Students with disabilities require extra support to ensure their learning and developmental needs are met. A learning environment that emphasises inclusion and cooperation supports all children, both those with and without additional needs. Showing children how to value the differences in others and taking steps to address safety issues, such as bullying, helps students with disabilities to feel accepted and to belong. The following suggestions may also be helpful for school staff or early childhood educators.

Be informed: do your research

Knowing about how a particular disability may affect a child helps with creating an inclusive environment and meeting the child’s learning, social and developmental needs. Seek advice and support from special education services or from health professionals involved with the child, or seek resources from relevant information services that are backed up by good evidence.

Work collaboratively with parents

Working closely and respectfully with parents and carers is crucial for meeting the complex needs of children with disabilities. Collaborative involvement from parents and carers in the development of individual learning plans for children is especially beneficial. This can enhance learning outcomes and build a sense of belonging for children and their families. Take special care to ensure that parents and carers of children with disabilities know who they can contact at the school or early childhood service for help and support, and what resources are available to them and their child. Maintaining a home-communication booklet or establishing a regular time to ‘touch base’ is often very helpful for staff and educators to keep in regular contact with parents and carers and exchange vital information about the progress and wellbeing of their children.

Build strengths

Children with disabilities require a curriculum that is tailored to their needs. An individual learning plan should be created that addresses the student's needs and builds on existing strengths. Working collaboratively with the child to identify learning strengths and interests is important for building engagement in learning and matching needs. Assess what the child can do and build on it step-by-step to ensure learning is a successful experience for the child and builds up their confidence. This applies to the both the academic curriculum in school and also to development of social and emotional skills.

Promote acceptance and caring

Teaching students about acceptance begins with your own personal beliefs and demonstration of inclusive behaviour in the classroom. Promote respect and inclusion by acknowledging that we are all ‘differently abled’, and through emphasising cooperative and caring relationships. When introducing a student with a disability to the class, the focus should be on the whole student and their strengths and abilities, rather than highlighting their disability.

Provide opportunities for social support

Social relationships can be difficult for children with disabilities. Provide structured support through teaching social and emotional skills. Setting up a buddy system, or providing for peer tutoring in structured classroom activities, are examples of strategies that can be particularly beneficial for children with disabilities and for promoting cooperation and caring with all children.

Provide opportunities for active participation in a school or early childhood service

Children with disabilities need to be able to participate in everyday activities along with their peers. Adaptations to teaching methods, curriculum and the physical environment in the classroom and playground may be required. Extra support staff may be needed so that students with disabilities can participate in any excursions.

The Department of Education website for your state or territory provides policy information and practical guidelines for teaching and supporting students with disabilities at school.

Further suggestions

  • Become informed about the needs of the children at your school or service by seeking out and sharing information.
  • Work with families and health professionals to implement strategies that support children’s development and wellbeing.
  • Build on children’s and families’ strengths.
  • Promote accepting and caring attitudes in your school or service, including relationships among children.
  • Provide opportunities for families to socialise with others at the school or ECEC service and build connections (eg hold a morning tea for parents and carers, or a lunch so families can get to know each other, invite parents and carers into your service to help support children’s learning).
  • Recognise that the needs of all children and families will be different and will also change over time.
  • Provide regular feedback to families regarding their child’s achievements, in addition to highlighting goals and areas of support.

See also:

Additional needs and mental health in early childhood

Additional needs and mental health in the primary years

Additional needs: Suggestions for families

Additional needs: Further resources