The 2022 Early learning inclusion forum focuses on what is at the heart of inclusive practice in the early years and what this means across a range of early years contexts.

Attendee pack

Download the attendee pack.

Who can join us?

Leaders, teachers and educators from early childhood services, schools, schools for specific purposes (SSPs), schools as community centres (SaCCs), transition support teachers early intervention (TSTEIs) and allied health professionals are invited to attend.

When and where?

The 2022 Inclusion Forum is now delivered as an online event.

Watch the videos from the 2022 speakers and let us know what you thought in the evaluation form


Stuart Shanker is the author of the Self-Reg trilogy: Calm, Alert and Learning: Classroom Strategies for Self-Regulation (Pearson 2012), Self-Reg: How to Help Your Child (and You) Break the Stress Cycle and Successfully Engage with Life (Penguin 2016); Reframed: Self-Reg for a Just Society (UofT Press 2020). And with Susan Hopkins, Self-Reg Schools: A Handbook for Educators (Pearson 2019). In 2012 Stuart founded The MEHRIT Centre as a Self-Reg learning and information centre for parents, educators, the leaders of today and the leaders of tomorrow and now Self-Reg Global has been created to meet the demand to establish similar Self-Reg initiatives in the international community.

Dr. Susan Hopkins (EdD), Executive Director, The MEHRIT Centre. In the past two-plus decades Susan has worked in numerous educational contexts and roles: early years, K-12 and post-secondary, teacher, vice-principal, curriculum developer, and inclusion coordinator. Under her leadership, Dr. Stuart Shanker’s organisation, The MEHRIT Centre, has evolved into a highly respected, accessible, and successful centre for Shanker Self-Reg® learning, serving thousands of learners from Canada and around the world. As CEO of the newly launched Self-Reg Global Susan works with partners in various countries to support and amplify locally-led Self-Reg initiatives. Susan is the co-author of the Self-Reg Schools Handbook for Educators with Dr. Stuart Shanker (Pearson, 2019) and developed the online resources for the Principal’s edition.

Dr Sarah Carlon is the Manager of Research and Education at Special Teaching and Research (STaR). Sarah previously worked as a University Lecturer in Special Education and as an ECT in inclusive early childhood settings. She is passionate about translating research evidence into practice.

Rosemary is currently employed as the Senior Early Childhood Counsellor at STARTTS. She has extensive experience as a music therapist, counsellor, psychotherapist and occupational therapist across the lifespan, in early childhood, special education, disability, trauma recovery, adult rehabilitation, and clinical and management roles in aged care. She has worked in various contexts including hospitals, health centres, paediatric clinics, community organisations, residential and community based aged care services, prison, detention centre, disability services, special schools and clients’ homes.

Rosemary is passionate about early childhood trauma recovery and developmental work with children and their caregivers, and in particular with families from refugee like backgrounds, as well as early child early intervention for children and adults with disabilities.

Lee Casuscelli is a highly motivated outcome focused educator with 30 years of experience as an education leader. Lee has enjoyed a long, varied and successful career across a range of sectors and settings in Australia. Much of her work has been in the disability sector with a strong focus in autism research and practice.

Lee joined Autism Spectrum Australia (Aspect) in 2010 as the NSW team leader for the Positive Partnerships Program progressing to the National manager in 2016 and is now the Deputy National Director, Aspect Education. Lee has led and developed extensive training programs for school staff across Australia, worked closely with school leaders to plan and implement whole school improvement and led several projects related to leadership, teaching and learning and best practice for students on the autism spectrum.

Chris Varney is Founder and Chief Enabling Officer of I CAN Network. Growing up Autistic, Chris was inspired to start I CAN from the support his family, schools and mentors gave him. Chris has a background in children’s rights and spent 11 years with World Vision Australia and World Vision International where his roles included Youth Ambassador, VGen Co-Director and Manager of Youth Supporters. VGen was instrumental in achieving commitments to fair-trade from big chocolate companies. In 2009, Chris was Australian Youth Representative to the United Nations. In addition to I CAN, Chris is currently an advisor on Autism to the Queensland Government and is Patron of the Australian Association for Special Education.

Domenica is a diversity, inclusion and accessibility advocate who works on various projects that aim to dismantle the social, cultural, and political barriers that marginalise disabled people, and their families, peers, community, and service support systems.

Domenica is the Project Director at Reimagine Australia, the national peak body for the early childhood development (ECD) sector. She is currently leading the build and delivery of THRIVEABILITY, a digital tool that will provide ECD professionals and families of young children with real time access to evidence-based information, learning programmes, and systems navigation guidance to help remove the complexity and knowledge gaps that create access barriers to funding, services, and support.

Domenica is also the co-founder of an accessibility tech start-up based in Asia, working in collaboration with d/Deaf and Hard of Hearing (HoH) communities to close the digital and tele-communication access gap for Deaf and HoH people across the region.

Kate Norman is a Bundjalung woman. She is an early childhood teacher. She works in early childhood services in an education support role after many years of working on a transdisciplinary team in early childhood intervention. Kate is also a yoga teacher with an interest in Aboriginal mindfulness traditions.

Image: Amy Birungi

Amy is the Relieving Director of the Curriculum Early Years and Primary Learners unit.

The unit’s vision is to empower educators, preschool to Year 6, to engage every child in their learning through the provision of professional learning, resources, advice and tools.

Amy leads a dynamic and experienced team who are committed to supporting teaching and learning across the state.

Image: Jacqui Ward

Jacqui is the Early Learning Coordinator at the NSW Department of Education. She is a passionate early childhood advocate with a special interest in educational leadership and continuity of learning.

Her professional experience includes owning and operating a long daycare, delivering professional learning, mentoring and support for CELA and working as Manager, Educational leadership and Sector support at ACECQA.

Image: Sylvana Cham

Sylvana is a passionate early childhood educator who has worked across a range of prior to school settings as a teacher and director and taken on various roles across a P-6 school. She worked as a P-2 Initiatives Officer and Preschool Advisor prior to commencing in the role of Co-ordinator Preschool and Transition.

She is committed to building the capacity of teachers and leaders ensuring all children receive the highest quality of education and care and experience a strong and successful start to school.

Image: Louise Farrell

During her career of 30 years, Louise has worked in public sector roles with a focus on human services. After completing her undergraduate degree in Education in 1992, Louise worked as a high school teacher in both rural and metropolitan schools. In 2002, she completed postgraduate studies in Public Health, and began what was more than 15 years working in population and public health across local health districts, statutory organisations, university research centres and government agencies.

Since 2019 she has worked as a Director in the NSW Department of Education, a role which has allowed her to combine her commitment to equity and evidence-based population level policy that makes a real difference in the lives of children, young people as well as their families and the communities in which they live.

Image: Rachel Hennessy

Rachel facilitates the delivery of refugee student support in NSW government schools and coordinates professional learning and advice for school and non-school based staff who support the learning and wellbeing of refugee students. She designs and delivers training to ensure refugee students have the skills and support they need to succeed at school and beyond. Rachel collaborates with government and non-government agencies to achieve positive settlement outcomes for newly arrived refugee communities, as well as partnering with universities and other organisations to facilitate research into the needs of refugee students and their families.

Image: Peta Morgan

Peta Morgan is the Manager of the Access and Equity Team with the Department of Education’s Early Childhood Education and Schools Policy Directorate. Her team administers the Disability and Inclusion Program providing funding and capacity building supports to community preschools to enable the inclusion of children with a disability and additional needs on the same basis as their peers.

Peta worked as a speech pathologist specialising in children and adults with intellectual and physical disabilities.

Peta has guest lectured at the University of Canberra and the University of Sydney, presenting on communication supports for people with a disability. She is also a qualified Inclusive Communication and Behaviour Supports trainer.


Our knowledge of the development of self-regulation has grown by leaps and bounds over the past ten years. We now have a much deeper understanding of why self-regulation is so important, why young children are prone to maladaptive modes of self-regulating in the early years, and what we can do to change these patterns and thereby enhance their long-term wellbeing. With this new knowledge has come a greater appreciation of the critical role played by early educators in children’s lives, and the importance of Self-Reg for their own wellbeing.


Dr Stuart Shanker
Founder and Visionary
The MEHRIT Centre

Introduction to Self-Reg for early childhood educators (1:09:25)

Stuart Shanker

- Good morning, everyone. This morning, I'm going to introduce you to not just what self-reg is but to the science behind it. So let's start off and we have some general points that we'll make.

[DESCRIPTION: Screen slide reads: ‘Self-Reg is About…’. The screen has five sequential text boxes, each with an arrow leading to the next. The first text box is labelled ‘Understanding, not managing behaviour’ , the second text box is labelled ‘Understanding the impact of excessive stress’. The third text box is labelled ‘Distinguishing b/w misbehaviour and stress-behaviour’. The fourth text box is labelled ‘Enhancing cognitive as well as social/emotional development’. The fifth and final text box is labelled ‘Self-Reg starts with SELF-Reg’]

Self-reg is not a new method of managing a child's behaviour. Anything but. I was teased just this morning about how tempting it is to fall back into this way of thinking. Really what we're looking at is a scientific revolution that's occurred in the last 20 years. It's very recent and some of the discoveries are as little as three years ago. There was a huge discovery.

What I'm going to give you a sort of taste for is something very interesting that's happening in regards to all of our really standard views about why children act the way they do and what they need from us so that they have a good and successful life. And I was thinking the best way to give you a taste of what's happening in neuroscience and neurobiology is with this model.

[DESCRIPTION: Screen Slide reads: ‘The Triune Brain’. Presented is an image of a human brain, sections are colour coded into three categories, Neocortex (blue), Limbic System (red), and Reptilian Brain (brown).]

So this model is called the triune brain. It was developed by an American neuroscientist called Paul MacLean back in the 1960s. And his idea was that the human brain is really composed of three brains in one. That brown brain is called the reptilian brain and it was designed for solitary creatures, singletons. Creatures that lay their eggs and then disappear. That brain evolved around 300 million years ago.

And then sitting above that is the red brain, that limbic system, which is in science known as the paleomammalian brain. And the idea here is that a new brain or new brain functions evolved for what were now social animals, animals that rear their young. And then sitting on top of all that is the blue brain, the neocortex, that's really a recent evolutionary phenomenon. Of course, it has long antecedes but the modern human neocortex is really only around 10 to 15 million years old. And that's the part of the brain that houses things like thinking, speaking, planning, problem-solving, self-awareness, even empathy.

Now this is a very complex model. The core idea is that we preserved the brown brain, that reptilian brain, because of its core survival function. And I know that you've all heard about things like fight or flight. Fight or flight is very much a brown brain phenomenon. It's triggered in the midbrain. But we now know that, in fact, the brown brain, the reptilian brain, really plays a much more complex role in human functioning. I'll just give you one simple example. The reptilian behaviour is governed by what's called a peptide. A peptide is just a chain of amino acids. And it's a peptide called vasotocin. It has six amino acids.

And so we know that when the reptilian mother lays her eggs, there's just this massive surge of vasotocin. And it's clearly driving her to lay the eggs. But the second the eggs are laid, the vasotocin dries up. And so mom just disappears, leaves these eggs to hatch on their own. And they do. Whatever the time periods, around generally speaking 245 days later, the eggs will hatch. And the creature, this reptilian creature is what we call precocial. And it means that it can survive on its own. It can flee from danger on its own. It does not need a caregiver to protect it. It will find its own food, it will fight, whatever. What happened about a hundred million years later is that vasotocin added three more amino acids to the peptide chain.

And you got oxytocin. Now oxytocin is very interesting because we know that oxytocin in the mammalian mother surges during labor, surges at parturition and continues to be produced by things like lactation, by breastfeeding. And the reason this is so important is because oxytocin is the driver of all kinds.

There are some other neurohormones but we'll just limit it to oxytocin. It's the driver of maternal behaviour, caring for your young. Now what that meant is that you could give birth to large litters. And you would protect them. They're what we call altricial, meaning they can't defend themselves. They can't move, they're totally helpless at birth. But through the mechanism of oxytocin, you've got these behaviours now where the mother protects her baby. So the baby survives.

The reason why this is so interesting is because these ancient pathways going from that brown brain up to the red brain, these ancient pathways are still functional in us. And what's happened over the last 20 years is we've begun to figure out what those pathways are, how there are things that happen in that brown brain, in the midbrain, and in that funny fan shape thing on the right, which is the cerebellum, or in the brain stem. There are systems and pathways that go up, what we call the neuroaxis, go up and influence the red brain. Okay, so that's a real quick introduction to modern neuroscience. Why does it matter? It matters because, when I was in grad school, so that was in the late '70s and early '80s, we were taught we will never know what's going on below the blue brain. We don't have the technologies to figure out what's happening deep in the brain stem, deep in the brown brain or in the red brain. Our technologies at that time, so we were using PET scans or functional MRIs, we could only study that neocortex. In my own case, we were really interested in that bottom-left part, the prefrontal cortex, the part over your eyes. And we would look to some extent at the connections between that bottom-left and things that were going on in the motor cortex, the sensory cortex and the visual cortex, the rest of the neocortex. But we never ever talked about the red brain and the brown brain. Except as the source of impulses or urges. So the picture in developmental psychology at the time, so still in the '80s and early '90s, was that the role of the blue brain is to control the impulses coming from below, coming from these mysterious systems in the red brain, in the brown brain. And the idea then became, in order for children to have a good life, we had to strengthen that blue brain to control these impulses and urges and drives. But what's happened over the last 20 years is that technology has just transformed. And we are now able to study in incredible detail what's going on inside the red brain, inside the brown brain. Now this is the beginning of a new science and there will be huge discoveries in the next 20 years. I mentioned that just a couple years ago, back in 2019, it was discovered that in one of those brown brain structures, which is called the dorsal raphe nucleus, they discovered that there's a special kind of neuron, a special dopamine neuron driving the animal to not be alone, to be with its caregivers or its conspecifics. And the reason is because alone, you are at great risk of being killed. Safety comes in numbers. So, we had these neurons that fired when we are alone and they are driving us to seek companionship, to seek a relationship. Now that's a very ancient mechanism, this DRN mechanism. And it is still every bit as powerful in the modern human. So this would be a different lecture but I can just tell you very quickly that one of the signs of when those neurons have been activated, is you feel lonely. Loneliness is an aversive feeling and it drives you not to be lonely. It drives you to have social companionship. And this has been one of the big problems with the pandemic. And what's happening is, a generation of children and teens that are deprived of the physical effects of being with others, and unfortunately, as valuable as things like social media might be, they don't provide for the physical effects of touching each other for example, which releases, again, guess what? Oxytocin. Oxytocin and opioids. So, these discoveries, I mean, they're huge for our understanding of that neuroaxis, but they're even more important for you guys because they are transforming our understanding of the blue brain, our understanding of what you guys are doing to help children to have a happy and successful life.

