are addressed, or staff are aware of things that could help calm a child if they are upset.

Family and friends – again, photos might be helpful. Identifying siblings or peers attending the school who know the child is important in helping the child settle in and feel safe in their new environment.

Things that make me happy and how I show you
Things that may upset or frighten me and how I show you
What I need to help me understand what you are saying
Systems of communication
– These four elements are about understanding the triggers and functions of the child’s behaviour. For many children this is essential information to assist in preventing explosive behaviour or melt-downs. It can be a key tool in ensuring a peaceful, smooth-running day. Being able to effectively communicate with a child is essential, so we need to understand if they have different ways of communicating.

Things I am learning to do by myself
Things that are rewards for me
- knowing the student’s abilities and strengths give the teacher a starting point for working with the child. It ensures that they have realistic but high expectations for the child. It also means that they will use rewards that the child will respond to, the only really effective reward.

A profile of the child is often developed by a learning support team and presented in different formats. However, we need to ensure that the information in the profile is presented to all the people who need to know, is positive and not labelling or demeaning the child, and is easy to read.

That is perhaps why a personal passport has become so widely used in some countries/counties. It has all these characteristics. It can also be adapted for any age group (below is an example from And it is something that a teacher could do with a whole class if they wanted to do a get-to-know-you exercise to promote empathy and inclusive behaviour.

Helping a student get to know their teacher

As with the familiarisation with the physical setting, photos are one of the most effective tools to help children identify and get to know their new teachers (Butt and Cosser, 2004).

As soon as you chose a school, start developing a photo book of the important adults your child will need to get used to and trust. You might not know who your child’s teacher may be – sometimes the school doesn’t know until the final sorting of enrolments just before school starts. So start with people like the principal. Then, as soon as you find out who they are, add the child’s teacher and teacher’s aide.

If your child is going to a mainstream high school, they will need to get to know a range of teachers. One way of helping your child recognise their teachers, when they will be interacting with them etc is by using photos, folders and colour-coding.

For example, Mr Sims is your child’s Maths teacher. You have a red folder for Maths. On the child’s timetable, Maths is coloured in red. Just inside the front cover of the Maths folder, stick a small photo of Mr Sims. If your child has good literacy skills and has met the teacher before, then a photo may not be important. It may just be a matter of writing the teacher’s name inside the folder with the times and rooms where Maths occurs.

Meeting the teacher

Try to set up meetings between your child and their teacher before the school year starts. Most schools have orientation visits – but one visit may not be enough. And in many cases the Kindergarten teacher will change from year to year. So orientation visits to the classroom will help the child experience the environment, but won’t necessarily help them get to know their teacher.

So, if your child is transitioning to school, along with the photo book you should try to set up meetings between your child and their teacher before they attend school. You might ask to visit the playground when they are on playground duty. You might ask to visit their classroom, even if they are not teaching Kindergarten that year. And, hopefully, the teacher should be invited to any meetings you have with the school to discuss your child’s transition so that you can get to know them as well.

The transition to high school is a bit different due to the range of staff that might be working with your child. So it is best to find a staff member who can be a mentor for your child. For example, the year advisor. This staff member is responsible for the pastoral care of a particular grade. If, on meeting this staff member, you can see that your child is going to respond well to them, then they may be a great mentor for your child.

A teacher-mentor can be someone to whom your child can go whenever they are feeling uncomfortable. So it would be important to:

- Set up a few informal meetings between your child and the staff member before the school year starts. That staff member may be the one who helps to show the child around the school.
- If possible, supply your child with that staff member’s timetable or a way your child can find them whenever needed once school starts. For example, it may be agreed that your child goes to the front office when they need help, and the administration staff contact or help the child find the teacher-mentor. This procedure would need to be discussed and perhaps clarified in a note supplied to the staff working in the administration office.

For your information, here are the NSW DET guidelines on mentoring.

So, in conclusion, helping children get to know their teachers and visa versa is again about starting as soon as you can, using photos, sharing information and recognising that there will be a period of time that will be a bit “bumpy” as everyone gets used to each other.


Butt, A., and Cosser, C. (2004). Supporting transition: Preschool setting into first placement. In M. Blamires and J. Moore (Eds), Support Services and Mainstream Schools, p 68-77. David Fulton Publishers: London.

Seefeldt, C. and Wasik, B.A. (2002). Kindergarten: Fours and Fives go to School. Merrill Prentice Hall: Ohio



Thursday, October 15, 2009

Transitioning… what worked for Mac?

