During a child or young person’s involvement with the education system there are three key transition points that involve considerable change, and often significant stress.
The first two revolve around the shift from pre-school to primary school, and then primary school to secondary school. A child’s school or schools and the health system can play a key role in helping support them and their family through these periods. The SchoolKit Clinic model can be an invaluable tool to help facilitate the process as smoothly and comfortably as possible.
Of course, the third major transition point in a young person’s life, so far as their engagement with the education and health systems goes, is the transition from school to adulthood and the shift to post-school life and adult (rather than paediatric) health services. As this is such a major turning point for both the young person and their family, and involves such a significant shift in the way care and support is provided to them, a different style of clinic is required – the SchoolKit Transition Clinic. For more about the transition to post-school life go to Shifting to Adult Services.
Planning for Change
SchoolKit Clinics held during periods of change focus on developing a transition plan. This plan is not so much about addressing specific medical or behavioural issues but about establishing what actions need to be taken to ensure everything is set up properly to best meet the needs of the young person and their family.
These clinics are also about supporting the young person and their family through the process of preparing for change, living through it and settling into new patterns afterwards.
There are a number of different options available when it comes to choosing a school for a child with disability. This can be a stressful time for children and families as the child starts school and the level of support that the child requires for optimal learning and development in the school environment is determined.
In the year before school (or prior to this), the preschool-aged child with special needs is usually assessed by psychologists or developmental assessment teams, often using formal tools to assess cognitive and adaptive functioning in an attempt to direct the child and family to the most appropriate schooling setting (i.e. special school, support class in a mainstream school, or mainstream classroom).
There are a number of factors to consider in this process, including physical access, equipment required, safety and health care support. Also important to consider are the means by which additional learning supports will be made available – will these already be available at the child’s school or will extra supports be required? Who will supply them? How will these be funded? This process requires thorough planning, communication and handover of assessments. It needs to be adequately and efficiently resourced and to draw on the widest possible pool of knowledge and experience.
A SchoolKit Clinic can play a vital role in the process of starting school. At a school for specific purposes the clinic is an excellent way of introducing a new student and family to the school and is useful in getting to know the child and family and their needs. At a mainstream school where a child is being introduced into a support class, or into a mainstream classroom, a clinic assists school staff in clarifying how they will be able to best meet the particular needs and requirements of the child.
SchoolKit Clinics in mainstream schools can create an ideal forum to involve a school principal or teacher from a school for specific purposes to draw upon their extensive knowledge, experience and expertise so as to get things right from the start. Likewise, the involvement of health and medical specialists and professionals at this early stage can ensure that all physical and psychosocial factors have been properly considered and understood.
Above all, a SchoolKit Clinic lays the groundwork for building a positive, constructive and supportive relationship between a child, their family, the school and the health specialists who will continue to support them as their child grows. It can allay fears, calm anxieties and go a huge distance towards building trust.
Moving from primary school to secondary school is often a stressful time as a young person may move from a safe, familiar environment with a regular teacher, to a seemingly impersonal secondary school environment that feels more difficult to navigate.
Different options are available. The contrast may feel very stark when a young person is transitioning to a mainstream school (where the challenges of moving from class to class, having different teachers and increasing social demands are apparent). This contrast will feel less extreme in schools for specific purposes who cater for kindergarten to year 12, but will still involve a significant shift.
Puberty usually commences around this time too, which adds an extra element of complexity to this transition point, as many young people with disability become more anxious with change. There are also other changes involved in the adolescent period – particularly a young person’s developing identity and independence – which can be complex to manage.
A detailed transition plan is required, particularly one which considers the child’s needs and ensures that adequate communication channels are put in place from the outset (particularly if there are many teachers involved). Physical access, equipment and whatever health care support may be required also need to be considered and addressed in the transition plan.
A SchoolKit Clinic facilitates this planning, and also addresses the various puberty and adolescent issues that may come up. The plan is multidisciplinary, and is developed and implemented through a partnership of parents or carers, school staff and whatever health specialists and professionals should best be involved.
It may be useful to hold a clinic at a child’s primary school so as to prepare, in advance for the transition to high school, or at the high school as the child begins there. In either case, involving staff from both schools will play a key part in ensuring the smoothest and most effective possible hand-over.
In a mainstream school this may be an ideal opportunity to involve a senior staff member from a school for specific purposes who can provide expert, specialist advice which will almost certainly prove invaluable to all.