What disability and developmental concerns are diagnosed in primary school students?

Childhood disability and developmental concerns include mobility concerns (such as difficulty or inability to walk), thinking skills and/or behaviour concerns (such as intellectual disability, autism, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder), and sensory difficulties (such as vision or hearing loss).

Many disabilities will be identified by the time a student starts primary school. This might include more noticeable disability such as cerebral palsy, blind and low vision, Deaf, deaf and hard of hearing, physical disability or communication and language disorders. Others may be more difficult to identify before school, or the indicators might not be obvious until a student attends school. 

For example, some children will show clear indicators of autism early and are diagnosed before they begin school. Other children may not show clear signs of autism until they start school, where they may experience  concerns making friends or coping with the daily changes that occur at school. Some of the common developmental concerns or disability that may not be evident until a child is in primary school include:

Do you have concerns about a student's development?

Parents or carers are often the first to notice a concern or delay with their child’s development. They may come to you for professional advice. Sometimes teachers will be the first to notice, as some concerns such as social difficulties may only be apparent in group situations like the classroom or playground.

A student may need additional support if some of the following signs are present and impact on a student’s learning, mood, communication, control, attention, participation, and/or ability to make and keep friends:

  • Low mood or irritability.
  • Change in their participation in school and/or social activities.
  • Difficulty initiating and maintaining interactions with others when playing or talking with other students.
  • Greater concerns with reading, writing or mathematics in comparison to their peers.
  • Frequent stomach aches, a racing heart or other physiological symptoms (with no known medical cause).
  • Frequent emotional outbursts.
  • Struggling  to understand schoolwork or social cues compared to peers.
  • Difficulties in completing schoolwork due to an inability to focus their attention to the task, or unable to remain seated for periods of time.
  • Limited, intense or immature interests.
  • Avoidance of specific situations such as going to school, social events, school concerts or physical education.
  • Refusal or inability to follow requests or instructions.
  • Difficulty  with motor skills like handwriting, ball games or running.
  • Difficulty with executive functioning, particularly organising, planning and prioritising.

How to seek help

If you think a student in your class might be experiencing concerns that impact on their relationships, learning, self-esteem or mood you can talk to the student’s family and discuss what you’ve noticed in a sensitive way. 

Make sure you start by discussing the student’s strengths, and then go on to discuss areas that need more support. 

Families may then wish to talk to their GP, paediatrician or other allied health professionals to seek support and assessment. You can also discuss with families assessments or support with psychologists or allied health professionals through your school’s learning and support team.

All schools are resourced to be able to access a specialist teacher and an allocation of funding that the school can use flexibly to support their students.

Regardless of diagnosis, teachers and schools can work collaboratively with all stakeholders to address the specific learning needs of a student at school. 

This includes planning achievable goals, adjustments the student requires to access the curriculum and, strategies to support the teaching and learning of the student.