[DESCRIPTION: Screen slide reads: ‘Self-Control’. The screen has four sequential text boxes, each with an arrow leading to the next. The first text box is labelled ‘Self-control is an ancient paradigm’. The second text box is labelled ‘We need to exert a “mental effort” to inhibit impulses’. The third text box is labelled ‘The “Stronger a child’s mental muscle the better the child’s outcomes’. The fourth and final text box is labelled ‘We “strengthen” this mental muscle through punishment and reward’.]

The old model, what we might call the blue brain model, is a self-control model. And so the idea there is that that blue brain, that neocortex, okay? So that blue brain, it's in control of what's going on below it. So it suppresses or it inhibits impulses. If that's the case, then our job is to strengthen this blue brain mental muscle. And that's the whole point behind behaviourism. Behaviourism was intended, through punishment and reward, to strengthen the child's ability to control their impulses. And there's an obvious problem. And that is that it doesn't work. In fact, it can make things considerably worse. And so for guys like me, what we were interested in is why is it making things worse? What's really going on in this triune brain? Do we need a new way of understanding the neuroaxis so that we can give children the strongest possible foundation for a long and healthy life? And so we have the shift. And the shift is a self-regulation.

[DESCRIPTION: Screen slide reads: ‘Self-Regulation Maladaptive vs Adaptive Modes.’ The screen has four sequential text boxes. The first text box is labelled ‘Self-Regulation: How we manage stress.’ The second text box is labelled ‘Some modes of self-regulation are maladaptive: eg., avoidance, excessive sugar consumption, gaming’. The third text box is labelled ‘A maladaptive mode of self-regulation creates even greater stress down the road’. The fourth and final text box is labelled ‘Self-Reg teaches children constructive ways to deal with stress’.]

Now, I know that there are all kinds of definitions of self-regulation. But self-reg is based on the original definition. The original definition was developed at the beginning of the 20th century by Walter Bradford Cannon. And it's the idea of how we manage stress. That's what self-regulation means. I'm going to tell you something that will probably surprise you a little. According to Cannon, a newborn baby self-regulates. Well that tells us something really incredible. How can a baby possibly self-regulate? Well, one of their primary functions is by going to sleep. Newborn sleep is very different than a child's sleep. And really it's a way of reducing the stress of their environment. And so what we find is that when babies are overstressed, they fall asleep. If you take a baby and expose them to really bright lights or a lot of noise or a lot of commotion, they will fall asleep. So this is a primitive self-regulating mechanism. Now that tells you something incredibly important. According to Cannon, self-regulation can be entirely mechanical. It can be a reflex. And, in fact, that brown brain that I showed you has all kinds of self-regulating mechanisms. So I'll give you just one simple example. We have a system in our red brain called the hypothalamus which monitors the oxygen levels in our bloodstream. I'm working with someone right at this very moment who I suspect had oxygen levels that drop below 95%. We're not aware of the hypothalamus monitoring our oxygen levels. And essentially what happens is, when the hypothalamus sees oxygen drop below 95%, it sends a message down to the brain stem, down to the medulla oblongata. And what that does is it sends a message up to the heart and the lungs telling us to breathe faster and breathe deeper. And so what's happening is, without our knowing it, without our being aware of any of this, our brain, deep levels of our brain, are regulating the oxygen levels in our blood. And if we get really sick, then we need some help. And that's been one of the problems with COVID. Because COVID interferes with the lung's ability to compensate for the drop in oxidation. So that's a really cool idea, right? So this is how they thought of self-regulation. The brain body have all these non-conscious ways of regulating things like oxygen or energy or body temperature. These are unconscious self-regulating mechanisms. But, as the child gets older, so the newborn turns into- Now even the newborn, okay, so fine, you can say that they have a self-regulating mechanism. But it's very limited. Falling asleep is a very limited mechanism. So, let's take an example of why the newborn needs the caregiver as an external regulating mechanism. One of the big stresses on, so I mentioned, you know, newborns are stressed by light or stressed by noise, but a big stress on a newborn is external temperature, ambient temperature. And, in fact, Cannon described temperature as one of the sort of paradigms of a stress. A stress is anything that disrupts homeostasis, that disrupts these mechanisms that have to stay within a certain range. So you can have now your three month old, and she's cold, and there's a blanket that she's somehow tossed off and it's right beside her. And all she has to do is reach over and pull the blanket up to warm herself. But, of course, she can't do that. She hasn't got yet the grasping or arm control necessary to do this, let alone the knowledge or the understanding that she will get warm by pulling on her blanket. So she can't do this. But the caregiver is monitoring her baby and she sees or he sees the signs of when the baby is cold. And you see this by, say, skin colour. And you pull up the blanket. So that's how nature designed us. Nature designed us to have an external brain, what we call the inter-brain, regulating the child to complement these primitive self-regulating mechanisms, which are limited. And as the child gets older, the child begins to develop their own behaviours, their own skills for managing their stress level. Now one of the things that we find is that children develop what we call maladaptive ways of managing stress. A maladaptive way is a way that reduces the stress you are feeling in the moment but creates greater stress down the road. The classic example of this is the young baby who is on the spectrum, and eventually we'll be able to diagnose this. Now, many of these infants find social interaction extremely stressful. And this is because they have sensory hypersensitivities. So the sound of your voice, the presence of your face, the energy bouncing off your eyes, the energy bouncing off your voice, these are overstressing the baby. And so the baby naturally turns its head, it gaze averts. This is a maladaptive way of dealing with stress because the baby needs social interaction, not to shut it down, the baby needs social interaction to learn things like language or the meaning of emotions or the meaning of facial expressions. And so in our own clinic, we worked very hard at developing techniques to reduce the stress of social interaction so that these children could, not just engage with their caregivers but enjoy doing so. And so what we wanted to teach them is, instead of avoiding this stress, we want to teach them adaptive ways of reducing stress. Now with a child, the most adaptive thing we can teach them is when you are overstressed, to go to your caregiver or go to your ECE or go to your teacher for help. But it takes several steps before you can get that. And that's what self-reg is all about. So we'll get to that.

[DESCRIPTION: Screen slide reads: ‘The Marshmallow Test’. The screen has three sequential text boxes. The first text box is labelled ‘Developed by Walter Mischel in the 1960s’. The second text box is labelled ‘Children 4-6 sat by themselves in a barren room with a single marshmallow on a plate in front of them’. The third and final text box is labelled ‘Told that if they could wait until the experimenter came back they could have two marshmallows instead of one’.]

So we have this classic study that you've all heard of, the Marshmallow test that was designed by Walter Mischel back in the '60s. And this is the classic example of thinking that was grounded in the old model of the blue brain somehow controlling the impulses. And so you all know the idea. You put the child in a room by themselves, that's a stress right off the bat. You put a marshmallow in front of them and tell them if they can wait until you come back, they can get two marshmallows. And so what Mischel found, and was found repeatedly, was that around one third of kids, ages four to six, can wait. And two thirds of children can't wait, eat the marshmallow before they're supposed to. So, I'll just show you this video so you can see for yourselves what the task looks like.

[DESCRIPTION: A short video clip plays, showing a montage of children sitting in a room with a single marshmallow displayed in front of them. Each child reacts with different levels of visible frustration as they contemplate whether to eat the marshmallow.]

- Okay, sit in that chair. All right, here's the deal. Marshmallow for you. You can either wait and I'll give you another one if you wait, or you can eat it now. When I come back, I'll give you another one. So then you'll have two. But stay in here and stay in the chair till I come back, okay?

- Okay.

- All right. I'm going to go do something and then I'll come back.

- It's smell yummy.

- Ahh, it smells really good.

- All right, so it's up to you. You can have it now or you can wait. Okay? I'll be back! Stay in the chair, okay? Okay.

- Oh!

- All right, so I'm going to leave and then I'll come back, okay? So you can either eat it right now or you can wait. Either way, okay?

- Okay.

- Okay! How'd did you do? Did you do good?

- Yeah.

- You did?

- Yeah.

- You wouldn't eat it, didn't you? Yeah. So did I tell you I'd give you another one? Okay. Now you can have both. You can eat them.

[DESCRIPTION: The video returns to the presenter, Stuart Shanker.]

- The reason this became so famous, such a famous task, was because Mischel came back. The original studies were done in the mid '60s, and in 1989, he published a paper. What he had done was he went and looked at that breakdown, the one third who could wait, the two thirds who couldn't. And he wanted to know how they'd done in life.

[DESCRIPTION: Screen slide reads: ‘Children Who Wait’ The screen shows a pie chart, separated into 5 segments. Arrows point around the circle, suggesting a cycle. The first segment is labelled ‘Fewer health problems, mental/physical’. The second segment is labelled ‘Less likely to engage in risky behaviours’. The third segment is labelled ‘Less likely to get in trouble with law’. The fourth segment is labelled ‘Score higher on “life satisfaction” scores’. The fifth segment is labelled ‘More likely to go to college’.]

And what he found as you can see on this slide is that kids who could wait do way better on just about every measure you can think of. So, they do better psychologically, they do better in school. They have more friends. They go on to college and so on and so on and so on. It created this idea that self-control was the key to a happy and prosperous life. In fact just yesterday, Susan Hopkins sent me a blog in which to this day, someone was still repeating this. But, you know, for those of us who really worry about kids, we were very distressed by this idea that somehow, how a child did with a marshmallow at the age of four would predict what kind of life they were going to have. And so that was in my own case, what really pushed me into neuroscience, into trying to understand what was actually going on. And the obvious thing about the Marshmallow test is that it is a stress test. It's designed to stress a child. So if you think back now to that video you just saw, it's a room with no distractions. So that we actually know that if you put children in the room and give them stuff toys on the table, they have no problems waiting.

[DESCRIPTION: Screen slide reads: ‘Marshmallow Test is a Stress-test’. The screen shows four intersecting circles, each labelled. The first is labelled ‘Child left alone with nothing to do but stare at a marshmallow’. The second is labelled ‘Like isolation chamber for astronauts’. The third is labelled ‘66% of children eat the marshmallow to remove the stress’. The fourth is labelled ‘No idea how long he’s waiting’.]

The whole situation was designed to create the stress. Now, it's a big stress on a kid just being alone. And I mentioned how you had this recent discovery of the dopamine neurons that drive us to have social interaction. By putting the child alone, you are activating those neurons. And for some children, like our kid that was hypersensitive to the energy coming off mom's eyes, some children are hypersensitive to what's called separation distress. Putting them alone fires these neurons deep in the midbrain. And that child becomes increasingly distressed. We also know that the child doesn't realize, there's no clock, there's no window, they don't know how long they're waiting. So the tension is growing and growing. And we know that some kids, for example, children with ADHD, have a different sense of time. So for them, it's excruciating. It feels like they've been waiting for hours. And then finally what we've done is we've centered the child's attention, their focus, as you saw in the video on that marshmallow. The marshmallow becomes the stressor that is causing them acute, and this is important, not just psychological discomfort, but physical. In fact, we now know, again, a very recent discovery, that the pain circuit deep in the midbrain, it's in a system called the PAG, it's the periaqueductal gray, the pain system is also activated. This is physically aversive, not just psychologically. And so what the kid does, is the two thirds are eating the marshmallow not because they can't control their impulse, they're eating the marshmallow to get rid of the stress. It's a way of stress management, of self-regulation. And we've see the same thing in adults. We saw the same thing last year, where adults were going to COVID parties to deliberately infect themselves with COVID because of the stress of them trying not to get it. Better to eat the damn marshmallow. Just get it! And then they got very sick.

[DESCRIPTION: Screen slide reads: ‘What does the Marshmallow Test Measure?.’ The screen shows four sequential text boxes, each labelled. The first is labelled ‘Mischel concluded that the children who waited (32%) did better in life because they possessed self-control from an early age’. The second is labelled ‘This inspired a movement to teach (train) children from a young age to have self-control’. The third is labelled ‘But over the past 50 years, we have seen an inexorable and extremely worrying rise in mental and physical health problems’. The fourth and final is labelled ‘The result is that we were led to question whether the Marshmallow Test was about self-control or self-regulation’.]

And I could give you, if you think about this, I could give you example after example of, you know, how we are playing out versions of the marshmallow task our entire lives. And what it's telling us is that some kids, some teens, are incredibly at risk of risky behaviors because their stress is too high. The real problem here is, those who can't manage their stress may resort to maladaptive behaviors such as eating the marshmallow or drinking or smoking marijuana, whatever. And unfortunately we live in an age where there are all kinds of temptations, just waiting to give them a shot of dopamine. Now I'll just very quickly tell you, this is a second huge discovery. And it's only now that we're beginning to understand the full implications. But we now know that human babies are unique.

[DESCRIPTION: Screen slide reads: ‘Secondary Altriciality’. The screen shows four text boxes laid out in a matrix, each labelled. The top left is labelled ‘Babies are all born 2-4 months “premature”’. The top right is labelled ‘Fundamental unit of development is DYAD’. The bottom left is labelled ‘Baby has limited reflexes to regulate arousal (sleep)’. The bottom right is labelled ‘Caregiver monitors, regulates baby’s arousal’.]

And we call them secondarily altricial. So they're like those mammalian helpless infants, but they have certain features in common with precocial. So we think that they're born around two to four months premature, and there's very evolutionary reasons why. But for us, the real transformation is, we had to figure out if you want to say that the baby is born prematurely. In other words, that the human newborn is still a fetus, a fetus outside the womb. And that's how we think of it today. So if that's the case, and it was designed so that the brain can explode in growth at the moment of parturition, there's a burst of synaptic growth. So if we stick with this model for a second, okay? So we know that, first of all, there is an extraordinary increase surge in stress. The stresses that the newborn is exposed to, that were significantly reduced inside the womb. So the stress of the temperature of the room, breathing on their own, the lights that are on. You know, the womb was a dark environment. So these are all, in the scientific sense, stresses. Meaning they require the brain to burn energy to maintain homeostasis. And a big question that we had was that, if you want to talk about this as the baby, as a fetus outside the womb, what replaces the umbilical cord? If it's still fetal, what takes the place of this caregiver to infant, a physical connector, this mechanism? So this is a very interesting video. And this is a French nurse who has become quite famous for designing a therapy bed, a bath, that you put babies into the moment of birth. And I'll let you watch this video. And then this video. So, there are a couple of things that must really strike you as you watch those videos. The first, in the first video, it's how relaxed the babies are. And, in fact, Sonia Rochel has shown that these babies demonstrate significant benefits in the early months of life. Their health indices are stronger. They sleep better and so on and so on. And what she is doing here is reducing the stress of the environment by trying to simulate as closely as she can, the environment that they were in. It's very interesting that they're still holding each other. These twins were doing the same inside the womb. And that physical contact, we have special receptors in the skin that trigger the release of oxytocin. And, in fact, the water's probably doing the same. The gentle feelings of the water are triggering the release of oxytocin. And the same thing's happening in the second video. And the reason I showed you this in addition is, right at the very end, there was this very brief moment of magic where Oscar opens his eyes. So you have to watch carefully, and then he quickly closes them again. And that's that self-regulating mechanism operating that I was telling you about. She has reduced the stress on him to such an extent that he opens his eyes as a way of getting a bit more energy. This ancient mechanism controls how much energy we take in and when we want to reduce it. But you can see he closes them right away because he's not quite ready. So he's still conserving energy. It's just a fascinating example of Cannon's brilliant insight about how self-regulation is already operating early in life. Now the last video I'll show you today is this one of Michael Jr. And in this case, you have to ask yourself, it's really quite extraordinary. The baby, his daughter, has just been born and is crying. Crying is, again, a self-regulating mechanism. Its function is actually to discharge excessive energy. So there's too much energy that's come into the nervous system from the hard table, from the lights, et cetera, and the crying is a way of discharging this energy. But now he comes in and a little bit of magic happens.

