Harley is a 6-year-old boy in Year 1 in a regional school in a large farming district. He has a diagnosed genetic condition known as Prader-Willi syndrome, which affects many parts of the body and often has associated behavioural implications. Harley also experiences a range of learning difficulties associated with a cognitive disability. Harley’s family runs a large farm approximately 30 minutes bus ride from the school. Harley was home-schooled by his mother for his Foundation year. He enjoys being around the animals and helping out around the farm.
Before Harley started school, and with the parent’s permission, the school support team liaised with the local health service to provide professional learning for the staff about Prader-Willi syndrome in young children. Harley’s parents also attended the session and provided the staff with information about how Harley’s behavioural needs are supported at home, for example, restricting his access to certain foods and promoting healthy eating choices.
Following a series of discussions on strategies and adjustments that would be reasonable and appropriate for the school setting, an Individual Education Plan (IEP) and a behaviour support plan were developed for Harley for Term 1 that included a gradual transition from half days to whole days over first four weeks. The plan included input from Harley’s parents, his NDIS-funded disability support providers and his medical team, with an initial plan to be reviewed after the transition period. Harley’s parents were somewhat disappointed that some of the strategies that they used at home were not included. The school arranged for his parents, an independent disability advocate, his disability service providers and the school support team to meet and work through their concerns. The school also sought guidance from the regional and central education services to assist in the development of the plan regarding the relevant policy and procedures. It was agreed by all to trial the plan for a term, with the support team meeting again at the end of term to review the plan.
Since starting at the school, Harley has been observed by staff to experience a range of learning difficulties and they have decided that he requires a tailored program across most curriculum areas. Additional adjustments have been added to his individualised plan following consultation with Harley and his parents. For example: a speech pathologist provides strategies to support Harley’s expressive language development and to improve his articulation and voice quality; and his teacher has allowed Harley to focus on his love of farm animals in his activities. This is a key part of improving his educational engagement and is closely related to the curriculum for his year level. As Harley processes information slowly when encountering new topics or skills, teachers ensure he has extra time to understand and complete tasks. He receives instruction within a small group to acquire new concepts and skills using a high level of prompting and scaffolding to develop new skills.
Currently, Harley accesses an occupational therapist (OT) outside of school hours to support his fine motor skills and writing formation development. There is regular communication between the OT, his parents and the school team so that the recommended adjustments, including his pencil grip and hand exercises, are implemented, where appropriate, both at home and school.
As his parents find it very difficult to attend face-to-face meetings, a communication book is used daily to share information between the school and his parents, with set meeting times by phone every fortnight. This strategy was suggested by his NDIS-funded behaviour support practitioner who has undertaken observations at the school and home and provided a comprehensive plan focusing on positive behaviour supports and aiming to eliminate the use of restrictive practices.
Harley tends to be quite rigid in his thinking and has issues interacting with peers he perceives as acting inappropriately in and out of class. Harley can become anxious when he engages in activities at recess and lunch and during physical education sessions if he feels other students are becoming too rowdy. The behaviour support specialist has worked with the school staff and Harley's parents to develop strategies that support his positive interaction with peers and promote positive engagement with activities in small groups. The staff on duty actively encourage Harley to participate in activities at recess and lunch, while monitoring his mealtimes, and implement the positive strategies with all the students.
Harley often mentions that he experiences constant hunger and according to his medical team he is at risk of becoming overweight, a common feature of Prader-Willi syndrome. At home, he has access to a range of healthy snacks and limited access to high-kilojoule foods. However, the school considered that this is not an appropriate strategy during school. Instead, Harley is closely supervised, particularly at recess and lunch, so that he does not overeat by taking other students’ food. The behaviour support plan includes encouraging not only healthy eating choices but activities to distract Harley and promote positive coping strategies.
While there haven’t been any episodes of bullying or harassment from his peers, the school staff have decided to review the school’s student conduct and behaviour policy. The amended policy now includes a clear statement of acceptance of diversity and inclusion of all students in the school community. Harley’s parents, along with several other parents and student representatives, were part of the review committee and were keen to see that the wording reflected the need to prevent teasing and bullying of students with disability.