Evelyn is in Year 7 at a metropolitan secondary school. Although Evelyn has no formal diagnosis, her parents reported she has experienced anxiety since commencing primary school. Evelyn moved from a small country town at the start of Year 7 and had been receiving assistance from a teacher assistant throughout primary school years to help calm her down when she felt anxious. She is hard working and high achieving across key learning areas and is able to work independently when she understands the task.
Evelyn finds it challenging to communicate verbally with unfamiliar peers and adults. She takes verbal instructions literally and finds it difficult to understand jokes, slang and plays on words. She does not engage in social activities with same-age peers. Evelyn sees a psychologist outside of school who plans to complete further assessments to determine whether Evelyn will receive a formal diagnosis. Evelyn has a comprehensive individualised student profile, developed in conjunction with Evelyn and her parents, which is available to relevant staff. The profile summarises the challenges she experiences at school, along with suggested adjustments to support her learning.
At home, Evelyn’s parents have strategies in place to support her needs but she often becomes overwhelmed and has significant meltdowns. At school she is quiet and follows instructions. Evelyn works in class to a high standard but has been leaving school at lunchtime due to complaints of feeling sick. This is occurring, on average, once a week. During recess and lunchtime, Evelyn avoids the playground and instead uses the school’s alternative quiet play area. This is a room for students to do puzzles or play quiet games under the supervision of a staff member.
Evelyn uses a visual time-out card to access an alternative learning space that is staffed by a learning support teacher. There is a maximum of eight students in the room at any one time. Evelyn reports that this room feels comfortable for her when she is overwhelmed or overstimulated by noise or the content being discussed in a larger class. She accesses this area several times per week and usually stays for at least half an hour (or until the end of the period). In this setting she completes work independently or with assistance.
This area is also open at the beginning of the day for students with an individualised student profile to drop in if they feel the need. Evelyn checks in with the learning support staff if feeling overwhelmed. They assist her to plan for the day ahead and identify any periods that may be difficult. This includes having the option to sit tests in the alternative learning space with additional working time if needed.
In most classes, once the class is working independently, Evelyn uses a card with an image of headphones as a cue to indicate to her teacher she will listen to music in class to block out the noise.
Evelyn has a colour-coded timetable on her phone which she has matched with the colours of her subject folders to help her take the correct books to each lesson.
The school runs an after-school interschool sports program once a week in the local district. Evelyn attends a sport program separately from her peers as team sports exacerbate her anxiety. The ‘recreation’ program is designed to encourage social interaction in a less overwhelming and competitive environment and students in the group select from a variety of games and activities that focus on fun and participation in a small group setting. The program is supervised by the learning support teacher, with direct links to goals in each student’s individualised student profile.
Evelyn relies on these adjustments to reduce her anxiety so she can participate on the same basis as her peers. The adjustments are reviewed regularly in consultation with Evelyn and her parents to ensure they are still relevant and appropriate. The ongoing focus is to reduce the frequency and duration of her visits to alternative settings in the school so that she can build strategies to manage her anxious feelings within a mainstream environment.
The school communicates with Evelyn’s parents via email and SMS on a fortnightly basis, or when there is a particular concern from home or the school such as heightened anxiety, an increase in use of the learning centre, going to sick bay more frequently or increased meltdowns at home. Evelyn’s student profile is reviewed once a semester, in consultation with Evelyn and her parents.