Evelyn is in Year 7 at a metropolitan secondary school. Evelyn moved from a small country town at the start of Year 7, as there was no local secondary school. Evelyn’s primary report card states that ‘Evelyn is hard-working and high-achieving across key learning areas and is able to work independently when she understands the task. At school, Evelyn is quiet and follows instructions’.
Despite not yet receiving a formal diagnosis, Evelyn has experienced anxiety during primary school and has accessed a range of supports and adjustments. Evelyn sees a psychologist outside of school who plans to complete further assessments to determine whether Evelyn meets criteria for a formal diagnosis. At Evelyn’s secondary school enrolment meeting, her parents shared this history and relevant school documentation, including her individualised plan. At home, Evelyn’s parents have strategies in place to support her needs, however, she often becomes overwhelmed and experiences significant periods of emotional distress resulting in challenging behaviours. During her enrolment meeting, Evelyn told the Principal that she finds it challenging to communicate verbally with unfamiliar peers and adults. To increase her confidence before starting at the school, the high school negotiated with Evelyn an opportunity for her to meet her teachers individually on student-free days. During these meetings, Evelyn told her teachers she was worried about meeting new students. Her teachers outlined some of the activities that would happen during the first week that would allow students to get to know one another.
According to the information shared through the enrolment process, the secondary school imputed a disability based on the identification of Evelyn's needs, the functional impact of these needs at school, and supporting documentation and evidence. To support Evelyn's reported anxiety, the school implemented adjustments at the ‘universal’, ‘targeted’ and ‘intensive’ levels of support.
The school implements a homeroom program once per week for every year level where they focus on social and emotional skills, for example, teaching specific values such as kindness and empathy. During these homeroom lessons, Evelyn told her teacher that she usually avoids social activities with same-age peers. During these lessons, her homeroom teacher observed that Evelyn takes verbal instructions literally and finds it difficult to understand jokes, slang and plays on words. Evelyn’s homeroom teacher consulted with the learning support leaders about how to support Evelyn. The learning support teacher spoke with Evelyn’s English teacher, who then moved a planned unit of work from the ‘Language for Interaction’ strand of the curriculum to the start of Year 7. The unit explores styles of speech and idiom, and the teacher adjusted the unit to include a range of collaborative learning activities to allow Evelyn an opportunity to build peer relationships. The teacher initially partnered Evelyn with a peer who Evelyn had indicated she liked to work with, as well as one unfamiliar peer.
Throughout the term, Evelyn’s teachers have found that she learns new concepts rapidly, is able to make interesting connections between ideas and, when feeling confident, can communicate quite complex concepts in original ways. Evelyn’s teachers met with her, her parents, and her psychologist and, with Evelyn’s agreement, adjusted her curriculum so that she feels challenged academically. In mathematics this includes less drill and practice activities to allow Evelyn more time to work on abstract mathematical concepts. In her humanities subject, the Year 7 teachers are providing ‘tiered assignments’ that allow learners to complete assessments at different levels of difficulty. During this meeting, the school’s learning support leader asked the psychologist to assess whether Evelyn may be a gifted learner with disability.
Evelyn works to a high standard in class but has been leaving school at lunchtime due to complaints of feeling sick. This is occurring, on average, once a week. Evelyn’s school has tracked data on the days Evelyn leaves early and has noticed that it is usually on days where she has drama after lunch. Evelyn spoke with the school’s learning support leader and said that she finds the drama lessons overwhelming as they are required to work with unfamiliar peers, as they swap partners regularly. The learning support teacher met with the drama teacher who agreed to minimise asking Evelyn to work with unfamiliar peers and to allow Evelyn to choose her partner.
The drama teacher also advised that they have been providing a visual schedule at the start of lessons that outlines what activities will occur each day. The learning support leader suggested the visual schedule could be amended to show who Evelyn will work with each day, and for how long they will work together. The learning support leader then discussed these strategies with Evelyn, who agreed that they would help, but she also indicated she would like to speak to the school counsellor to get some advice on how she can manage her anxiety at school.
Throughout primary school Evelyn received individual support from an education assistant to help her implement strategies to manage her anxiety in class. This support helped Evelyn, but during her enrolment meeting Evelyn said that she was better able to manage her anxiety and did not want to receive individual support from an assistant. The school explained that for any student feeling overwhelmed or needing assistance, they have an alternative learning space where students can go to ask for assistance. All teachers keep a ‘timeout card’ on their desk, and if students require a break or assistance they can use the timeout card to go to the alternative learning space. Upon arrival, the staff working in the space check in with the student as to why they needed to leave their classroom, and then provide support to the student. This alternative learning space is also open at the beginning of the day for students with an individualised learning plan (ILP) to drop in if they feel the need. Evelyn has the option to check in with the learning support staff for help to plan her day ahead and identify any periods that she may be feeling worried about. This planning may include 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 needs to use her noise-cancelling earphones. However, there have been times where Evelyn has used the visual timeout card when she has needed to regulate her emotions or when she has felt overwhelmed or overstimulated by noise or the content being discussed in a larger class. Evelyn reports that the alternative learning space feels comfortable for her when she is feeling overwhelmed. 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 usually does some calming activities, completes work independently, or receives assistance from a staff member.
On a weekly basis, Evelyn shares her feedback with her learning support case manager and they discuss her progress, what may have triggered her anxiety and how adjustments might be refined to better support her needs. The learning support team analyses this data to share with teachers at fortnightly staff meetings and offers suggestions on how to minimise sensory and cognitive overload in their classrooms. Their findings are also shared with Evelyn and her parents. Professional learning is provided to teachers based on the data collected from students who use these alternative spaces. This includes advice on adjustments that could be made in the classroom setting to minimise stress and anxiety.
Evelyn, like all Year 7 students, 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. This is a universal support strategy taught by the Year 7 homeroom teachers during the homeroom period in the first week of school. Particular focus and support to implement this strategy is provided for students who have executive functioning (organisational) difficulties.
During recess and lunchtime, Evelyn avoids the playground and instead uses the school’s alternative quiet lunchtime space. This is a room for students to do puzzles or play quiet games under the supervision of a staff member. The school runs an after-school interschool sports program once a week. All students are expected to take part in this program. However, a number of students do not participate in this program for a range of reasons, so the school also offers an alternative program. The learning support leader discussed this program with Evelyn and her parents at transition, as Evelyn had indicated at that meeting that team sports exacerbate her anxiety. The alternative ‘recreation’ program is designed to encourage social interaction in a less overwhelming and competitive environment and enable students to select from a variety of e-sports, games and activities that focus on fun and participation in a small-group setting.
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 strengths she has in learning, the barriers she encounters at school, along with the adjustments being implemented to support her access and participation in all areas of schooling, including the adjustments to provide academic extension.
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 an increase in anxiety, an increase in use of the alternative learning centre, accessing the sick bay more frequently or increased emotions at home. Evelyn’s student profile is reviewed at least once a semester, in consultation with Evelyn, her parents and relevant school staff, or earlier if the need arises.
Evelyn relies on the adjustments documented above 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 classroom environment.