Isla is in Year 10 at a large metropolitan secondary school. She has been diagnosed with mild spina bifida and dyslexia, with a functional impact on her ability to physically handwrite. Isla has a small group of peers who she works well with, and she has clear goals for her future, developed in partnership with her parents. Isla wishes to work in radio when she finishes school. Every Friday at lunchtime, the school has a ‘radio station’ that plays over the loudspeakers. Isla is the President of the Radio Station Committee and often leads surveys with students to determine the content played each week. She is an exceptional communicator.
Isla and her parents want her to complete Year 11 and Year 12 within two years, but the school has suggested that the stress of a full-time load might be too difficult for her. The school Principal, the counsellor, Isla’s Occupational Therapist (OT) and the learning support coordinator arranged a transition meeting with Isla and her parents to discuss the possibility of completing the two years of senior school over three years. Isla comes from a family background that places a strong emphasis on academic success and Isla’s parents were disappointed that she would need a lengthier completion period. Isla, who has strong connections with her peers, was more concerned with the social impact of ‘being left behind’. Isla’s parents sought advice from their local disability network on how they could best prepare for this meeting and asked that a family friend from the network support them during the meetings. At the meeting, the school advised the family that if Isla were to complete Year 11 and 12 over three years, this would also allow Isla enough time to complete a certificate course at TAFE in Creative Industries (Media) as part of her senior studies, which would benefit Isla’s post-school employment goals. The school have had a number of graduates who have completed a TAFE certificate as part of their senior studies. The school’s learning support coordinator meets regularly with the TAFE accessibility support team, and has agreed that she would meet with TAFE to seek an update on the progress of Isla’s enrolment in the Certificate II. With this in mind, Isla’s parents acknowledged that a longer period of schooling would ultimately suit Isla’s goals and needs without compromising on her academic achievements and asked if some timetabling adjustments would permit Isla to maintain contact with her peers and allow time for her to establish new relationships. After some deliberation, the family asked that they be given more time to discuss this with Isla as she would need to agree to the proposal before they implemented the change.
Isla indicated at the transition meeting that she is still has difficulty sleeping and generalised anxiety, difficulties that she has experienced throughout her life. Isla receives weekly support from a school counsellor to manage anxiety related to negative self-perception. The counsellor is also working with Isla to build her self-confidence in preparation for work experience later in the year.
Isla stated at the transition meeting that her physical disability has the greatest impact on her ability to access and participate in learning. For the past year, Isla has worn a splint to assist her movement in different contexts. At Isla’s request during the transition meeting, an occupational therapy (OT) assessment has been scheduled to examine how her work placement at a major radio station can provide some adjustments to support her physical disability and how Isla’s splint might be impacting her functioning at school. Isla reports feeling self-conscious about her splint, and is worried about bullying by peers. During year-level meetings and pastoral care lessons, activities and discussions have been focused on respectful relationships, and have been teaching students how to take action for peers when they notice bullying.
Isla's high levels of fatigue and sporadic physical discomfort have had an impact on her engagement and attendance, and the school has, over time, implemented a range of adjustments designed to reduce Isla’s fatigue and how it affects her education. The adjustments used by the school have included the following:
- providing Isla with frequent rest breaks
- timetabling classes in the same room to reduce Isla’s movement around the school grounds throughout the day
- providing Isla with a locker located close to her main classrooms
- allowing Isla a quiet room in which she can rest
- reducing the amount of writing in class by uploading lesson content so that all students can access it prior to the class (thereby also reducing any stigmatisation experienced by Isla or complaints from peers that Isla received preferential treatment)
- providing two copies of textbooks (one for home and one for school)
- permitting Isla to access classes remotely if she is too fatigued to attend school.
Isla’s parents consult and collaborate monthly with her teachers and the school counsellor, but Isla does not wish to attend these meetings. Instead, she shares her requirements and feedback with the counsellor who then tables Isla’s requests at each meeting.
During the transition meeting, Isla also requested additional time to access and participate in her learning program due to her dyslexia. In younger grades, Isla provided a list of all assessments and due dates to the learning support team so that they could break these down to create a manageable workload to help Isla meet due dates in a sustainable way. Isla stated at the meeting she would like this support to continue during her senior grades. Her parents agreed that this was a helpful strategy for Isla, as it provided her with opportunities to be responsible for her own learning, while also ensuring she was being supported to make sure she met deadlines.
To address the functional impact due to Isla’s spina bifida, Isla requested physical support from an adult at all times. This is documented in Isla’s individualised learning plan. However, staff continue to look for ways to ensure Isla has opportunities for independence so that she does not become unnecessarily overly reliant on adult support. The Principal has provided additional planning time for Isla’s Health and Physical Education (HPE) teacher so that they can co-plan with the learning support coordinator. Isla receives direct support from an education assistant who helps her transition between school environments and provides support in physical education classes, including swimming. Isla uses ‘speech-to-text’ software, which allows her to verbally dictate what she wants to write, and the computer converts her speech into written form. It also allows Isla to edit her writing by using her voice, which reduces her fatigue.
Teachers across the school receive regular reminders to only ask students with dyslexia to read aloud in class if they volunteer to do so. As Isla reaches her senior school years this has become less of a problem, but in her younger years she frequently reported to the counsellor she felt embarrassed when called up in class to read aloud. Isla’s self-advocacy in this area has provided a much safer schooling environment for younger students with dyslexia, with teachers more mindful of the potential for discomfort and bullying experienced by students with dyslexia when asked to read aloud to their peers.