- Hey look, we're in the hospital room, she's sticky and she's babying and all that stuff. And she's in the middle of crying. And then I speak up, I start talking to her. And watch how she responds when she hears my voice. Okay. Look, I'm right here. It's okay, it's okay. I'm right here, right here. You're doing just fine. It's okay. It's okay, I'm right here. Right here. Yeah, it's okay. It's okay, baby. It's okay.

- So the question that we had is, why? Why did that baby stop crying? Now you could say, you know, it's natural. You say, well, maybe she recognizes her father's voice. Maybe he's spoken to her during the third trimester and she feels safe knowing that he's there. However, there's been some incredible research by psychologists showing us that that kind of memory isn't there yet. That kind of recognition isn't there yet? There's something else that must be going on. And it looks now that what's going on is that the human voice is also a form of tactile stimulation. His voice, provided your voice is low and soothing, it is caressing, the sound waves are caressing the skin over the eardrum. And that vocal caress, guess what? Triggers oxytocin. Which in turn potentiates endogenous opioids, soothing the nervous system. And that's the function of this incredible homeostatic system. It is a neural hormonal homeostatic system deep inside the brown brain and the red brain. And that's what we're learning about.

[DESCRIPTION: Screen slide reads: ‘The Interbrain’. On the left of screen there is an image showing a baby and an adult facing each other, with a connecting line between the two. On the right of screen there is the following list: Sound, Vision, Smell, Touch, Taste, Proprioception.]

So, the mechanism that takes over the place of the umbilical cord is this. It's a brain to brain hookup. Red brain to red brain, brown brain to brown brain. Because after all, the blue brain is only just developing. It is developing at a furious pace, but it won't be fully developed until around the age of 24. So this inter-brain connection is going to be the foundation of healthy self-regulation. The entire time you guys are working with kids, we need that inter-brain connection that helps you regulate the child so they can learn how to regulate themselves.

[DESCRIPTION: Screen slide reads: ‘Limbic-to-limbic communication’. The graphic shows four text ovals, each smaller than the last. The smallest is nested in the next biggest, which in turn is nested in the next biggest. The biggest circle is labelled ‘Operates beneath threshold of conscious awareness or control’. The second biggest circle is labelled ‘Instant communication channel’. The third biggest circle is labelled ‘Tone of voice, eye gaze, gestures, posture’. The smallest circle is labelled ‘Child in heightened stress processes limbic cues over speech.’.]

This is we call limbic-to-limbic, meaning that we're not aware of what's going on. We co-regulate through tone of voice, through eye gaze, facial expression, and all of this, what it does is it soothes those systems deep in the brain, and it soothes them by triggering the release of what are called beta endorphins deep in the periaqueductal gray that counteract stress. In fact, we now know that the stress system and the opioid system operate in the same, exactly the same, ancient part of the brown brain, in the PAG. So that's what balances each other. But kids have a limited capacity to produce those endorphins. So we do it. We do it through caregiving and they learn how to do it themselves.

[DESCRIPTION: Screen slide reads: ‘Neuroception’. Graphic 1 shows three text boxes left aligned. Text box 1 is labelled ‘Limbic system scans environment for signs of safety or threat. Text box 2 is labelled ‘Threat-detection (Amygdala) is non-conscious. Text box 3 is labelled ‘Triggers behavioural, physiological and neural response (arousal). Each text box ends with an arrow leading to the right, feeding into Graphic 2. Graphic 2 is a large downward facing arrow labelled ‘Impact’, which itself points towards Graphic 3, four text boxes. The first text box is labelled ‘Hypervigilance’. The second text box is labelled ‘Poor discrimination of threat vs. safety’. The third text box is labelled ‘Escape or avoidance’. The fourth text box is labelled ‘Negative bias’.]

And what the child is doing is that red brain has its own form of perception. It's a neural perception. We call it neuroception. So we're not conscious of doing it but we are picking up signs of safety, signs of danger, but we're also picking up messages that soothe, messages that calm. And this is why touch is so incredibly important for soothing that neuroceptive system that has become hyper-aroused.

[DESCRIPTION: Screen slide reads: ‘Thayer Metrix. The screen shows four text boxes laid out in a matrix, each labelled. The top left is labelled ‘High Energy/Low Tension (HE/LT): Children are optimistic and resilient; they seek out and enjoy social interaction; they do not shy away from the prospect of a physical or cognitive challenge. The top right is labelled ‘High Energy/High Tension (HE/HT): Children can substation concentration (which is a whole-body phenomenon). The sympathetic (energy-producing) and parasympathetic (energy-restorative) processes are balanced, enabling the child to stay immersed in an activity’. The bottom left is labelled Low Energy/Low Tension (LE/LT): Heart-rate and breathing are slowed while metabolic recovery functions are enhanced (e.g. Digestion, cellular repair and growth, the immune system)’. The bottom right is labelled ‘Low Energy/High Tension (LE/HT): A child is more prone to resist anything that promotes rest and restoration. He or she is often driver to pursue a stimulus-rich activity in other to produce adrenaline and thereby counter their fatigue.]

In general, your kids- We find this matrix incredibly useful. It was designed by an American psychologist called Bob Thayer. And what he looked at was the combination of energy and tension. When you have a child who's struggling, they get stuck on bottom-right. Low energy, high tension. And what means is that the opioids can't keep up with the stress. That's what we mean when we say that the stress load is too great. It means that this neurohormonal system, this system of opioid homeostasis, the opioids are constantly going up and down. But when there's chronic excessive stress, the opioids can't keep up with the stress hormone. So I'll just mention the obvious one, which is cortisol. But cortisol is the end result of a long chain that starts off with something called corticotropin releasing factor. And in the PAG what we see is the CRF neurons side-by-side with the opioid neurons. They're one and the same stimulus triggers both so that the kid remains in homeostasis. But if the stress is too great or if the stress is too intense, that opioid system is overloaded, overwhelmed, and the kid gets stuck in bottom-right. So our job now is to read the signs. When is the child stuck in bottom-right? And what can I do to get them to top-left or ideally to bottom-left? And the answer is through self-reg. So, over and over, I've mentioned stress today.

[DESCRIPTION: Screen slide reads: ‘What is Stress?’ Graphic shows three sequential text boxes. The first is labelled ‘Any stimulus that requires us to burn energy in order to maintain homeostasis is a stress’. The second text box is labelled ‘Cannon’s example: cold weather is a stress’. The third text box is labelled ‘We conducted a “stress inventory” which identified hundreds of different stresses, which we sorted into five groups’.]

So stress, as I hope is clear by now, is any stimulus that requires the brain to burn energy to maintain homeostasis. What we find is that children that are having trouble, and, like it or not, we are seeing a generation of teens and now children that are showing all the signs of excessive stress, stress-related disorders. And the obvious one is anxiety. And anxiety disorder is the result, a complicated story here, but it's the result essentially of too much stress. They're stuck in bottom-right. We looked at all the stresses that kids are under. There are, in our stress inventory, we had over 650.

We reduced these to five groups.

[DESCRIPTION: Screen slide reads: 5 Self-Reg Domains: Stressors. The graphic shows five categories, each with following examples. The first category is ‘Biological’ and the examples read ‘Noises, crowds, too much visual stimulation, not enough exercise, lack of sleep, junk food. The second category is ‘Emotion’ and examples read ‘Strong emotions, both positive (over-excited) and negative (anger, fear)’. The third category is ‘Cognitive’ and examples are ‘Math, IQ test’. The fourth category is ‘Social’ and examples include ‘Difficulty picking up on social cues, or understanding effect of behaviour on others’. The fifth category is ‘Prosocial’ and examples are ‘Difficulty coping with other people’s stress; sense of injustice (may include misinterpreting stress behaviour as misbehaviour’.]

Look at this chart, think about this chart. If you're interested, you can download for free as stress inventory. But basically there are five domains of stress. And what we find is that when a child is stuck in bottom-right, it's always because of stress is coming from all five domains. It's never just one domain. It may look like one domain but it's always five.

[DESCRIPTION: Screen slide reads: ‘Signs of Over-stressed’. Graphic is 12 text boxes spread over three lines, each labelled. The top row reads: ‘Find it hard to fall asleep or stay asleep’, ‘Become much more irritable’, ‘Heightened stress-reactivity’, ‘Hard to stay focused’. The middle row reads: ‘Memory lapses’, ‘Hard to problem-solve’, ‘Lagging energy’, ‘Dopaminergic cravings’. The bottom row reads: ‘Constant worrying’, ‘Intrusive thoughts’, ‘Emotional lability’, ‘Anhedonia’.]

So here are some signs, you know, how can I tell when a kid is overstressed? So here's a dozen. You'll have to, if you're interested, you need to do our Foundations course. And we'll go into detail about each one of these. And techniques, self-reg techniques for reducing the stress. The long and the short of everything I've done today is that self-reg, unlike where we started which was a top-down- Self-control is top-down model. Self-reg is neuroaxis informed.

[DESCRIPTION: Screen Slide reads: ‘The Triune Brain’. Presented is an image of a human brain, sections are colour coded into three categories, Neocortex (blue), Limbic System (red), and Reptilian Brain (brown).]

And that means we want to know the effects of the brown brain on the red brain on the upper levels. How do they reduce our ability to exercise self-control? In fact, one of the things that we now know is they even reduce our ability to be aware of when something in my body is out of whack. So there's this complicated dynamic between blue brain and red brain and brown brain. It's not as simple as saying we've got to control. The influences are bidirectional. That's what we need to understand. That's where the revolution is occurring. And so this is the whole point of self-regulation.

[DESCRIPTION: Screen slide reads: ‘Misbehaviour vs. Stress Behaviour’. The Graphic shows two categories ‘Misbehaviour’ and ‘Stress Behaviour’, and gives an explanation of each. ‘Misbehaviour’ text reads: ‘The key to misbehaviour is that the child could have acted differently; that she was aware that she shouldn’t have done something, and was perfectly capable of acting differently’. The text for ‘Stress Behaviour’ reads: ‘The key to stress behaviour is that the child is not fully aware of what she is doing, or why; she has limited capacity to act differently’. At the bottom of the graphic, a text box is labelled ‘Stress behaviour is caused by too a high stress-load. The big challenge in doing Self-Reg is figuring out why the child’s stress is so high.’]

What it's teaching us is a fundamental distinction. When is the problem that a child is demonstrating a misbehaviour? When is it a stress behaviour coming from the red brain or the brown brain because of excessive stress? What are the signs of stress behaviour? Can I learn these? Can I learn it? Yes, you can. So you'll learn, what's the tone of voice? What's happening with the eyes? What does the face look like? There are all these signs that, once you know them, it will forever change how you see a kid. Once you realize that these are just stress behaviours and what this child needs is not self-control, they need to have the stress load reduced. So how do we do it? Well, we have five steps. The first step, reframe. Reframe means distinguishing between misbehaviour and stress behaviour. The second step, we're going to figure out what the stresses are. We're going to look at all five domains. The next step we're going to start reducing stresses. Reducing the stresses that we can. So, bear in mind that our goal is to get to step four. The step of calmness, reflection. What we are seeing today is a generation of children and teens that do not know what calmness feels like, don't know what it feels like to have a mind at rest. Instead, what they're doing when they get tired is trying to find some way to keep going, some shot of dopamine that will keep the engine running. But they need to get to calm so that they can get to the fifth step, which is restoration. Restoration covers many domains. So, our own interest is in neurobiological restoration refers to the restorative functions of the parasympathetic nervous system. And these are things like cellular repair, energy replacement, growth, rebuilding up the immune system, reducing inflammation, all of these really important things. But restoration also refers to restoring your relationships, restoring your intimacy or your connection with your caregivers, with your friends. And the whole point of self-reg is you cannot use self-control to restore. Self-reg is a pathway through these five steps. The first four steps are the pathway to get to restoration. Now what you do to restore will differ for every single child. Some children will absolutely love music or art. Some like meditation or yoga. Each child will have their own likes and dislikes. But the point is, there is a pathway to self-regulation. There is a pathway to restoration. And self-reg is that pathway. This is what that scientific revolution has taught us. It's teaching us now how we could help children transition from maladaptive ways of dealing with stress to adaptive. Now, I promised your organizers that the last thing I'll say is why you yourselves need this.

[DESCRIPTION: Screen slide reads: ‘Signs of Adult Dysregulation’. Graphic shows two columns, each titled. The left column is titled ‘Signs I am dysregulated’ and the text reads ‘I am feeling rushed; I am easily frustrated; I am anxious; I crave sweet and salty foods; I drink too much coffee; I am forgetful; I am feeling frazzled; I feel tired.’ The right column is titled ‘Signs I am dysregulating others:’ and the text reads ‘I am yelling; I am getting angry at the children; I am not connecting with the children; My attempts to “manage” children aren’t working and actually feel like they are resulting in more chaos; My responses to children seem to escalate behaviours; The children don’t seem happy; “Adulting” doesn’t feel fun.]

Your job is a hard one. And we are seeing high levels of burnout. The demands on you are very great. And to some extent it's because the kids themselves are overstressed, which makes your job so much harder. But you need to be, for your own wellbeing, you need to be doing everything I've talked about today. You need to learn reframing your own signs. When am I dysregulated? And when is my dysregulation affecting my impact on the children, when I am dysregulating them further rather than helping them regulate? One of the problems with that inter-brain that I showed you is that when children are overstressed, the only thing they hear is your inter-brain, is your limbic system. They do not pay attention to the words. The messages that they're processing are limbic messages, what you yourself are feeling. So what we're going to do then is we're going to apply the fundamental premise of self-regulation.

[DESCRIPTION: Screen slide reads: ‘Signs of Adult Regulation (balance)’. Graphic shows two columns, each titled. The left column is titled ‘Signs I am Regulated’ and the text reads ‘I just feel good; My energy feels ready; I am enjoying my time with the children; I am organized and ready for the day; I feel like eating healthy; I feel like socializing with others.’ The right column is titled ‘Signs I am regulating to children:’ and the text reads ‘My children are mostly on task/doing what I would want them to be doing; My presence seems to have a calming effect on the children; The children know I care about them and they can count on me to be int heir corner; When a problem arises we work through it together.]