A mum’s reflection one year on – a guest blog by Gina from Inky Ed!

Mac is six years old in Kindergarten at his local school. Mac has severe CP [cerebral palsy] and significant cortical vision impairment. He has no language and little to no purposeful movement.

We had embedded Mac into mainstream day care since he was three. We were strategic in our choices of centres in the hope Mac might eventually go to school with many of the kids. And we were lucky. Mac knew 13 of the 40 children starting kindergarten. They were confident with him and not phased by his multiple, severe disabilities – he was ‘just Mac’. For some, he was also their safe haven, feeling vulnerable they would seek him out and hang onto his wheelchair until they felt better. Others were very proud to call him their friend (maybe even a little ‘superior’) as they explained about how his muscles don’t work properly and about how he drinks from a hole in his belly.

Already having a network of friends made building more relationships much easier – the other children were seeing interactions between Mac and his friends modelled naturally and constantly. In fact, at times a moderator was required to ‘manage’ the process – so keen were the kids to interact with Mac. And Mac, we he was just thrilled to be going to a ‘party called school’ every day. Some of the children he had known socially for years. They knew how to tube feed him. It was wonderful to remove the unnecessary ‘fear factor’ many adults feel about tube feeding by highlighting if they ran into any problems they could seek out one of the other five year olds who could help them out. We also knew some of these five year olds would be fabulous ‘dobbers’ if the adults were doing things “wrong” because of course they knew, as five year olds do, how to do everything.

For the actual orientation days in the year prior we paid for one of Mac’s aides from day care to attend with him. No one else was taking their parents, it allowed Mac to send the message “I’m not precious, I don’t need my Mum and Dad, I’m not sick or frail… but I do have a disability”. It was also so we could enjoy the process as the other parents do – it was nice to enjoy the ‘fleeting sense of normality’ to drop him off with a kiss on the cheek and walk away, just as everyone else did.

First term was very much about setting expectations (they should expect him there all day, every day), settling in and literally giving the teachers and aides time to ‘learn how to drive Mac’. The school were keen to learn all they could.

We worked as a team – the school had willingly admitted this was new for them, but they wanted to learn. This was refreshing to hear – at the heart of all this is attitude and an expectation that all children can learn. We are very fortunate our school staff all strive to have a ‘growth mindset’ – they want to learn as much as they want to teach.

It hasn’t always been smooth sailing, but we have kept communications lines open and every ‘negative’ has been used to learn/develop/change/shift to a positive. The key things we have found help is that as parents we need to understand the system and then help the school manoeuvre within it. The school needs to understand the process and educate the parents and share information. And teachers, well they simply need to be confident they ‘know how to educate’ and not get ‘flummoxed’ by the disability – and as parents we need to support them as best we can.

The introduction of technology, strategies to help him access his curriculum and adapted teaching techniques has been gradual and natural. We certainly aren’t completely there, but we have set a nice groundwork for future years.

Mac has recently spent a week with alternative and augmentative communication expert Rosemary Crossley. “Wow”… now we really have some goals to strive for and IEPs to ‘reset’. With her intensive focus on finding appropriate switch sites for Mac, determining how he can give consistent and purposeful answers based on auditory scanning techniques and testing his knowledge and maturity we have allowed ourselves to increase our expectations for Mac significantly.

So we will all start term four with a renewed focus. With a new ability to consistently answer ‘yes and no’ using technology rather than his more discreet ‘yes’ facial expression Rosemary believes Mac needs to access the same curriculum as the other children at the same rate. More focus will go on ensuring the curriculum is accessible to a child who is essentially blind. Less modifications (or dumbing down) will occur and Mac will essentially need to start working a little harder.

We think he will still enjoy the ‘party atmosphere’ of school… he just won’t be given as many chances to ‘get out of the hard stuff’ from here on in.

It is an exciting time for us all…


Monday, October 12, 2009

Adjusting to the new physical environment

As mentioned in the previous post, one of the key changes in any transition is the change in the physical environment. The one thing that may cause the greatest concern for us as parents or teachers in this respect is the safety of the child, especially on the playground where fences are not always “child-proof” and the out-of-bounds areas are defined by rules rather than physical boundaries.

Handley (2006) discusses some great strategies to help children learn where they can and can’t go in the physical environment at school. This is called boundary training. Some of the steps she suggests include the following:

Design visual supports

Depending on the age of your child, Handley suggests using photos, line drawings or maps of the school. These should have clearly marked boundaries.

