Your staff will need to have:
- training or professional development to build their skills and confidence to work with children with complex disability
- the right staffing mix at sessions, such as staff with general OSHC skills and staff skilled in providing specific support for children with disability
- specialised equipment to provide medical or personal care, or to help hold activities (such as hoists, sensory toys or stabilised cookware)
- children's individual support plans so they understand how to support the child.
How to support the other children
Have open conversations with the children at your service. Children are naturally curious and will most likely ask questions about others. It's important to provide a safe, open and respectful space where children can ask these questions – this is a learning opportunity for them.
Staff can explain that a child with a complex disability may have diverse needs and that the other children can help them to take part in the activities and play with others.
They can remind a child it is OK if they make a mistake or say the wrong thing – this can happen from time to time, and the best thing they can do is apologise and think about what they can do differently next time.
Staff can help with the first few interactions. After some practice and experience, the children will feel more comfortable understanding the best way to communicate with each other.
Sometimes, when playing with another child, a child with a complex disability may show concerning behaviour (explored in Learning module 4: Positive behaviour support).
Your staff can explain to the other children the reasons why the child displays these behaviours, what might trigger their behaviours (for example, losing a game or becoming overwhelmed by loud noises) and how they should respond to keep themselves and the other child safe.
Staff can encourage the other children to:
- remain calm (the situation will only get harder if they also get angry, upset or violent)
- let the child know they don't like what they are doing and ask them to stop
- walk away so that both children can take a break
- let an educator know what is happening so they can step into the situation and help.
Case study: Communicating with Shiloh and Meiling
Shiloh and Meiling have recently started at a new OSHC service. Shiloh has a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder and does not communicate using speech. She understands some verbal information and visuals and communicates using gestures, visuals and the communication program on her tablet
Meiling has cerebral palsy and communicates through a combination of minimal speech and a communication book.
The staff knew the other children had never met someone who communicates in different ways. They wanted to prepare the other children to understand how Meiling and Shiloh communicate, so they would feel confident interacting with them.
They held an activity where the children practised using communication books and visual communication boards with each other. They also did a small demonstration of the communication program that Shiloh uses to run text into speech – the children thought it was really cool that Shiloh talks through technology.
The staff also discussed patience with the other children. They explained it was important to be patient with Shiloh and Meiling as communication using a book or tablet could take a little longer than speaking.
Activities to help the other children be inclusive
Children are more likely to be nervous about interacting with a child with a complex disability if they are unsure of what to do.
Look for opportunities to recognise and celebrate when children show inclusive attitudes and behaviours – positive reinforcement will encourage them to be inclusive.
Here are some activity ideas that will help the other children feel prepared to interact with children with complex disabilities:
- provide the children with situations and get them to have a go at acting out 'what to do' and 'what not to do'. For example: 'do ask the child if they want to join in your game', 'do ask for their permission when offering to help them with something, 'don't yell at them if they are getting frustrated and throwing toys'
- write and read short stories that describe social situations that children may find themselves in, and the positive behaviours they should use in these situations. Plan an activity where children write and share their own stories about including others with disabilities. Read children's books about disability at storytime
- invite the parents or carers of a child with a complex disability to visit your service and talk to the other children. They can explain what their child's disability means, what they like and don't like, and how the other children can interact with and include their children
- look for opportunities for children with and without disabilities to pair up and work together on an activity or during a game. This can help the children interact with each other and feel good by helping each other.
How you can influence the broader community
Your inclusive practices can have a ripple effect in the wider community.
Families that use your service may see their children developing values and feel more positive about living in a supportive and inclusive community. And local organisations may be influenced by your inclusive practices.
Provide your local community with easily accessible information about your service, including what you are doing to be inclusive and your capabilities and resources.
Case study: A positive partnership
OSHClusion* is an OSHC service. Its mission is to support the individual needs of children of all abilities.
Through advertisements, it makes its mission known to the community and it partners with a neighbouring day program that provides support for adults with disabilities. In an activity held once a term, the children spend time at a community garden with adults with disabilities.
This positive partnership means the children get the chance to meet other people and also take part in fun gardening activities.
Note: *OSHClusion is a fictional service used for this case study.