And that is, the emphasis starts on self. How am I feeling? Am I aware of my stress load? Am I on the pathway to restoration? And if not, what can I do? And that's essentially what we've been designed to create. We have all kinds of groups to help you along this journey. I can tell you a couple of things. First of all, you will feel better again. You will start to return to health. This has been a terribly, terribly stressful period. And it's not over yet. So we need to help out. We need to care for ourselves or our loved ones or our friends. And we need to look at children with soft eyes. They are overstressed at all ages. So, one of my most important epiphanies at the beginning of this work, way back when, was that there is no such thing as a bad kid. It's true. There are kids that are overstressed, but they're not choosing that. They're not choosing to annoy us or irritate us. They don't have the skills yet to recognize that they're overstressed, let alone why they're overstressed, and what they can do. So we can change that, we can teach that. In fact, we found that we could teach it even to children as young as three. Can you teach this to all kids? Yes. Is it easy? No. Does it happen right away? Of course not. With some kids, this can take a long time. But even with those kids where you think you're not having an effect yet, the truth is you are. And when we study it very carefully, what we find is there are very subtle signs that the trajectory is changing over time. We can help that child acquire the ability to manage their own stress. And that's the only way that they're going to have a long and happy and successful life. But our final message is, we want this for you as well. What you're doing is extraordinarily important. It's, in my opinion, the most important of all careers. But first we have to take care of you. So I hope maybe you can go back over this lecture now and just ask yourself, you know, how much does this apply to me? How much is my own stress load excessive? And what are the things I can start to do so that not only can I help all these kids but I can begin to experience that joy which is what drove me to this career in the first place? Okay? So good luck everybody. And I hope this helps.

[End of transcript]

Our knowledge of the development of self-regulation has grown by leaps and bounds over the past ten years. We now have a much deeper understanding of why self-regulation is so important, why young children are prone to maladaptive modes of self-regulating in the early years, and what we can do to change these patterns and thereby enhance their long-term wellbeing. With this new knowledge has come a greater appreciation of the critical role played by early educators in children’s lives, and the importance of Self-Reg for their own wellbeing.


Dr Susan Hopkins
Executive Director
The MEHRIT Centre

A practical look at Self-Reg in the early years (0:52:22)

Susan Hopkins

Hello, everyone. I'm Susan Hopkins, and I am participating in this event for Australia. We're so happy that we were invited to be part of it and hope that we spark a lot of interest for you in self-reg as a result.

So what I've been asked to do is prerecord a little bit of a Q and A. I have five questions that we get asked a lot from early childhood educators. And this list in particular are actually from Australia, from another partner that we worked with in the past. And they had everybody put together a list of scenarios based on actual challenges. And that's what this other centre actually used. So I'm going to throw them at Stuart. You need to know that he's only going to give a one or two, a short response. He may choose to take that in a longer way, and then I'll fill in what I know on the backend from my experience of trying to bring Stuart's magical and very important, life-changing child-healing, family, good for the ECEs, work to the world.

So here we go, Stuart. So I'm going to give you just a sample scenario. Again, but remember, these are based on real stories and they're from Australia. The ECE likes self-reg, really liked the framework and the five steps. But the challenge that she asked about was, she can see how self-reg can work great with all of, most of the kids. That it will really help them and help her, but she's got a ‘that kid’. And this ‘that kid’ is out of control. Doesn't care. It seems like doesn't care, and is often volatile and very unpredictable. And the example was a week ago, this boy picked up a big rock. Somebody said something he didn't like, one of the other kids in the class. And he picked up a big rock and threw it at a little girl's head. He missed, but she was quite sure he did it intentionally. And, in fact, when they asked him, he said, "Yeah, I know. "Yeah, I was trying to hit her." And so how on earth do you do self-reg in a situation like this?

Dr Stuart Shanker

- Well, it's a tough situation because it's scary. We're scared for the safety of the children. And maybe deep down, we're scared for his own well-being, too. We know that this is a really worrying trajectory.

But what we do with self-reg is we always try to, first, give that pause before we react and will react with alarm or anger. We want to sort of calm down our own arousal, our own anxiety.

And we do this various ways. So we talk about in self-reg, we want to ask ourselves why, and why now? And what we're really trying to do is we're trying to get to that calm state ourselves, where we can, in fact, be reflective.

And now we know certain things. We know that this little boy is extremely overstressed and is going into fight or flight. In this example, this is a norepinephrine-driven behaviour. And so then the question is why is he so easily triggered? And we know the answer is that he has what we call a kindled arousal, a kindled alarm system. And we know that excessive stress has caused this. And we know that this stress, it could be familial. It could be sensory. It could be all of the above. And we know that he is capable of learning how to regulate his stress in a constructive way. And that's the key.

All children have this capability. But what's happened with this little guy is, for whatever reason, he has not developed constructive or adaptive ways of dealing with stress. And so when he gets overstressed, he goes straight into that primitive state of aggression. But what you have to hold onto here is not just the hope, but, in fact, the science-based understanding that he can learn how to recognize when he's overstressed, how to reduce the stress before the explosions occur. And this example tells us that this little guy really needs it.

Now, then the question is how? How do we do this? We take the pause in order to balance ourselves. And then we do self-reg.

The five steps of self-reg are the steps that will get him to that state where he can begin to change how he manages stress, how he deals with whatever the stresses are in his life, okay? And what we have to hold fast to is, one of the great lessons that we've learned from child psychiatry over the last 30 or 40 years, all trajectories can be changed. All children can, in fact, learn self-reg, but only when they're calm. Only when they, themselves, instead of having that alarm response, our alarm response, if we can regulate ourselves, we can begin to regulate him.

And then we can begin the five steps of self-reg, okay? And don't look, I'll just add one last thing. Don't look for that instant response. This takes time. It has to be repeated over and over. But if you watch carefully, and if you think about it, you'll see that, right from the start, there are little signs of improvement, and they build on those. And eventually, what will happen is the trajectory will change.

The child will learn how to recognize for himself when he is becoming overstressed and how he can, on his own, return to that state of calmness, calmness in body, calmness in mind. And that will turn off the neurochemicals, the catecholamines that are the reason why he threw the stone.

Susan Hopkins

So just looking at my notes, I always love listening to Stuart answer some of these questions. I get asked them all the time as well. And he takes the science into it, but he just does it in a way that, even after all these years of working with Stuart, I learn something new every time.

What I really liked in his response, and couldn't agree with more, was how I hope you, as ECEs, are asking questions like this, who have situations and children that you're working with throwing rocks. It's scary. It is scary, and you're responsible for keeping all the children safe and yourself. And I love that he validated that fear response. And I hope that as he led you through seeing that child differently.

He has a saying, see a child differently, see a different child. One of the most important things to me about learning the science is that we begin to think about it in terms of the most challenging. We call them the ‘that kid.’ You know ‘that one?’ You can figure out all the others, you just can't figure out ‘that kid’. It is the same response there. And through the science, he's really inviting you to see that child differently.

The one thing I will add is, from the ECE perspective, if you still feel yourself, even if you're trying your best not to let the child see it, it's kind of coming up for you, that yeah, but he knew. He's doing it on purpose. He can't feel empathy. Then we need to go back and we need to say, "Okay, yeah, he can." So I need to recognize that this is actually a stress response in me. And because I have all these responsibilities, it feels unjust. I'm worried for him. I'm worried for the other kids. And just notice it's coming up because it is colouring what you see in the child. And the thing about it is that that child's brain/body are picking up how you're feeling. And so if we know that this child, just like any child, is capable of learning self-reg.

So that doesn't mean being able to rhyme off, oh, reframe the behaviour and recognize the stressors. Coming to realize it's like a sneeze coming on. Notice when you're getting overstressed or notice beginning to become aware, enough self-awareness. And then having some strategies that work for you. And remembering that self-reg, it's a process.

At a center level, it's a framework, to begin to figure out all kinds of things. At a personal or individual level, it's a process. So that doesn't mean that the child needs to be able to rhyme off the five steps. Right? It's really about being able to recognize and reduce stress, being able to restore, and seeing.

An elder gave me the language of, an Indigenous elder here in Canada, gave me the language of soft eyes. Seeing, for the ECE, seeing themselves with softer eyes, seeing the child with soft eyes. And maybe helping that child to recognize, oh, I just went red brain, right? And is it going to happen the first time? No, but each time, it's like the drip, drip, drip effect, that you respond and recognize this child needs soothing. This child needs me to be present. I notice this child walks in. I already know it's going to be a day.

What am I going to do at that particular moment? Am I saying free-for-all? And just, "Oh, you just threw a rock. "Oh, I'm so sorry you're overstressed." No, right? You can say, "Hey," like, you can absolutely say, "That's not okay. "That's not what we do. "But also, that's not who you are," right?

Help the child see themselves differently. And it's like a drip, drip, drip effect. Over time, you will see the differences. And maybe you're not going to see them in two months. Like, this is also a playing the long game. There's what do I do in the moment, right? Like, you got to keep people safe. But then we've got to notice our response and our states so that we're able to stay in a more balanced state as we deal with what we need to deal with. But this is a long game.

The child didn't get to these responses overnight, and we have to see those little moments of progress, the little moments when they catch themselves ahead of time and beginning to work on it over time. Sometimes it does shift really quickly, but I personally would far rather be on the side of practicing through understanding the science. You don't need to know all those words. I don't know 'em all, right? It's okay. I know some of them. I'm learning each time I hear. I'm an educator, and I'm a universal educator. I think about every single child.

And I would rather be on the side of having contributed as much as I could, not adding more stress to an overstressed child's plate, and trying to support, trying to co-regulate, than getting it wrong in the opposite ways and doing some of those older-style behaviours, kind of approaches and timeouts and taking away their breaks. They need their breaks. Don't do that. You wouldn't take away a snack, right? And thinking I'm actually helping them develop moral character, when really what they needed, to feel safe and connected to me. Okay, that's not an easy one. And I'm really glad that those kind of questions are asked. Those are difficult ones.

The MEHRIT Centre does have, this is with Self-Reg Global, but the sister company is self-reg.ca, and we have a terrific ECD course for early childhood educators if you're interested in going deeper, and these sorts of questions are addressed.

Question two. So this is about a little girl, and it's from a team. And this little girl seems just fine most of the time. And she can be lovely. She has friends. And she often follows the rules and does the work that they want her to do. But then on a dime, she becomes explosive, and she's like a different child. She scares the others when this happens. She looks different. They just feel like everything about her shifts on a dime. And it comes out of nowhere, and everything they try. They try getting her to talk about her emotions. They've tried timeouts. They've tried working with the family. They've tried all kinds of things. And none of it, none of it works when this happens.

Dr Stuart Shanker

- Okay, so this is what we call the pressure cooker phenomenon. And it looks like it comes out of nowhere, but, in fact, it doesn't. It comes from somewhere. One of the problems for little kids is they can have a lot of trouble expressing certain emotions.

Now, you mentioned how we've done all this work, tried to get her to talk about what she's feeling. We've worked with Mom and Dad, or whoever, trying to work on her emotion regulation. But none of it seems to work. And the reason is the child is frightened of that emotion. Now, why is the child frightened of the emotion?

Well, and it can happen with different kinds of emotion. It's not just anger or fear. It can even happen with love, where certain children are afraid of feeling love. What the child tries to do is they try to suppress the emotion that scares them.

There's some very interesting work on suppression that we're doing right now in our TMC work. And I'll just give you a snapshot of it. The sources of suppression lie deep in the midbrain, where there are two systems that are very closely connected in the midbrain, in the periaqueductal brain. And these two systems are the panic/grief system, that's what it's called, and pain. And the neurons are, the pathways are very close together. And what happens is when a child is afraid of separation. And the separation could be, it could be separation from parents. It could be separation from their teacher or ECE. It could be separation from other children.

What that does is it causes a sharp drop in opioids, and this is tied to the pain circuit. So not only does it feel unpleasant, this emotion, it actually hurts. It actually causes what's called nociceptive activity. That's why the kid suppresses it. The kid suppresses because this is such an unpleasant sensation, this sensation of your world falling apart. And it's not just psychological. It is physiological. It actually activates the pain system. Of course, they're going to suppress it.

Now, what we have to do with this child is we know that you can only suppress so long, and then you get the explosion. And that's why I started off with the pressure cooker because what leads up to the explosion is the suppression. And so what we have to do with this child is we have to help them experience these emotions while feeling safe.

They have to learn that it is just an emotion. That it is ephemeral, fleeting. That it will not cause separation. It will not cause, this emotion will not cause us to send them away, to break the connection with them, nor with the other kids.

So what we're trying to do in self-reg, and I've just given one example, is when we see something that we think has come out of nowhere, what self-reg teaches us. So we do that thing again. We say, "Why, why now?" And what we start to realize is it hasn't come out of nowhere.

There have been pressures building that have led up to the explosion. And now what I need to do is I need to try to figure out why was the pressure building? Is it a case of what I've described just now? Is it a case of the child trying to suppress her feeling of being rejected, her feeling whatever? And once that child learns how to. This is not a blue-brain skill. This is not a case of teaching them some sort of emotion regulation strategy. Count to 10 before you hit. This is a case of calming down that deep, ancient brain system so that the emotion in question, which is coming from the limbic system, that emotion doesn't send them into a catastrophic state. That they don't have that panic slash pain response.

Susan Hopkins

So number two. We talked about the explosive, the behaviours that come out of nowhere. And I don't have a whole lot to add to what Stuart shared. I mean, he talked about the pressure cooker effect, and that's what it seems like.

There really is no such thing as an explosive behavior. And the best way I like to think about it is the volcano, the idea of a volcano. Yeah, where science has gotten a lot better. We're able to predict, with more accuracy than decades and decades ago, when a volcano is going to erupt, but we don't know exactly. What we do know is there's all sorts of things going on beneath conscious awareness, right? No, sorry, volcanoes don't have.

With the child, beneath conscious awareness, with the volcano beneath the surface. And so it isn't actually explosive. I like thinking of it like this Fitbit or the smartwatch of the future. Just imagine that you could, the technology's already there, but just imagine the child's in front of you. You've got two children that do the very same thing. It's an explosive behaviour. And that you could see the chemicals of stress, all of those neurotransmitters, those things that were happening in the brain and body. And we see with one child, all we see is a certain part of the brain lit up, and we're not seeing really overstressed or any of those things. And then we see with another child, it's just an absolute whirlwind. We have compassion, we see differently.

So I invite you to do that with this child as well. And beginning to think about things like, oh, he's seeking attention, or she's seeking attention, or they're seeking attention constantly. I hear my name 5,000 times a day. Yeah, we do, right, as educators, and it's hard on us, but is that really the function, the seeking attention, seeking attention in self-reg? Noticing that. I mean, that's okay to notice, but why, right?

Those of you that are parents, you've all gone through the experience, or most of you, I would assume, of your child's wanting to show you the same thing over and over again. "Oh, Mom, Mom, look at me do "the handstand in the pool" over and over and over again. So there's a need there. And when we think of it as a seeking connection, wow, what a reframe that is.

So does that mean you're going to stop, the 3,000 times you hear your name a day? No, but I would suggest that these children, the ones that you struggle the most with, are the ones that you actively, intentionally seek out more connection. Even just a moment, a couple of times a day, it can really, that's setting up that interbrain and it can really make a difference.

