Research shows that support during the early years of childhood improves outcomes for children with disability. After all, the early childhood years lay the foundation for all future development.
However, navigating the complexities that come with educating these students is no easy task for schools. A lack of specialist teachers trained has only compounded the issue, which say has reached “crisis levels”.
A national survey by Children and Young People with Disability Australia (CYDA) found that more than 56% of students with disabilities had experienced bullying over a 12-month period.
So what can schools do to address this issue?
David Roy, a senior lecturer of education at the University of Newcastle who is a staunch advocate of children with a disability, says an important starting point for educators is to avoid the stigma that is often associated with these students.
“First and foremost to consider when any teacher or school is educating and supporting children with a disability is that they are children first and they just happen to have a difference that can create challenges to them across all aspects of society,” Roy told The Educator.
“Schools should be there to create opportunities for learning, but until we start to be truly inclusive for all children their fundamental principle is not being applied.”
Roy said that while all children have learning needs and challenges, they also have strengths and positives. Because of this, says Roy, the goal of educators is to support the needs – whatever the label or lack of – of these students and encourage them to develop their strengths.
“Teachers do not get paid to educate some children in the classroom, but all. Teaching is a challenging job and school leadership and system leaders need to support all staff, as those staff in turn support all children,” he said.
“If a school or system cannot support a child, then it is the leadership of that school or system that maybe needs to change.”
Roy said that if an educator sees a child as a problem, they will fulfil that expectation.
“However, if you see a child as a benefit, they will also fulfil that expectation,” he said.
Help is at hand
For educators who are seeking to improve their support for children with a disability, Roy said there are a number of helpful options.
“Educators can speak to colleagues whom have found success, and use social media, such as Twitter, for advice,” he said.
“Another support that educators can utilise is seeking school and system support through the NCCD funding, which does not require ‘medical deficit’ reports.”
Roy said educators can also use the expertise of the parents and carers who “know the strengths and challenges of a child more than anyone”.
“Most importantly speak to the child. Show you care, show you understand, and if the child is able – ask them for advice on how to best support them. You may be amazed,” he said.
“Children with and without disabilities amaze me every day.”
The Educator Leaders Summit, being held at Dockside Sydney on Friday 17 August, will explore how schools can improve their support for children with a disability.
One of the summit’s legal streams includes a panel on managing discrimination in education where principals will be shown practical case studies involving students with challenging behaviour and disabilities.