Young children or children with more significant developmental delays are likely to better respond to photos – especially photos of themselves standing in the areas being photographed. This means that they can relate the photo to a real experience, rather than trying to use imagination to put themselves into the picture.

Colour code or sort photos of the child in different areas

To help the child understand where they can and can’t go, sort the photos accordingly. That is, take photos of the child in places they can go, and photos without the child of places where they can’t go.

Make charts with appropriate symbols to cue the child into where they can/can’t go

Handley suggests making two charts – a “I can play here” and an “I cannot play here” chart. She encourages the use of universal colour codes (red for stop, green for go) and signs (see below).

For example, your chart may look like this:

Colour-code spaces

For inside spaces, mark areas with the same symbols and colour-coding. Or, for older children, use maps of rooms and colour-code them. Different areas of a classroom may be “off-limits” at different times of the day. For example, children must stay on the mat during group time, at their desks during work time and outside during play time. Symbols on doors or on the floor can help your child identify these physical boundaries.

Make a video

This would work in a similar way as your photographs. Take videos of the child playing in different areas. Handley (2006) suggests that you say something like “This is John in the playground. This is safe” when filming in safe areas. Alternately, film the unsafe areas without the child and state “John is not allowed to play here. This is not safe.”

Laminate the “no” symbol to attach to “no go” zones. Or carry it around to help prompt the child to stay within the boundaries.

Go on orientation walks

Frequent walks around the boundaries can help the child understand and identify where they can and can’t go. Repetition and familiarity is essential. Only stop these walks when the child can identify the boundaries without any prompting.

Reward successes

Use visual rewards when the child successfully stays within the boundaries. Make sure you get to know what the child responds to – some children love stickers, others don’t. Most children have a specific interest area – use that as a basis for your rewards.

Use frequent reminders

Children can be reminded by parents as they walk in the school gates about where it is appropriate and inappropriate to go - using the symbols, photos and chart where possible. Teachers, before they send children out of the class into the playground, can remind children of the boundaries. Use the visual charts and symbols to reinforce these reminders.

But rather than always reminding the child, get them to remind you sometimes.

At home, before the school year starts:

Start familiarising your child with the symbols and colour-coding. Use the colour-coded charts to identify the areas of your home where your child cannot go. Get them involved in creating and using these so that they are used to it before they actually go to school (or high school). Colour code different spaces according to your routine to get your child used to the fact that some parts of the physical environment are only off-limits at certain times (eg. outside is off-limits after dark).

Once you have decided on what school you are going to you should have the opportunity to visit that school in the school year before starting at the school. With the school’s permission, have family outings to take photos in the school grounds, start making the colour chart at home. You could do this during the day when students are in their classrooms, then try going when the other children are on the playground – gradually getting your child used to the playground atmosphere.

Wherever possible, don’t wait until the school year starts to familiarise your child with the school’s physical environment….get in as early as you can.


Handley. E. (2006). Making Change Easier: Helping Students with an Autism Spectrum disorder prepare for change during the school day, from day to day or transition from school to school. A Guide for Parents and Schools. Autism South Australia: South Australia.

If you want more information, you might want to search for publications or books on Autism SA’s site at Your local library may be able to help you get hold of these.


Friday, October 9, 2009

Home, preschool, school, high school – what’s the difference?

I just thought I would start this month’s blog theme with a bit of a summary of the different skills that are required in the different contexts - home, preschool, school and high school. These changes can bring challenges for all children, but we need to take special care to prepare children who have disabilities for these changes as many may take a little longer to learn the skills necessary and take a little longer to adjust to the change - expecially if they have developmental delays, Autism and Down Syndrome or find it hard to learn some of the expected behavioural skills.

Just a note: Here I am focusing on the social and emotional factors, rather than academic skills such as numeracy and literacy.

The Physical environment

Children become safe in their environment as they become familiar with its layout and learn the boundaries. Parents also may have put in place structures such as closed doors, gates and so on to provide physical prompts to those boundaries.

Child Care and other pre-school environments:
The physical environment begins to grow. There will be more space, more people, and it will contain more and different equipment, lighting and noises.

The world opens up even further, especially when we begin thinking about the playground. Here the physical boundaries (ie. what is "out of bounds") may not be as easily to identified.

High school:
Moving to high school generally means attending different classes in different rooms unless the child is placed in a specialist classroom. It will mean more movement during the school day into a range of different spaces that might have different noises, smells, people and sights associated with them. The child may need extra help in learning to navigate around the larger spaces and identifying physical boundaries.

