What are disabilities and developmental challenges?

Childhood disabilities and developmental challenges include mobility challenges (such as difficulty or inability to walk), thinking skills and/or behaviour challenges (e.g. intellectual disability, attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorder), and sensory difficulties (e.g. vision/hearing loss).

Many disabilities will be identified by the time a child attends primary school. This might include more noticeable disabilities such as cerebral palsy, blind and low vision, Deaf, deaf and hard of hearing, physical disability or communication and language disorders. Others may be more difficult to identify before school, or the symptoms might not be obvious until a child is within the school environment. For example, some children with more severe autism are diagnosed before they begin school. Other children with milder challenges may not show clear signs of autism until they start school. Signs might not show until they have difficulties making friends or coping with the daily changes that occur at school. Some of the common developmental challenges or disabilities that may not be recognised until a child is in primary school include:

  • Autism
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder
  • Oppositional defiant disorder
  • Anxiety
  • Intellectual disability
  • Specific learning disabilities (reading, mathematics, writing)

What are some of the signs?

As a parent you are often the first to notice a challenge with your child’s development or behaviour. If you notice an area where your child has a challenge, you can get help.

It’s important to consider your child’s age when understanding if they might need extra support, as many behaviours (for example, challenges sitting still or needing support to make friends ) are common in younger children and might be a usual part of development.

A child may need additional support if some of the following signs are present and affecting their learning, mood, participation, and/or ability to make and keep friends:

  • Low mood or irritability
  • Decrease in their participation in school and/or social activities
  • Difficulty playing or talking with other students
  • Many more challenges with reading, writing or mathematics in comparison to their peers
  • Frequent stomach aches, a racing heart or other physiological symptoms (with no known medical cause)
  • Frequent temper tantrums or meltdowns
  • Struggle with schoolwork finding it much more difficult to understand than their peers
  • Struggle completing schoolwork due to being distracted or unable to sit still
  • Limited, intense or immature interests
  • Avoidance of specific situations such as going to school, social events, school concerts or physical education
  • Refusal to follow requests or instructions
  • Trouble with motor skills like handwriting, ball games or running

How to seek help

If you think your child might need some extra support you can talk to your general practitioner, your child’s teacher or the school guidance counsellor.

Your general practitioner might refer you to a paediatrician or allied health staff such as a psychologist, speech pathologist or occupational therapist. Most schools can organise assessments or support with psychologists or speech pathologists.

Schools plan for meeting diverse student needs using their budgets. Where appropriate, schools will organise applications for additional funding for individual children, and they will work with you to do this.

An individual education plan may also be helpful. This is a plan with strategies to address the specific needs of your child at school, including schoolwork and behaviour. Talk to your teacher to find out more.