So doing some proactive. And you're still dealing with the challenging things, but you're building that relationship. You're building that connection. You are filling that need that you've seen. So if we get through a whole day and a child who's asked us for attention all kinds of times, and we haven't found a couple of minutes, a couple of seconds, some intentional. And we're listening, we're not talking. We're giving them what they need. Then that's a really good place to start, working on the little things.

Number three. This sounds great, but I have a number of children at the centre, they're just not ready for it yet. They're not ready for self-reg. They're not able to follow rules. They're not respecting. They're not taking care of their things. They're not getting along with other kids. There's so many things going on, and they're just not ready for self-reg.

Dr Stuart Shanker

- Okay, so all kids are ready for self-reg and all kids are ready for self-reg from a very early age. It really depends on what we mean by being ready for self-reg.

This is not about rules. This is not about appropriate social behaviour. So what do we mean by being ready for self-reg?

A child is born, literally, with some very basic self-regulating mechanisms. They're pretty good, but they're not great. They really need their caregiver to help them stay in that homeostatic state of being safe and calm and thriving. And as they start to get older, they begin to learn new self-regulating behaviours.

So, for example, the one-year-old is learning how to attract the caregiver's attention when they're feeling overstressed. The two-year-old is lifting up their arms, asking for that skin-to-skin contact, which triggers the release of opioids. So they are learning behaviours, adaptive behaviours, that help them manage stress.

In the beginning, the examples that I just gave you, I did deliberately. They are examples where they are soliciting an adult's assistance to deal with stresses that they can't deal with on their own.

When we talk about kids being ready for self-reg, what we mean is kids being ready to learn adaptive ways of dealing with stress. Young children, if left to their own, can easily develop maladaptive ways of dealing with stress. And perhaps, the maladaptive way is they have a tantrum or they zone out, learned helplessness.

These are maladaptive ways. What's the adaptive way? The adaptive way is, of course, these are little guys, so the adaptive way is to solicit help from the ECE to deal with stresses that they can't quite handle on their own.

In that situation that Susan was describing, what we're seeing there is how there is this phenomenon of limbic contagion. And so here, what's happening is perhaps just one or a couple of the kids are easily overstressed and don't know how to handle it. And that is having a contagion effect on the stress levels of the other children.

So what are we going to do? Well, what we're going to do is we're going to create that atmosphere of safety and calmness. We're not worried about rules here. We are reframing the behaviour that we're seeing, knowing that these are signs of excessive stress, knowing that the children, for whatever reason, don't know how to reduce, how to down-regulate, how to calm themselves.

And so what we figure out are calming strategies, where what we're looking for has nothing to do with self-control, nothing to do with self-discipline. These are ancient parts of the brain that have become hyperaroused. And what we want to do is calm down the hyperarousal, and then help these children learn how they can do this for themself. And bear in mind something that I said in one of my previous answers, all children can learn this. We did this with little guys, three-year-olds on the spectrum. They could do it, all right? It just requires from us an understanding of the five steps of self-reg. Doing it to ourselves so that we can help them go through the five steps.

Susan Hopkins

Okay, so number three, they're not ready, okay? I loved Stuart's response. It was terrific. And the science, the examples he gives at one and two years old, it really reminds us what's our definition of self-regulation?

If it's still self-control or social-emotional learning or self-regulated learning or executive function, all of those are very much blue brain. We're working with the original psychophysiological, brain-body definition of self-regulation. And it includes that thinking brain, the blue brain, but it includes every system in our body, and how brilliant brain and bodies are at finding the balance. And so really beginning to recognize that maladaptive self-regulation is important. And think about what Stuart just shared, that if you don't help children find adaptive ways, they're going to find maladaptive ways because they're driven.

It's a survival mechanism, built into us, in our DNA, a way of dealing with the stress. And there are maladaptive ways. Your grown-up ways might be, I don't know, junk food or wine, or it could be shopping. Why are we more likely to shop when we're really exhausted and overtired online? Because we're in a dysregulated stress state. And it actually makes impulsive things happen more often. And you do it, and you feel better for a moment, and then you feel worse, right? It's maladaptive. So it's really beginning to see what children are doing in a moment if it's something that's not safe or healthy for others, but really kind of seeing it with those different eyes, okay? And realizing that these underlying stress states, this is about me and you, too.

Maybe you have all the patience for kids all day long and families and your colleagues that see things differently. And then you go home and you're snappy with your own kids or your partner. Or you don't do something you should do, and you procrastinate. You sit and veg on the TV all night long or you avoid, I don't know, a phone call that you should have taken or these sorts of things.

They're all still forms of self-regulation, 'cause you're actually reducing the stress in some way with those things, but they're maladaptive, they're maladaptive. It's a limbic utterance when you feel really frustrated with your own kids at the end. But why are we seeing?

We need to see children differently, see a different child. And we also need to recognize that this is about us, as well, too. So the readiness stuff is a myth. And especially in the early years, everywhere. But the readiness stuff, it's more of a self-control mindset. We often think, oh, they're not ready to follow the rules on their own, so I need to regulate them.

And that's not this definition, this brain-body definition of self-regulation. That's about self-control. And guess what? What kids live, it really infuses that idea of osmosis that Stuart talks about in another segment. It's what they live that infuses that. And so we're trying to encourage independence. We co-reg. We look for opportunities. We help children reframe. We recognize when they need some soothing, not verbal, right? And we trust that they're already doing this. How can we nurture our way towards adaptive modes of self-regulation? And we got to watch ourselves for the should, could have, would. That's self-control. So the biggest one here is bust that myth.

It may not look it, but the examples, the child with the rock in the beginning. So if you think about what Stuart told you, he was telling you there's a whole lot going on in this kid. And for whatever reason, they're suppressing, and not letting people near. And whether the rock came out of nowhere, which would be my guess. A lot of times, these things happen to kids, and they're like, maybe they can come up with explanations that justify it. There's all kinds of signs to explain that. Again, go deeper. Take a course or read one of the books or whatever will help you with that, but just realizing that these are all modes of staying in that homeostasis is a really important start.

Number four, there's a child that has a diagnosis. And nothing that works with all of the other kids works with this child. I really don't think we can handle this child on their own. The littlest thing will set the child off. As soon as I tell this child that he has to stop what he's doing and come and do something different, it's a complete meltdown. The one little thing will still be a huge, big deal hours later. We often end up having to get the parents to come and pick him up because it's just more than we can handle as ECEs.

Dr Stuart Shanker

There's lots of answers to this. One of the things that we are very anxious about is the use of diagnoses. A diagnosis can transform how we see a child. And, in fact, the person who trained me, Stanley Greenspan, refused to use diagnostic terms.

Instead, he would, only after examining a kid at length, over several sessions, he would tell parents, "These are the child's strengths, "and these are the sensory issues "that need to be strengthened."

Now, what Susan's describing, this child, after this event, is still several hours in this sort of distress state. That's a very important point. It's telling us a couple of things. First of all, the key sentence Susan used was we tell him such and such, or her such and such, and it doesn't seem to produce any effect. And, of course, when we think of that, we're thinking about a blue-brain approach. But if this child is in a state of red brain, they cannot process what we're saying.

The systems in the brain that enable a child to process what we're saying have been blocked, have been overcome by limbic arousal.

Now, the next point is very important. One of the things we know is that when that alarm goes off, when we go into that state of amygdala arousal, it takes four to six hours for that arousal to naturally subside. This is not the kind of thing where we can, Susan was using this expression moments before, there's no magic bullet. You can't turn off an amygdala. And once that alarm is gone, you've triggered all kinds of neurochemicals that are called catecholamines that are coursing through the brain. They cross over the blood-brain barrier, coursing through the body. And so it takes several hours for these neurochemicals to subside, to be reabsorbed.

So we have a couple of things that we want to do for this child. And I come back to something I said on the previous answer. This child can learn how to recognize what is overstressing them, what they can do to reduce their feeling of growing stress. All children can learn this, any child. I mean, I made the point before, we worked with young kids on the spectrum. They can learn if you use a language that they can understand, and maybe a physical language, using dolls. They may not be at the level. They may not even be at the level that the other children are, where they can process the language. The language just sort of over their head. So instead, what we have to do is we have to find ways of communicating that they can actually process, internalise.

No child, absolutely no child wants to feel what this little kid is feeling. These feelings are aversive. Our brain is designed to feel pleasure, to avoid aversive sensations. Pleasure comes from human contact. It comes from soothing voice. This triggers pleasure endorphins, but endorphins. So we know that this child wants to feel good. We know that this child is overstressed. We know that this child can learn how to do the five steps of self-reg for themself, but only if we get rid of that diagnostic label. Take it off the table. Just see a little kid who is being overloaded, who can be helped if we can reduce the load, figure out. There are simple strategies to do this, depending on what the issue is for this child. And then teach them constructive behaviours for when they are starting to feel overstressed. And all kids can learn this, every single kid.

Susan Hopkins

So number four, the diagnostic term, and just, we're trying everything and nothing works. I didn't give Stuart these questions ahead of time 'cause I like his answers on the spot, because that's really how a Q and A works.

And you'll notice, I didn't say the diagnosis. I know what it was because it was in the original description. And he's saying we don't use the diagnostic terms. Don't mistake that for suggesting that early diagnosis isn't important. And for some, autism is an example.

But then, it can also get in the way and it can cloud what we see. And we have to be very careful as universalists, which is what I consider myself. I really think about all children, every child in the centre. I like the universal design for learning concept, which would be, you might think of a couple of kids that they need more, for whatever reason, they need more to feel safe. They need more. We need to build something in. This child is not good to sit in the circle, if you do circles, for more than five minutes. And I can't will that child into that. I need to recognize that there is lots of reasons behind that. And five minutes is a long time for a young child, anyway. So first of all, I'm going to say that. And so what can I build in that makes circle safe for that child? And then I make it available to others, because that's the neat thing about universal design.

You're thinking about a couple of children, and then you make it available for everyone, and who needs it gets what they need, right? So kind of getting away from some of the things we do to ourselves that are points of tension. Oh, well, they can't line up. Every time they line up, there's problems. When I go in and work in a center, I'm like, well, do they need to line up every time, right? Maybe sometimes. But do they? And often we find, oh, oh, maybe they don't, right? Okay, so I'm trying to get the child to conform, right, to do, become compliant. And in self-reg, it's not the same goal.

We would like children to want to be compliant. We don't want to control them, right? So we need to understand what are some of the things that we can do to make it easier on this child? I know that sometimes feels hard. Like, you think, oh, this child gets all the extra attention and all the, blah, blah, blah. And you're going too easy on him, and these sorts of things. I'm saying him because I'm thinking of the first scenario, but that's not how it works. If I have asthma, you would have certain compassion around knowing that I had asthma.

I've worked with children who have all kinds of visible differences, and we have that compassion. We need the same compassion for dysregulation. We really privilege, right, children who are able to regulate their stress, their energy, their tension in little ways, taking a breather by themselves or whatever it is that they're able to do. And not realizing that these other children are often burning more energy.

Some of the things that are easy for some children are exhausting for other children. And that switch can really make a big difference, okay? So be cautious, as well, of assuming a diagnosis based on what you see. I never do that. I'm not a clinician, I'm an educator. And I've got to notice, when a thought comes to mind, exhaustion, absolute exhaustion can mimic all sorts of diagnosis, sleep deprivation. And even when we know it's sleep deprivation, we've got to catch ourselves on that assumption that that's because the parents let them do whatever they wanted. Maybe, right, but you know what else makes a child or an adult exhausted? Huge energy depletion, which can happen very, very quickly when we're in certain situations. For some kids, it's a math problem. For me, it's driving on busy highways, like in Toronto, and missing my exit. I'm like, right? So that's energy depletion. So then you're seeing exhaustion, and it actually serves a purpose.

Oh, also remember that the, look at the behaviour, I love that Stuart talked about Stanley Greenspan's ideas and recognizing and think, why, and why now? And what will help this child?

The compassionate way is to reduce a little bit of stress. You're seeing the signs that they just have too much, and they do not have the internal or external resources to manage them. And that's not bubble wrapping. How can I reduce the things that aren't helping that child so they can deal with the things they need to? Too many lineups. That can be a point of tension and very energy-draining, right? What are the little things that I can do to see this child with soft eyes so that I can get back to the things I need to do?

Number five, we're already doing all of this. The problem is the parents. There's only so much we can do if it's not to the parents. So maybe instead of coming to us as ECEs, we should be going to the parents.

Dr Stuart Shanker:

I hear this all the time. And my answer to you for the fourth question is actually the same for the fifth.

The parents don't want to feel these aversive sensations any more than the children do. And what we have found is if we can create an environment in which parents can come and talk to us, get their child and feel safe, that they will not be judged, they will not be lectured to, they will be helped.

What we have found is that even someone who has really never developed these constructive ways of managing stress and is now a parent, they can learn it, too. They can learn it almost, I want to say, through osmosis. They learn it by us asking why, why now?

Don't jump into judging them, criticising them. Instead, what we're going to do is exactly what we do with their children. If the child is demonstrating that they need help learning how to soothe, how to reduce stresses, it's not surprising if we see the same thing in the parent or the caregiver. But everybody needs the same thing. They need to feel safe and secure if they are going to learn by being, as Susan used this wonderful term just a few moments ago, this is a matter of being, and not instructing. They don't need a lecture. They don't need to be punished. They need to feel safe with their child. And maybe it's the first time in their lives that they've felt safe themselves. That they've learned how to, I want to say, get to step four of self-reg, which is being calm.

Susan Hopkins

So Stuart ended with this. We hear this a lot, okay? So it's either, yeah, but it's the parents. Or it's, the other one that is common is I get this, but the other ECE I work with or whatever doesn't get it. And I have to tell you, I worked in education before early years, and then working with Stuart now.

I remember like seeing educators that didn't have the compassion for a child in the moment, or really were convinced everything was intentional, and added the stress to the kid's plate, from my perspective. And I have tried everything. I did the information sheets. I mean, this is a couple decades ago. And it doesn't work very well. You can't thou shalt someone else into seeing differently. So I became, my focus is what will help? What will work? Seeing people who see things very differently with soft eyes is important. Everybody cares about these kids, all right?

People who have more of a self-control, they're quite convinced that if you go too easy, right, on kids, that you're making it worse. This is not about no structure, no boundaries. Actually, really regular schedules, with some flexibility in it, can help reduce some of the stress because of the predictability. But we do that not in a behaviours way. We do that because it reduces the stress, knowing what comes next. But also having a little bit of flexibility so that if the meteor lands in your backyard and you don't take the kids out to see it, but that's too much, right? So recognizing that. But I've also realized that when we're doing this, yeah, but he. You can have a ton of compassion maybe for the children, maybe for certain marginalized populations. I have a lot of compassion. And then there's always that certain group or this certain person, that, right?

For me, I always had a lot of compassion for parents. And it came really quite easily most of the time, okay? But I would struggle with teachers that, because that was my profession, right? And I was always a relationship-based teacher and educator. But I had to check that out because that is actually a stress response in me. When I catch myself judging someone else, or even feeling a little bit I know better than you, which happens. I get this. That is still a brain-body state. There's an underlying state. And guess what it cues in others? Not safety, but it cues threat. So we're putting up the walls and we don't even realize it. And it's important because sometimes we can get stuck and think, well, there's nothing I can do because the parents, the kids on the video all night long, and they come exhausted and they're showing up with junk food for breakfast. And so there's nothing I can do. So that's both a sort of a stuck position.