Relating to Adults

At home your child will spend most of the day with you or with a small number of familiar adults. For the most part, they do not have to adjust to the different way adults relate to them, or the different ways adults might do things.

Families with children who have disabilities will also grow to know what routines help a child cope in their environment. This means that the environment is less changeable, more predictable – especially in the context of who the child has to interact with.

Child Care and other pre-school environments:
If your child goes to child care the first thing that will happen is that they will have to learn to trust and relate to a number of different adults. Secondly, there will be more children for the number of adults available, so they will have less one on one time with adults.

Children’s services Regulations 2004 state that the teacher to child ratios should be:
1:5 for children who are under the age of 2 years,

1:8 for children who are aged 2 to 3 years of age, and
1:10 for children who are 3 or more years of age but under 6 years of age.

While good centres do focus on consistency, there will be a range of different staff in one room each day. The staff may work shift work, and some of the staff may be part-time, casual or leave the centre during your child’s time there so further new faces may be introduced. So your child needs to be able to adjust to these changes, and interact with a range of adults who may have different expectations or routines, and relate to them in different ways.

When your child goes to school, they will have one teacher in class, and a range of other teachers they will need to learn to trust and relate to on the playground. So, again, the change in the key adults in their lives will need to be considered. Further, there will be even less time that a teacher can spend with the child one to one.

According to the NSW Department of Education and Training class sizes on average so far in 2009 were:
- 19.3 for Kindergarten students;
- 21.3 for Year 1 students; and
- 22.6 for Year 2 students.

High school:
If your child is not placed in a specialist classroom, they will be taught by a range of different teachers. If your child is in a specialist classroom, they may integrate into regular classrooms for different subjects such as Personal Development, Health and Physical Education - being taught by different teachers in these classrooms.

As students move to middle school/high school, the relationship with their teachers changes. The are expected to be more independent. And because they spend much less time with individual teachers, they may form a closer, supportive relationship with only one or two of their teachers, their special education teacher, and/or their teacher’s aide.

Class sizes in high school vary depending on subjects and whether they are special education or general education, but there can be about 30 students in one classroom.

Adult-directed routines versus child-directed activities

At home you might have some set routines for meals, bathing and bed-time. You may also have some more irregular routines such as grocery shopping. But for much of the time at home there is freedom for a child to choose their own activities according to their interest.

Child Care and other pre-school environments:
The routines begin to increase. One of the times children struggle to adjust to the most is mat time, or the time where all children are expected to sit quietly and listen to a story or sing songs. This is often the first time children have experienced this type of group, adult-directed activity.

While Kindergarten or prep classes often have set free-play times, the day is full of routines. It usually starts with assembly – and lining up and being orderly with the rest of the school brings unique challenges for all children new to the situation, but especially for children who have sensory sensitivities, problems staying still, difficulties following instructions and so on.

Then the day alternates between in-class, teacher-established routines, and the relative freedom and “orderly chaos” of the playground. And all these routines are determined by the clock, rather than by the preference of the child. This makes it a big change, especially if the child is coming to school having not experienced a pre-school environment.

High school:
There are added transitions and routines in high school due to the movement from class to class. And students are expected follow the routines more independently. For example, as they move through the high school years they are increasingly expected to follow timetables and get themselves to their allotted classroom at the appropriate time.

Social interaction and rules:

Social skills and expectations that might be important in the home might include politeness, sharing with siblings and following parent instructions.

Child Care and other pre-school environments:
In these settings, children will need to use further skills that relate to communal living. For example:
- sharing and taking turns with toys and equipment
- Sitting quietly on the mat during group time, waiting for their turn to talk
- Communicating using the conventions of language, rather than eccentric language or gestures used at home

From age three children are usually starting to form friendship groups as well, which requires another set of skills including empathy as children are expected to become less egocentric.

Children are expected to become increasingly self-regulating. Some skills that they will need to learn include:
- sitting quietly and working at their desks
- sitting quietly on the mat to listen to a story
- putting their hand up to speak
- lining up and waiting
- staying in the class during lesson times
- participating in activities they are not necessarily interested in
- asking to go to the toilet

Friendship skills will also be important to help them participate more effectively in the playground.

High school:
The thing that is expected more in high school than in primary school is independence and what we might call maturity. That is, the ability to judge for themselves what might be appropriate behaviour based on where they are, who they are with and their knowledge of the social rules and consequences for their actions.

