For children with disability leaving their parents full time care or day-care and into schooling, it’s a big change that may require extra support. For some kids, the goal is to attend a regular school rather than a special needs school, whereas for others, the focus is to make friends and get a great education. 

No matter your goals, there are many decisions for parents of kids with disability to make. We’ve asked one of our Occupational Therapists to weigh in on the big decisions to provide guidance when it comes to starting school. 


Wondering if your child should attend mainstream schooling or a special needs school? 

There is no straight answer for this question as every child deserves their unique needs and challenges to be considered. Each child needs to be assessed, and the pros and cons of each option will be discussed with the parents, who usually visit the schools and make a choice based on what they think would be the most appropriate for their child.  

What we usually see is that children who require more flexibility, both on school/learning routines, adaptations of the curriculum, more 1:1 support, including physical assistance for self-care activities, end up going to special schools.  

For parents weighing up these options, please remember that there is no good or bad choice. What is important is for schools to give as much information as possible so yourself or your loved ones can make informed decisions. 


How can I help my child become school ready? 

Transitioning to school is a big change, but there a few ways to help you child adapt before their first day. 

Increasing Time Spent in Activities at The Table 

To help your child adjust to being sat at a desk for extended periods of time, increasing the amount of time spent at the table at home is a great starting point. Whether it be working on puzzles, painting, drawing, or engaging in turn-taking games, it all works to build the time spent. I suggest incorporating some movement breaks, and also don’t force your child to stay at the table if they are not interested. If they want to do the activity given, it will be easier for them to accept and enjoy their time spent at the table. Forcing them can generate the opposite outcome and the child can start avoiding tabletop activities.  

To stay longer completing tabletop activities, children also require strength on muscles that support our posture. Animal walks can be a fun activity to help with that.   

Improving Fine Motor Skills 

Fine motor skills are important for kids to gain the skills they need to succeed at school. A way to improve their readiness is to incorporate fun activities that utilise fine motor skills. This can include lego, playdough, threading beads, colouring, cutting and pasting.  

Communication Gaps 

Your child has unique needs, and being able to express their wants and needs is an important asset for a child to have when starting school. Working with your child to talk to people about how their feeling is a great exercise, and that way if something is wrong or your child is hurt, they are able to speak up.  

A challenge for some kids is being able to understand and action instructions. If their teacher is asking them to do something, are they able to interpret the meaning and complete the instruction? This skill will make a difference at school, and can be worked on at home.  

A general tip is that some schools recommend being toilet trained before going to school.  


I’m worried my child will struggle to make friends. What can I do? 

Every parent wants their kid to be happy and to make friends at school, but for kids with disability, communication and friendship building may be a challenge.  

Pretend play can be a useful tool to better understand what is happening from the child’s point of view. Bring up topics of everyday life and encourage him/her to make the characters invite others to play together. If it’s still difficult, role model for the child using the characters.  

Exploring feelings also impacts on social skills, so it’s a good idea to explore feelings while doing pretend play and name feelings during the normal routine at home. The “I feel ___, I need ____.” statement is a good start (I feel hungry, I need to eat. I feel sad, I need a hug). This statement explores not only feeling (emotional awareness) but how to deal with them (emotional regulation). 

Playing turn-taking games also helps with social skills, as they learn to wait for their turn, being flexible.  


I am worried about being away from my child. How can I prepare myself and my kid for that change? 

Children take their time to adapt being apart from their parents, and so do parents. It’s expected to feel worried and anxious, so that’s important to choose a school you trust.  

Being at school can be challenging, but it is also where we make friends and feel we belong to a group besides the family. It will build their social skills, their capacity to adapt to changes, and learn skills they will use for the rest of their lives. 

Although it is a big transition at first, being away from a loved one is something we get used to, and can often be a great change.  

I believe the biggest challenge when starting school for kids with disability is the change in the routine. They are used to a small group of children, different types of activities. When they go to school, the routine changes, the group of children is usually larger, and they are required to do more tabletop activities and attention, concentration, and ability to sit still for longer periods can be a challenge.  

We’re here to lend a hand in life’s big moments

Occupational Therapists can help with changes in routine and school readiness, offering a range of activities to look at and stimulate emotional awareness and emotional regulation, social skills, fine and gross motor skills, handwriting, communication, problem-solving and address sensory processing differences which can impact on children’s ability to thrive at school. If unsure, you can be assessed by an Occupational Therapist, and we can put a plan in place to ensure your child will be ready and excel in their chosen school.