If there's a little bit of judgment in there, be kind with yourself if you notice you do that. It's a human thing. But it also blinds you to realizing that there's still work you need to do. And so you think of your sphere of influence. If that's one person, that's you, right? If you can have the influence on others, I think it's wonderful.

When Stuart talked about this idea of osmosis, I learned along the way that telling doesn't work all that well. Showing, not just modelling, because I'm not doing it for an intentional, that kind of a way. I'm living it. I'm like, oh. And I mess up sometimes. And I say, "Oh, oops." If I have to say sorry, I say sorry and try to put it right. If I find myself going a little red brain, I'm like, okay, where'd that come from? And I put things right that I need to. And it begins to come more and more often.

But we're having an injustice kind of stress response. It's a prosocial stress to others not getting it. But we're also blinding ourselves to how much influence we can have. And sometimes the resilience research is terrific, that one person, maybe they have families that are struggling. And we have to look and realize parents love their kids. They do. And many, many parents are dealing, and families and caregivers, are dealing with backpacks that we might assume are heavy, and maybe they're 10 times as heavy, and we don't know, and we don't need to know. We can recognize and have some compassion, try to build our interbrain relationships. Not just a and recognizing that, I mean, centres and schools can be, actually trigger stress responses for certain, for people that struggled in school, certain populations and things in the history. Those are not choices. Those are not choices. Those are things that happened to them. So how can I see that differently and how can I keep working on myself? That's something for you to mull.

So does that mean don't advocate for parents? Yeah, you're on defence, and I do lots of them. And I really think the way to go is little by little, and mostly walk our talk. Okay, here's my little sphere of influence. And what happens is people begin to come to you and they're like, "Well, how are you "how is that working with that child? "And none of us can do that." It can begin to have ripple effects.

And so self-reg is a great, compassionate point of entry into seeing ourselves differently, seeing the connections. Knowing that when we're not seeing empathy, and we're seeing some of these behaviours, that's just a sign. It really is. It's a sign of a dysregulated stress system trying its best to stay in balance, and doing it in all kinds of ways that are 2022 rules and norms that don't go with that and are problematic and are adding to our stress loads. And so what can I do about it? And the little things are often the place to start.

Thank you. Thank you for including us. Please reach out. Reach out to selfregglobal.com. Reach out. Come and take some courses with The MEHRIT Centre, self-reg.ca. And most of all, know how valued you are and how appreciative, just how important the rules of anyone working in the early years. They've always been important. I think our world and our society is realizing that just how much right now. And I hope you feel honoured and recognized for your incredible contributions, and I wish you all well. Take care. Bye.

[End of transcript]

Including children with disability or developmental delay within early learning settings involves more than simply enrolling them. Educators need to make reasonable adjustments to support their engagement and participation in the early learning environment. This presentation will provide an overview of how to tune in to the individual needs of young children with disability or delay to support their inclusion by developing Individual Learning Plans for these children.


Dr Sarah Carlon
Manager of Research and Education
STaR Association

Tuning in to the needs of young children with disability or delay (0:43:17)

Dr Sarah Carlon

- Hello. Welcome.

- Welcome.

- Thank you for joining us today.

[DESCRIPTION: Slide showing an acknowledgment of country, along with an artwork called Kariong – Our meeting place by Stella Haynes, Year 2 Cammeraygal Country, Eora Nation].  

- We would like to start by acknowledging the traditional custodians of the various lands on which we meet today and pay our respects to elders past, present, and emerging and extend that respect to any Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people joining us today.

[DESCRIPTION: Screen slide reads ‘Tuning in to the needs of young children with a disability or delay’. The subtitle reads: ‘Dr Sarah Carlon and Megan Cooper, STaR’]

Today, we're going to be talking about tuning into the needs of young children with disability or delay.

[DESCRIPTION: Screen transitions to slide labelled ‘Who are we?’. The logo of STaR is presented centre of screen. The subtitle reads ‘Presenters: Dr Sarah Carlon and Megan Cooper’]

We are from STaR, and STaR is an acronym that stands for special education teaching and training, and research. So we believe that with the right support, all people can and should learn together, that lifelong learning is a human right. We work across the early years school age and post-school settings to ensure that people with disabilities have access to progressive and meaningful learning. Established in 2001, we've worked with over 600 families and 300 educators across 30 inclusive early childhood services. I am Sarah Carlon.

- Hi, I'm Megan Cooper.

- And we look forward to speaking with you today.

[DESCRIPTION: Screen slide reads ‘Overview’. The graphic is a list referenced as follows.]

- Excellent. So today, we're going to go through a few things in this short time. We're going to look at what is inclusion, a nice definition for you to keep with you, talk briefly about legal obligations and a little bit about the law, what the law says. Tuning into the needs of our children, which is the key to developing an individual learning plan. We're going to go through briefly the individual learning plan planning cycle, and we'll end with some take home messages that you can share and reflect on. Think about with your team to discuss what you might want to try or change or have a think about.

[DESCRIPTION: Screen slide reads ‘What is inclusion?’. The slide shows a quote from ACECQA (2020) referenced as follows.]

- So what is inclusion? So it's likely to be a word that you are familiar with because equity, inclusion and diversity underpin the National Quality Framework under which every early childhood service in Australia operates. ACECQA identify inclusion as an approach where diversity is celebrated. It's about educators holding high expectations for the learning and development of all the children we work with, and recognizing at the same time that each child's learning path is individual, and every child will progress in different but equally meaningful ways.

[DESCRIPTION: Screen slide reads ‘What is inclusion?’. The slide shows a quote from Early Childhood Australia (2016). It also shows a graphic where the word ‘Access’ leads to the word ‘Participation’ which leads to the word ‘Outcomes’ and is referenced as follows.]

- Excellent. So more specifically, Early Childhood Australia defines inclusion to mean that every child has access to and is able to participate meaningfully in and experience positive outcomes from early childhood education and care programs. So drawing on this definition of inclusion, what is key that's there are these three components. The first one is access. That is simply enrolling into your service being welcomed, having access to local, hopefully community childcare services, getting your foot in the door. So there's no way for children to be included if we're turning them away from our early childhood services and saying that it's too difficult, or we don't have a spot, or we're not sure how to work with kids with autism is not going to lead to successful inclusion.

So the key here is once you have enrolled your local children in your service and you facilitate their participation, this is where the action happens, this is the work, which is the engagement. Participation in your program, your routines, your experiences and activities that will by nature lead to positive outcomes for our children, which is the key to their whole inclusion cycle. So the whole thing has to come together.

[DESCRIPTION: Screen slide reads ‘Inclusion of All children – the law’. The slide outlines the Disability Discrimination Act and is referenced as follows.]

- So why include children with disability? It's actually the law. So the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 was an act passed by the Parliament of Australia, which prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities across a range of areas including education. Discrimination is defined to include failing to make reasonable adjustments for the person, in your case, for the child attending your early childhood service, or the early years of school. And complaints can actually be made to the Australian Human Rights Commission if we fail to make those adjustments to include children with disability in our educational settings.

- That's it. And more specifically, when we look at education, The Disability Standards For Education really spell out what that means as an education service. So the standards covered five areas of a child's educational experience, enrolment, participation, curriculum, student support, harassment and victimization. So these standard support the Disability Discrimination Act as a framework to ensure that children can access, be involved in and benefit from their education on the same basis as their peers.

[DESCRIPTION: Screen transitions to slide labelled ‘A child with a disability has arrived in my service or classroom – what do I do?’ Two images are on screen, both depicting students in schools. The first is a child jogging towards the camera, smiling. The second is of a seated boy, being presented with a tactile ball in a classroom.]

So hopefully that helps you see legally where the ethics is coming from.

- That's right. So reflecting now on what inclusion is, and with the knowledge that including a child with disability or delay in your early learning environment is actually a legal obligation as well. The next question for you might be, okay, so after enrolling a child with a disability or developmental delay, what do I do now? So as educators, you might find that, okay, a child with a disability has arrived in my classroom and you're likely to think, okay, how do I tune into the needs of this child, what to do next?

[DESCRIPTION: Screen slide reads ‘Start by collecting information/data.’ A graphic details five segments of a circle, each labelled, surrounding a full, smaller circle. In clockwise order, the outer segments are labelled ‘Observing/collecting information’; ‘Analysing learning’; ‘Planning’; ‘Implementing’; ‘Reflecting/evaluation’. The inner circle is labelled ‘Assessment and Planning Cycle’. There is a large arrow pointing to ‘observing/collecting information’.]

- Hmm. So we have a system. We've got a plan here. The first step in tuning into the needs of a child with disability so that you can write an individual learning plan or an individual education plan for the child is also the first step in the usual assessment and planning cycle in early childhood education, which is collecting information. We start getting to know our children or students, observing, collecting some basic data, getting ideas from all of the people involved with that young person.

[DESCRIPTION: Screen slide reads ‘What information to we need to tune in to the needs of the child/student?’ The slide outlines a list of information, and is referenced as follows.]

- Okay. So what information though do we need? let's start with information from the child's family about their priorities for their child. So what do they want their child to get out of coming to your learning environment? About their child's strengths and their interests, their functional needs. We want to know about the next plan setting. So in the early years it might be, are you thinking, is the child going to school? If you're in the school setting, is the child going to continue within this setting? Are we aiming for moving to a less restrictive environment moving forward? Is there sort of movement within an early childhood service to a different room? And also, we want to know from the parents about the goals or objectives that might be targeted by professionals that they're working with outside of your learning environment, so outside of school or the early childhood environment. For example, they might be seeing a speech pathologists or occupational physiotherapists outside, what strategies are these other professionals using and what objectives are they targeting for the child? It's all going to be really useful information. But how do we get that?

[DESCRIPTION: Screen slide reads ‘How can we collect information from families?’. A graphic shows a thought cloud filled with words of differing sizes, the largest of which is ‘Conversations’ followed by ‘Enrolment forms’ and ‘Orientation visits’.]

- That's it. Recently we ran a large live webinar for early childhood educators, and we were collecting information. We were talking about how we collect information from families. So these were some of the comments that the people who joined us that evening mentioned family meetings, observations, orientation. I love those play dates. Those little visits that you have before a child begins. Enrolment forms. Some of you already ask what's going on for that child, what are the parents' priorities, where is that child at, interest and strengths, parent meetings. What else have we got there? NDIS plans. We could get some information from room diaries. So all of those sort of things are ways that we collect information from families. A lot of them are conversations when they come to visit us or chat about the program and the idea of enrolling in your service. So also note, you can collect information about any goals and objectives being targeted and teaching strategies that might be used outside of the service from the child's parents, from any other professionals, as Sarah said, working with the child, and this information could come in the form that we might come across, some written reports, verbal reports on the phone, or maybe therapists already have a few goals written down in a plan. So all of that we need to scoop up to add to our collection.

- So there's a lot. I think what draw from that is there could be already a lot of rich information sitting there that you just need to pull. It's not necessarily always asking their parents to go through in a lot of detail. Again, it might be just confirming that the information they've provided is still relevant.

- That's it.

[DESCRIPTION: Screen slide reads ‘What information to we need to tune in to the needs of the child/student?’ The slide outlines a list of information, and is referenced as follows.]

- We also need information about the child's at your early childhood service or in your early years classroom. So what are the needs actually within your learning environment? Because that can be quite different to outside of a learning environment. So we want to know information about their strengths, interests, and functional needs, and any friends or very supportive peers within your service or early years classroom. And also the child's level of engagement in a range of activities within your environment. And yeah, just looking at their baseline there. So we can collect this information through observing or assessing the child or student within your learning environment.

[DESCRIPTION: Screen slide reads ‘We can use observation/assessment data’. The screen is populated with five speech bubbles, which read: ‘Record participation’; ‘Identify children/students needing additional support’; ‘Identify resources needed to support all children/students to participate’; ‘Determine what a child/student knows, can do & understands’; ‘Measure progress towards goals & learning outcomes and review effectiveness of leaning experiences, environments and strategies/approaches’.]

- Hmm. So in the early childhood and early year settings, we use observations or assessment data to serve several purposes. So we've got here recording each child's participation in the program. Early childhood educators are very good at this already. Therefore, we won't talk too much about that. Determining what each child knows, what they can do, what they understand already. This helps us set goals for future learning. Identifying children who may benefit from additional support and providing some evidence of the need for support. And the reason for developmental concerns and conversations with family members could be used to identify resources needed to support those children who may benefit from additional support and more broadly resources needed to support the engagement and participation of all of your children. Also to determine the extent to which each child is progressing towards learning outcomes, identifying what might be impeding their progress, and review the effectiveness of learning experiences, environments, and strategies, and approaches used to support children's learning. So lots of good reasons to collect that initial data.

[DESCRIPTION: Screen slide reads ‘Observations/assessment data’ The slide outlines a list of information, and is referenced as follows.]

- So what kind of data does this mean? So there's a whole range of reasons we might be collecting it, but when thinking about collecting it to tune into the needs of the child that you're focusing on. We can focus on the child's engagement, so how much they're engaging with their peers in the learning environment with the learning materials that you're providing them, the activities, experience, the play-based learning that you have in your service, how much they are engaging with adults. These can all be very different things. And how complex that level of engagement or the level of play is. We can also measure their current skill level. So might be around a particular skill, a particular academic area or in the early years of school. We can sort of really tune into where the child is right now and data that gives us that baseline measurement. So it's really saying measurement that'll tell us what the child can do now, how much a child can do now, such as timed and counted observations are most useful for tuning into the strengths and needs of the child. So if we're answering the questions around how long can a child do something, or how many things can a child do? That's often the idea that we might start tuning in For how long can they sit and engage in this learning activity? How many words are they putting together in a sentence? These are the sorts of questions that will give us that really rich information about, okay, this is where the child is now, and can we track their progress?

[DESCRIPTION: Screen slide reads ‘ILP planning process - analysing.’ A graphic details five segments of a circle, each labelled, surrounding a full, smaller circle. In clockwise order, the outer segments are labelled ‘Observing/collecting information’; ‘Analysing learning’; ‘Planning’; ‘Implementing’; ‘Reflecting/evaluation’. The inner circle is labelled ‘Assessment and Planning Cycle’. There is a large arrow pointing to ‘Analysing learning’.]

- That's it. So lots of different ways to collect that information in lots of different formats. And it has this great purpose of us not wasting time on stuff a child already knows. So it's actually very efficient way to plan, a place to plan from. So once we've collected that information, we need to analyse it. And again, in the process of developing your individual learning plan that mirrors the regular assessment and planning cycle that we've got here in the cycle.

[DESCRIPTION: Screen slide reads: ‘Analysing information collected to determine long term goals’. The slide outlines a list of things to consider, and is referenced as follows.]