So, in short, home means fewer people, a smaller physical environment, more freedom and perhaps less social demands. School can be a tiring place as children need to practice self-control, follow routines and relate to more people - both adults and children.

Throughout this month I will try to discuss ways that you can help your child prepare for the next stage in their schooling career.


Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Ask Amanda: Oppositional Defiance Disorder

In August we talked about aggression. I shared The Dreaded Power Struggle on, a social networking site of which I am a member. A fellow member responded, saying that she had experienced a “Can you do this?”-“I’m not doing it!!” power struggle in her classroom.

Her student has oppositional defiant disorder, and she has a great system in place to help deal with the child’s difficulty following instructions. Here is her story… and her question:

“In math, the class was on the carpet for the lesson and she [the student] was lying across the floor. They [the other students] all went back to their seats for independent work, but my student sprawled across the carpet face down and refused to get up.

“So I left her a few minutes, came back over asked if she knew what she should be doing. She replies, yelling, ‘Yes and I'm not doing it!’

“I gave two options, to get up and do it at the table now, or do it during her free choice centre time. Eventually she came ... over … to my reading table at the end of the group I was working with.

“…. I started a contract this week focusing on two little goals: 1) keeping her shoes and socks on during morning meeting (she gets a sticker) and during math lesson (she gets another sticker). Goal 2) is a little more difficult but is to sit in her square on the carpet for morning meeting (sticker) and for math lesson (sticker).

“So she's working just on those two goals right now. I view it as baby steps and hopefully progress in the long run. Her parents are very supportive and have no idea what to do either. She was adopted at age 1 and of course most of what she does is learned behaviour. Thoughts?”

Firstly, I just want to encourage and commend this teacher to say that she is doing a great job. Baby steps, calmness, patience and lots of rewards (rather than focusing too much on the negative behaviour) are the essential tools in helping this child want to change their behaviour. And behaviour is likely to only change long term if the child’s wants it to change.

The behaviour contract is also important – it clearly outlines exactly what is expected, no room for misunderstandings or negotiation. This again reduces the opportunity for power struggles.

The use of tangible, immediate rewards means that she can see the connection between a specific behaviour (eg. sitting on her carpet square for morning group time) and the reward. This is very important for all children with different abilities because it gives them specific guidance about what is desirable behaviour without a “lesson” or “discussion” being involved.

The identifying of very specific behaviour attached to the reward also means that you can reward her for that behaviour even if she is displaying some other undesirable behaviours. This is an important starting point as it helps the child “get off on the right foot” so to speak. That is, it helps build their self-esteem and self-worth which can lead to more positive behaviour.

One of the most disheartening things for a child struggling with the social and behavioural demands of school is the withdrawal of a reward. For example, if you have a points system where you get 10pts for appropriate behaviour, 10pts off for inappropriate, many children with behavioural difficulties will constantly end up in the red.

For that child, it really isn’t worth trying if they expect to fail.

This also applies to the possibility that the child is struggling with Math. For example, they may feel that every time they do Math they are likely to get it wrong, or they are simply struggling to understand your directions. This may mean that they use defiant or inappropriate behaviours to avoid this possibility of failure. It may be that you need to reasses what tasks you give your child in Maths, and how you ask them to complete it (eg. cutting up a pizza to learn fractions rather than drawing lines and answering questions on paper).

The other thing I just wanted to mention is the idea of learnt vs instinctive behaviour. Learnt behaviour = behaviour children observe and mimic. Instinctive to me means that they are acting based on their own feelings.

Children who are adopted or who are in Foster care may experience a range of emotional challenges that may not be faced by children living in their birth families. Issues of loss, grief and difficulties with attachment may arise. The emotional effect of these issues may result in children (whether adopted or not) acting out, being defiant, rejecting friendships, not responding in the same way as their peers to adult attention, impulsiveness and low resilience and/or self-esteem.

However, I must stress that all children respond differently to adoption and separation, and that behavioural and emotional effects can be mitigated by the actions of parents, teachers and others supporting the family and child. But there are others who can speak with greater authority on this topic than me.

The following sites have some interesting information about how adoption or separation/divorce may affect children and what you might be able to do to prevent this.

This site has a list of other websites where you can find information and counselling relevant to adoption:

So if a child has these extra challenges, then it is even more important that we focus on expecting small improvements, rather than sweeping behaviour change. That we use calmness, patience and lots of rewards and positive interaction.

Our children are precious. All of them.


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