How preschool can support your child with disability

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Preschool, also known as kindergarten, is a crucial time of early learning for children aged four to six.

Key points

  • Preschool can give a child the opportunity to learn social, physical and academic skills

  • Children with disability can be supported to get the most out of their preschool or kindergarten learning possible

  • Different programs and supports are offered in different States and Territories

For children with disability the right supports during this stage of schooling can set them up well for a happy and healthy life.

Preschool can also prepare children for primary school and often programs are linked to a specific school so that there is some continuity in your child’s education.

Benefits of preschool

While it is not compulsory for children to start formal schooling in Australia until the age of six, attending preschool from the age of four can give children the start they need with their education.

Children usually attend preschool for 15 hours a week, 40 weeks a year.

The benefits of preschool for a child with disability can include:

  • Spending time with other children their age, making friends

  • Learning social skills from early childhood educators, teachers, staff and other children

  • A structured program of learning

  • Getting used to attending a learning centre in preparation for when they start school

  • Meeting and interacting with adults outside their family

  • Going on outings and participating in activities in the community

  • Learning the beginnings of skills like mathematics, reading and writing

  • Developing fine and gross motor skills through play

  • Identifying strengths which they can build on in further education

Across Australia there are programs available to support children with a disability in mainstream preschools, as well as the option of preschools which specialise in teaching children with disability.

Support in mainstream preschools

Many preschools, kindergartens and community centres provide mainstream programs that can be adapted to support students with disability to learn in a way that suits them.

For example, in South Australia children enrolled at their local preschool who have developmental delay, physical disability, hearing impairment, vision impairment, autism spectrum disorder, a speech or language impairment or significant challenging behaviours are eligible for support.

In Victoria, the Kindergarten Inclusion Support Program can give early childhood centres extra assistance to provide for children with disability or complex medical needs.

Queensland runs a similar program called the Kindergarten Inclusion Support Scheme.

Assistance provided through these programs could be:

  • Specialist training for educators to help them support the needs of an individual child, including how to make reasonable adjustments to the kindergarten program

  • Funding for minor building modifications like ramps and rails

  • Additional assistant staff to help educators run the kindergarten program

The preschool will also develop an individual education plan for your child’s supports based on consultation with you and other professionals who know your child’s needs, like their physiotherapist.

The education department in your State or Territory may provide other supports, such as a speech therapist or specialists to attend your child’s preschool to work with them and with staff.

There are also services separate from preschools themselves that support the development of deaf or hard of hearing children, which may be delivered at home or at your local preschool.

Specialist preschools

For children who have more complex needs – which could require more physical care, additional cognitive support or the use of complex communication systems – Governments and some independent centres offer a specialised preschool program.

In some cases speech pathologists or psychologists may refer your child to a specific preschool program, particularly speech and language focused services which will be able to meet their needs.

Bilingual preschools which teach in English and Auslan are available in some major cities, and can be attended not only by deaf children or hard of hearing children, but also children from Deaf families.

Specialist preschools are not common place and most of the support for children with disability in this age group is aimed at helping them to learn in a mainstream environment.

Enrolment of children with disability

Every Australian State and Territory has its own rules about the age of children enrolled in preschool programs.

The general rule is that children can be enrolled at the age of three, to attend from the age of four.

For children with disability who need the learning environment of preschool for longer than other children, they can often remain at kindergarten until they are six.

Talk to preschools in your area to see what can be arranged for your child.

To find preschools near you, and find out at what age you can enrol your child, click on your State or Territory below:

Are you looking into enrolling your child in preschool? Tell us in the comments below.

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