- So analysing data involves considering what you've collected, and summarized, and then thinking about the possible long term goals for the child. So we're going to pull together all of that information that you have, that you've collected from the family, that you've collected within your service or within your classroom. When you're collecting that information, it's really useful if you're in a service where there is more than one of you to talk to your colleagues about what they see, what they have witnessed, get them to collect some information as well, so that you can sort of see what the child's like with different educators throughout the day. And then when you have all of this information, you might want to consider a few things to develop long term goals or outcomes. So, first of all, what's the child's current level of engagement? What's their current skill level? Really important. As Megan said, we don't want to be teaching them things they already know. We want to start from exactly where they are. We also don't want to target things too high when they're not at that level yet. So starting exactly where the child's at. What are the family's priorities? Really important to include the family's priorities in what you're working towards. What are your priorities for the child within your setting? You are the experts in learning within a learning setting. So what are your priorities for the child within your setting? What do you think they should be able to do that they should be able to understand to succeed within your setting and to continue learning? You might consider priorities of other professionals working with the child as well. We don't want to all be working in silos and have a whole heap of different goals and objectives for the child. If other professionals working with the child have long term goals that can be complimentary to what you are working with when you're focusing in on education of the child, you often find you can embed those. And again, thinking about what's the child's next learning environment. What are we preparing the child for? Especially when we're thinking about the longer term, we might be thinking about what we want the child to achieve ideally by the end of the year or before they transition to that next environment. So that's why we're thinking about where they're going next. And the goals really importantly don't need to be complex. These longer term goals are sort of the general. Where would I like this child to be by the end of the year? Where would I like this child to be, and be able to show us that they can do what they know, what they understand before they transition to that next environment.

[DESCRIPTION: Screen slide reads: ‘The non-categorical approach’. The slide outlines a list of things not-suggested to focus on during diagnosis, and is referenced as follows.]

- Hmm. We want things to come together, isn't it? To determine those long-term goals. You might have noticed that we didn't talk about a diagnosis, so we're not focusing on a child's disability diagnosis to help you determine these long-term goals. Why?

- Really?

- That's right. Why? This is a non-categorical approach. Basically, we know it doesn't help us much to know what a child has. It doesn't tell us how to teach. So I've got red hair, doesn't really tell anybody about how I learn or how I need to be taught or where I'm at. So this is why we don't suggest focusing on a diagnosis. The child or the student's diagnosis does not guide us into how we will teach that child or what the content that we need to teach the child. How that child or student engages within your early learning setting or classroom environment and their skill level will guide what needs to be taught and the strategies. So we've got lots of ideas for lots of strategies and all sorts of things we want to work on, but it's looking at how they're working within your setting that's going to guide us to what's going to work best and what we need to work on first. So we are not actually that interested in the child's diagnosis. Often won't tell us much about what we need to do as classroom teachers and educators.

- And you might have to think about some children that you've had in your early learning environments in your classrooms that have had similar labels or diagnosis in the past, and how similar those children's needs, strengths, interests were. You're probably thinking if you can think of two that had a similar diagnosis, probably quite different.

- That's right.

[DESCRIPTION: Screen slide reads: ‘Breaking long term goals into short term objectives’. The slide outlines a list referenced in dialogue. At bottom of screen, six images are displayed, each with their own label. Starting at screen left, the first image is of two parallel horizontal lines each broken by quotation marks, labelled ‘Plain language’. The second is a thumbs up labelled ‘Positive language. The third is an image of children playing jump rope labelled ‘Focus on participation. The fourth is a tick mark labelled ‘Useful or necessary’. The fifth is a magnifying glass and a stopwatch labelled ‘Observable & measurable’. The sixth and final image is of a person speaking and is labelled ‘Describes how the child will demonstrate’.]

- Very individual. Okay. So once we've analysed all of that information that we've collected and we've determined some long term goals, the next step is actually breaking them down into smaller or simpler short term objectives. Now, short term objectives. Why would we bother to have a longer term goal and a short term objective? They're actually more likely to be achieved within a shorter timeframe. It's important for a couple of reasons, but because number one, they actually provided narrower target for what we want to achieve. So it makes it more likely that we'll actually get there. So that the child themselves and the child's family will actually see progress within a shorter time period. And it is important because it's really motivational for all involved to actually see that there's some progress there towards the longer term goal. So now thinking about our short term objectives, it's really important that they're worded in a way that's user friendly and functional. And when we look at research around short term objectives and the way that they've been written, there are a few key points that if these key things are included in the way that you write the objective, it's going to be much easier to know what you're trying to achieve, and to monitor whether the strategies you're using are actually working and to track the child's progress and show the progress that the child is making. So the first thing is that it should be written in plain language. So we want to avoid jargon. And we want anyone to understand what we are working towards. It should be understood by the family and the general public as a general rule. So try and avoid lots of jargony words so that anyone that comes into your service or your classroom working with the child knows what we are working towards. We want to use positive language. So saying what the child will do, not what they're going to stop doing. Early years, educators, you're all over this. This is something that you do really well as a matter of practice in general, focusing on telling children what you want to do, just when you're writing the objective in the same way as well. We want to focus on participation within your learning environment. And remember, thinking back to the definition of inclusion, participation is one of the key components of this. So it really all links together. The objective should address a skill that's either useful or necessary for participating in the activities and routines of your earlier childhood environment, or preparing them to participate in activities and routines in the next learning environment. If you say that in another way, it should address functional skills and be age or classroom appropriate academic areas. So really focusing on what do we want them to do, even though the family and therapists outside of your learning environment, we do take on what their priorities are. Your focus should be on learning. So there's educational goals. We want it to be observable and measurable. So we want to be able to see whether or not the child is displaying what we want them to, and to be able to measure it, which will make it a lot easier to track. And it should describe how the child will show what they know and all they can do. Okay. So don't worry, we're going to walk you through.

- We're going to have at a look at a couple of examples. I'm sure you're familiar with this. Everyone heard of SMART goals and things like that. The better a goal is written, the easier it is to measure, observe, track, and celebrate progress. So let's have a look at a couple of examples. So here is one with a verbal reminder to do so. One will put on his jacket by himself each day before going outside. So should we look them one by one, Sarah? Do you think? Or together?

- Yeah. We might.

- Maybe if we look at them together, then we can compare.

- Okay. A second example of a possible short term example is George will maintain regulation by being brushed each day after transitions from one area of the preschool to another. So taking a look at them side by side, then plain language. Let's check. The first goal, very plain. Verbal reminder, Juan we're put on his jacket by himself each day before going outside. Pretty clear to anybody can see if this child can put on this jacket or not. George will maintain regulation. I'm not sure what that means. I don't know what it looks like. It's got to be something that I could point to, that I can see very clearly is happening. I'm not sure what might look like for George. So I would argue that that's not written in plain language. Positive language. We've got both focus on what the child will do, not what they will stop doing. So that's fine. If we look at the third thing, focusing on participation. The first one, yes, because the child's doing what every other child's doing, to move outside, the second one, no. This is not clear how we are going to support him how to engage in the routines and activities of the learning environment. So I'm not sure that there's a participating element in that one. Useful or necessary. Absolutely. The first goal, we definitely need to put on jackets before we go.

- And that's just fun.

- Yeah. Not just in the early childhood environment, but when you're thinking about that, is it useful or necessary for the next learning environment if we're assuming this is a preschool aged child as well. Absolutely. Going to school where they don't have as many adults to help with those sorts of things. Absolutely something that's going to be necessary.

- Always leaning towards increasing independence, aren't we? George will maintain regulation.

- Maybe? I don't really know what that means.

- Yeah. So I'm not sure that that's functional or useful or necessary. It's not clear to me. I'm not saying it isn't, but it's certainly not clear to me how that is functional or useful for that child. Observable. Is it something I can see and measure with my own eyes? Definitely. I can spot Juan putting on his jacket. George being regulated. I have absolutely no way of judging that. I can't tell what's going on inside of him, how he's feeling, what's going on, I've got no way of judging that so it's not observable or measurable. Does it describe what the child will do? The first one does and the second one doesn't. That is really unclear what George is expected to do. So you can see how an objective that is written in a user friendly way that hits all of that criteria much easier to work with. Like Sarah said, we want anybody to read this. From the canteen lady to the teacher's assistant to the main educator and understand what we are looking at so we can record whether we've succeeded in that practice each day. Moving along.

[DESCRIPTION: Screen slide reads: ‘ILP planning process – Writing the plan’. A graphic details five segments of a circle, each labelled, surrounding a full, smaller circle. In clockwise order, the outer segments are labelled ‘Observing/collecting information’; ‘Analysing learning’; ‘Planning’; ‘Implementing’; ‘Reflecting/evaluation’. The inner circle is labelled ‘Assessment and Planning Cycle’. There is a large arrow pointing to ‘Planning’.]

- Okay. So following on from analysis of learning. So having a look at developing those goals and outcomes, it's time to pull all of the information together to write a plan. So in an individual learning plan, when we move into the school environment, it's likely to be called an individual education plan. Very, very similar plan. So we'll look at tips for writing the plan now.

- Or a plus, I've heard it called though.

[DESCRIPTION: Screen slide reads: ‘Tips for writing the plan. The slide outlines a list that is referenced as follows.]

- Mm-hmm. Yeah. Tips for writing. Writing a plan involves collaboration. There's no rockstar, there's no centre of the university. This is a team sport. Absolutely. The plan needs to include some basic information on the front page. Child's name, date of birth. Like Sarah said, a lot of you in the area probably don't have to worry about this, this is probably a template that exists already. We want to name the people that are involved in writing the goals so they're easily contactable if necessary. And then the next learning environment, also always alerts us to what we're essentially getting a child ready for. A summary of assessment. A very quick summary of what assessments might have gone towards creating the plan, a speech report, or any sort of reported diagnosis, including what you've collected in your rooms as well. A summary of the child's strengths, interests, functional needs. This is really important. I love having on a front page of a plan what is motivating the child, what the child is particularly good at, what they're particularly interested in. This is really important information for us when it comes to writing strategies in a, sorry, individual learning plan. We include long term goals and short term objectives. Beautifully written, like we've just covered. It also includes teaching strategy, the team roles and responsibilities. So how are we going to achieve the short term goal that we've written, how are we going to encourage one to be able to pop on that jacket and move outside. The teaching strategies, sorry I've done that. And we usually have a column for notes or comments or ongoing evaluation, how that's going each day or the end of each week. So this can be a very simple, like I said, you've probably got template of some sort, otherwise, some simple columns, including all of this information. Whatever works for you. I'm more interested in having a piece of paper that is used, or a document that's written on than a beautiful, fancy looking thing with lots words. I love simple simplicity. So the simpler and plainer you write short term objective, the easier it is to measure and to track progress.

[DESCRIPTION: Screen slide reads: ‘Implementing the plan’. A graphic details five segments of a circle, each labelled, surrounding a full, smaller circle. In clockwise order, the outer segments are labelled ‘Observing/collecting information’; ‘Analysing learning’; ‘Planning’; ‘Implementing’; ‘Reflecting/evaluation’. The inner circle is labelled ‘Assessment and Planning Cycle’. There is a large arrow pointing to ‘Implementing’.]

- And then our next step. And again, you can see this assessment and planning cycle that we use in the early years, you'll see is just following through. So having an individual learning plan for a child with a disability or delay is not a whole separate amount of work or a completely different process. This fits in exactly with the process that you should be using within the early years. So implementation. So plan is only as good as how it's implemented. And you can have, as Megan said, the most beautifully written document, but if it's not used day in, day out by all of the educators and adults working with the child, then you're really unlikely to see progress. If progress happens, you're unlikely to be able to actually track it and show it and demonstrate that what you have been doing has made the difference.

[DESCRIPTION: Screen slide reads: ‘Implementing the plan’. The slide outlines a list that is referenced as follows.]

- And when you run a program, we start to see if we've got the strategies right. So when we've given it time and we're not seeing the progress we think we should, then we can adjust the strategies and try, we sort of shift it another way. So when we're implementing this individual education plan, learning plan, consistency is key to start with. We've got to give it a go. We know when we're making any behavioural changes in ourselves, we've got to give it some time to start to work. Actually, when we put something into place, we might actually get a little bit of pushback to start with or a little bit of an increase in issues before that settles down. So I think if you try some strategies and it doesn't work for one or two days, continue, like give it a real go before you shift or change things. None of this is going to work unless all team members or educators or adults who are working with this child are aware of these individual learning plan goals, where they can find it, how they can read it, what their roles are, who's going to collect those few notes or implement it, or put out the activity that needs to be out. Everyone needs to know about the plan, or at the very least where they can read it. It's a working document. We need to monitor what's going on, collect data about student or a child's progress and how those teaching strategies are going so we can shift them if we need to.

[DESCRIPTION: Screen transitions to slide labelled ‘Tips for transition- sharing the plan’. Text on screen reads ‘The ILP is an important document to share with the educators in the child’s next learning environment to support transition.’ A text box under this text contains a reference that reads ‘ Collaborative relationships, communication and information exchange are important to successful transitions.’]

- And just a little tip around transition. So this is very important for transition to school, from an early years environment to school, but also transition from one year of school to the next or one area of your early child learning service to the next. It's an important document to share with the educators in that child's next learning environment to support the transition. And you might be thinking, why is the big focus on this? When we look at the research around transition to school, particularly for children with disability, what comes out as having the strongest impact is the collaborative relationships, communication and information sharing or exchange between the current educators and the educators in the next learning environment and the family and the educators in the next learning environment. So really key to successful inclusion. If you've put a lot of work into developing a plan and documenting it, why not share that with the next learning environment? They can see what you've been working on, what the child's already achieved, the strategies that already work in your setting.

[DESCRIPTION: Screen slide reads: ‘Evaluating the plan’. A graphic details five segments of a circle, each labelled, surrounding a full, smaller circle. In clockwise order, the outer segments are labelled ‘Observing/collecting information’; ‘Analysing learning’; ‘Planning’; ‘Implementing’; ‘Reflecting/evaluation’. The inner circle is labelled ‘Assessment and Planning Cycle’. There is a large arrow pointing to ‘Reflecting/evaluating’.]

- Mm-hmm. I reckon there's lots of people nodding right now going, "Yeah. Yeah." I know we're all busy people, but the early ed have to reach up into primary and primary have to reach back to really start connecting because there is gold. The early educators know these children so well, and they've tried things and they've failed at things and they can share all of that with receiving teachers. It's such important information. Getting back to the cycle. Evaluating. One of the most important steps in developing and implementing an individual learning plan is reflecting and evaluating. And to tie in with what Sarah just said, again, collaborate, talk. We had a group in the office here the other day talking about when they tried something and it didn't work and they got together. Why? What else could we do? Oh, when we put this music on to transition, we actually stirred all the children up and they all went sort of a little bit crazy. So we put on something like a little bit more classical, and we decided to whisper. And making that change, they got a better transition to a big group time. So if you don't have a friend, a colleague, somebody that you can thrash this out with, find somebody. Reach out, say, "Hey, I want to chat with this. This is investigative work. This is detective work." You need to chat with somebody about it. But if you don't evaluate it, we can't improve on it.

[DESCRIPTION: Screen slide reads: ‘Evaluating the plan’. The graphic shows a flow chart that is referenced as follows.]

- Exactly. So how might we evaluate a plan? So we want to reflect on the ILP objectives or IEP objectives at regular room or team meetings to decide what we need to change or whether we need to change anything. So your plan needs to be evolving. One of the most important things is that it's a working document. You've heard us say that several times already today, and therefore we want to continue to evaluate it. So here's a process that you might undertake. So let's have a think about, we'll look at a certain objective, has the short term objective been achieved? If yes, it has, there's no point in just because we have it written down in the plan, continuing to work towards that objective for the next several months. we want to choose a new objective. Now it might be related to the same long term goal or to a different one. That's fine. If you ask yourself or your colleagues as a team, if you'd ask yourselves as a team, has the short term objective been achieved and the answer is no, there's another question, which is, are we all consistently implementing the teaching strategies that are written in the plan? If the answer to that is no, then you actually, as Megan said, we don't know whether something's working unless we give it a go. You need to go back and make sure that everyone working with the child continues working on that objective by implementing the strategies that are written in the plan at the moment consistently, because you don't know if the strategies aren't working, because they're not the right strategies for this child in this situation. Or if they're not working because we're actually just not doing it consistently. So you need to go back and do it consistently first and then come back to ask, "Okay, now, has it been achieved and work through this process again? If you ask, are we consistently implementing the teaching strategies? And the answer is, yes. You know, I'm doing the same thing when Megan comes in and works with Joey, she's doing the same thing as well. We've spoken to the educators that are supervising the outdoor area in the afternoons. They're giving the same message too. They're using the same strategies, but the child still hasn't achieved that objective that we've written, we want to ask, is the child at least making some steady progress towards achieving the objective? So sure grace is not sitting for the 10 minute group time involving the puppets and three songs, but she's sitting now for four minutes and before she was only there for 30 seconds. So do you know what? Because we've collected this data, this information, we know that she's actually making some progress. So yes, because she's making progress, let's continue working on those objectives, on that objective by implementing the strategies consistently. And then we might actually see that grace soon moves towards achieving the objective. If we say, is the child making steady progress? And the answer's no. Well, they haven't. They're really up and down. We're not quite sure if progress is being made or sort of made progress for a little while, but there's this plateau, I don't know, there's not much happening. That's the time when you need to review your teaching strategies and workshop a new plan of attack. And as Megan said, this will often involve reaching out to other people to see what they do. You might actually reach out to other professionals outside of your learning environment as well. So there might be other therapists or professionals working with the child to ask about strategies they use. Or within your, your service or your team, you might sort of draw an expertise of other people that have a bit more experience in the particular area. So we want to review and update the resources that you're using and strategies that you're using there at that point. So that's just one way to look at each of the objectives. Then we do that regularly to make sure, okay, are we making progress? Is this where we want to be? And you can probably see now, when we look at that, if we want to answer the question, has it been achieved or has progress been made. Wording the objective in that user friendly way by ticking of those boxes. Is going to be really useful because if it's clear whether or not it's been achieved or whether or not progress is being made, it's a lot easier to decide what to do next.

[DESCRIPTION: Screen slide reads: ‘Reviewing the plan’. On screen right, a graphic details five segments of a circle, each labelled, surrounding a full, smaller circle. In clockwise order, the outer segments are labelled ‘Observing/collecting information’; ‘Analysing learning’; ‘Planning’; ‘Implementing’; ‘Reflecting/evaluation’. The inner circle is labelled ‘Assessment and Planning Cycle’. On the left of screen, there is are a number of dot points as referenced as follows. At the bottom right of screen, a graphic shows an example review document, with unticked boxes next to text ‘Not met; Partially met; Fully met; Exceeded’; and a section to fill out progress comments.]

- Yeah. So two. This is a working document, and we said, you're not going to enjoy this process, or look at this piece of paper, if you don't feel as though it's relevant. So you've got this continuous updating going on. We also need a cyclical review, like a full review of the plan. If you're going through a bunch of objectives, you're like, "Yeah, I can do that. Yeah. I can do that ages ago," you lose interest in it and you won't use it anyway. I've sort of got some of that. I don't need this anymore. So it needs to be comprehensively reviewed every now and then as well. And we would hope at least two to three times a year, that you would have a good, solid overview of this, where often what we do here is bring everyone back in together, not rewrite it, but evaluate and review. And this is a part of course, of your assessment and planning cycle. We need to formally review the plan, seek input from the child's family, A lot of things might have changed, you know. Little people, a lot happens in a little time, check out what's going on in other early childhood services that they might be accessing, any external professionals, anything that's going on in that child's life and have a think together. If you consider that the objectives have been achieved on their way to be achieving, completely useless, we didn't even get there. Or we master that weeks and weeks ago, so have a good get in and get dirty and sort of reconstruct it and deconstruct it. And there'll be some goals you get rid of altogether and some you're update, and a very obvious what needs to continue there. Make sure that it's still relevant. The document that you use, it has to be interesting to you, and it's got to be up to date. Otherwise, you won't bother with it.

[DESCRIPTION: Screen slide reads: ‘Take home messages’. A list of dot points are displayed and they are referenced as follows.]

- Okay. So take home messages. What we really want you to go back to your service with, to go back to your classroom with, keep in mind, have a talk to your colleagues about you must view the child as an individual in order to tune into their needs. So if that's the only thing you take from this presentation today, we'll be so happy. If you go back to your service and they have a child with a disability, what do I do? Look at this child as an individual in my learning setting. So your focus should always be on how the child engages and participates and displays skills and knowledge within your learning environment. What they can do in your learning environment is key. It can be quite different to what they can do outside of your learning environment.

- That's right,

- Developing and implementing an individual learning plan or individual education plan enables you to tune into the needs of the child and to track their progress and the effectiveness of your strategies. And sharing that plan and other relevant information with those educator in the next learning environment is really crucial to the successful transition.

- And of course, that individual learning plan is a legal document. This is, like we said, at the beginning, the legislation says a child with a delay or disability is required to have this individual education plan. So it's a really important document. Having said that, it doesn't have to be tricky or complicated. It can actually be quite fun.

[DESCRIPTION: Screen slide reads: ‘Contact us’. Contact details for Sarah Carlon (sarah@star.org.au) and Megan Cooper (mega@star.org.au) are shown, as well as a Website address: 'star.org.au’ and an email address ‘education@star.org.au]

- I hope you enjoyed the little mini session on putting together an individual learning plan for any individual child, regardless of label or no label. Thank you so much for joining us.

- Yes. So feel free to contact us. Our emails are on the screen here. So it's pretty simple formula, sarah@star.org.au megan@star.org.au And for general inquiries about our education side, education@star.org.au

- Also, I'd also encourage you to follow socials. We post a lot of really interesting stuff, not just for educators, but for families and about advocacy and disability in general. There's always lots of good information on our socials. Thank you for joining us, everyone.

[DESCRIPTION: Screen transitions to slide labelled ‘Evaluation’. Text reads ‘We value your feedback. Please take some time to complete this evaluation form: [no longer active] https://forms.office.com/r/BkikFBt34y. Under this text, a QR code is displayed.]

[End of transcript]

Including children with disability or developmental delay within early learning settings involves more than simply enrolling them. Educators need to make reasonable adjustments to support their engagement and participation in the early learning environment. This presentation will provide an overview of how to tune in to the individual needs of young children with disability or delay to support their inclusion by developing Individual Learning Plans for these children.


Louise Farrell
Director, Inclusive Education
NSW Department of Education

Amber Mackay
A/Director, Disability Strategy
NSW Department of Education

Building a more inclusive education system (0:17:02)

Louise Farrell

- I'm Louise Farrell, director of Inclusive Education.

Amber Mackay

- I'm Amber Mackay, the relieving director of the Disability Strategy team.

[DESCRIPTION: transitions to next slide showing an acknowledgment of country, along with an artwork called Kariong – Our meeting place by Stella Haynes, Year 2 Cammeraygal Country, Eora Nation].

Louise Farrell

- I would like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the lands we are all meeting on today, and recognize their continuing connection to land, waters, and culture. We pay our respect to Elders, both past, present, and emerging, and extend that respect to Aboriginal people with us today.

[DESCRIPTION: transitions to next slide labelled ‘Diversity is the norm in our society’. In the centre of the screen there is a graphic of Australia, with a number of statistics attached. Inside the graphic of Australia is the text ‘Australia’s changing community – 24 million people’. The statistics, in clockwise order, read: ‘From 200 countries; 2.2% indigenous population growth; 3.5 million hearing impaired; 4.2 million with disabilities; 11 in 100 of diverse sexual orientation, sex or gender identity; 50+ indigenous languages spoken; 1 in 4 born overseas; 200+ languages spoken at home’.]

Across Australia, diversity is the norm, not the exception. Our schools are a microcosm of society, and therefore, our local communities, our staff, and the children and young people we support are all diverse too. One aspect of diversity is disability. In New South Wales public schools, around one in five students have a disability. And this stat will resonate with most of you who support children and young people with additional needs. The New South Wales Department of Education is committed to making inclusive education real for all of our students with disability, across all of our schools and specialist programs. We share the aspiration that all students are known, valued, and cared for, and supported to reach their potential.

[DESCRIPTION: transitions to next slide labelled ‘There is inconsistent practice across NSW public schools’. Four text boxes are displayed in a matrix and contain quotes from students and parents about personal experiences’]

We have seen many examples of excellent inclusive practice across New South Wales, in the face of an increasingly complex environment. Some parents have shared wonderful examples of early childhood providers, bush services, and early intervention services working together with schools to achieve great outcomes for children and their families. You can see some of these examples reflected in the quotes on the screen. This collaboration is great to see, especially given how important the first 2,000 days of a child's life is for their physical, cognitive, social, and emotional health. However, there are inconsistencies in our practice across the state, and the quotes on the screen describe some different experiences that some families are having. Students and parents have told us there is room to strengthen our practice and improve the supports the department provides to schools. So we want to strengthen inclusive practice for all families.

[DESCRIPTION: transitions to next slide labelled ‘Inclusion is important to equity’. Two images are side by side, detailed the difference between ‘equal’ and ‘equitable’. The left image shows three people of different heights on three podiums of equal height. The second image shows the same three people, but the podiums are of unequal height, the tallest figure has the shortest podium, the shortest figure has the tallest podium, meaning that each figure stands at the same level.]

Inclusion benefits everyone. Inclusion embraces all people, irrespective of race, gender, disability, religion, or difference. It is about removing barriers and discrimination, and providing opportunities for meaningful participation. Inclusion refers to the way our values, behaviours, and actions make our students feel known, valued, and cared for. When children and young people are included, they are supported to learn to their fullest potential. For the wider community, it also relates to creating an environment where everyone is welcomed and treated fairly and respectfully. A place where everyone has equitable access to opportunities and resources. Inclusion is not about treating everyone exactly the same all of the time. Rather, it is about having the same opportunities to contribute and thrive.

[DESCRIPTION: Next slide labelled ‘Enablers of inclusive practice’ shows a list, each accompanied by a small icon. The list is as follows: ‘Leadership; Student and parent voice; Culture; workforce capability; resources; collaboration’]

Amber Mackay

- The department has asked, listen to, and incorporated the views of school communities into our Inclusive Education reform. Over the last year, there has been extensive consultation with students, parents, teachers, principals, and external agencies. Through this dialogue, we identified a set of enablers of inclusive practice. These are listed below. And I will pause here to give you some time to read through them. The enablers we identified were leadership, student and parent voice, culture, workforce capability, resources, and collaboration.

[DESCRIPTION: Screen slide labelled ‘Individual reflection’ asks the viewer to reflect on the following question: ‘What are the enablers of inclusive practice in your settings?’]

I'd now like you to take a moment, please, to pause and reflect, and write down some of the examples that apply in your setting. How do the enablers listed relate to your setting and your work with children and families? What does your team excel at? Are there other enablers that drive inclusive practice in your settings?

[DESCRIPTION: Screen slide labelled ‘Inclusive, Engaging and Respectful Schools reform’, indicates the video is moving into a second chapter. Then, the screen transitions to a new slide labelled ‘Inclusive, Engaging, Respectful schools. There is a pie chart graphic on the right of screen showing three equal segments, labelled ‘Inclusive Education Policy for students with disability’; ‘Student Behaviour policy’; ‘Restrictive Practices Framework and Policy.’]

Inclusive, Engaging and Respectful Schools is a student-centred reform to ensure every student is included, engaged, and respected. We know that schools and classrooms are complex, and supporting students is at the core of what we all do. Families have told us that support is needed to ensure schools are well-prepared to support all students, including students with additional needs. The initiatives are an essential step to building improvements and consistency in inclusive practice and student engagement across New South Wales.

[DESCRIPTION: Slide labelled ‘Evidence has guided this reform package’ details the benefits of the program. Three text boxes are shown on the left of screen and are accompanied by icons. Each text box has an arrow leading to another text box on the right of screen, suggesting the left leads to the right, and is discussed as follows.]

The Inclusive, Engaging, and Respectful Schools reform benefits all students. The evidence guiding the reform shows us students who feel supported, safe, and connected are more likely to be active participants in their own learning. Learning environments which are positive and respectful improve student engagement and academic achievement. Students who are supported early in school life to develop adaptive, social, and emotional behaviours are most likely to excel in school, and experience improved post-school outcomes.

[DESCRIPTION: Screen slide labelled ‘What do these changes mean for parents, carers and students?’ indicates the video is moving into a third chapter. Then, the screen transitions to a new slide labelled ‘Summary of Policy Changes’. The screen contains three graphics, left of centre, centre and right of centre. Left of centre is labelled ‘Inclusive Education for students with disability’. Centre is labelled ‘Student Behaviour’ and Right of centre is labelled ‘Restrictive practices’.]

Louise Farrell

- In Inclusive Education, there is a new policy, including an Easy Read version. For student behaviour, you will find a new policy. New procedures for students from kindergarten through to Year 12. In addition, Easy Read versions of both the policy and procedures are available. In restrictive practices, there are the new Restrictive Practices Policy and Planning Procedures. A new Restrictive Practices Framework. And the policy and framework are available in an Easy Read version. The Student Behaviour Policy and the Inclusive Education Policy come into effect from term three this year. Restrictive Practices comes into effect from term one in 2023. The new policies provide clarity on what families can expect from the department across the three practice areas. For example, the Inclusive Education Policy for students with disability clarifies the rights of students with disability and their families. It is also relevant for your work that the policy highlights the importance of effective transition planning for students with disability as they move from early childhood to kindergarten settings. This includes seeking student and family views, and conducting genuine consultation when planning adjustments and support.

[DESCRIPTION: Screen transitions to slide labelled ‘Spotlight; Inclusive Education Policy for students with disability’. In centre of screen, a graphic shows Three statements, each with a tick next to them. These statements, from top to bottom, read: ‘Applies to department staff’; ‘Clarifies existing legal obligations and effective practice’; ‘Clarifies rights of students and parents’.]

Amber Mackay

- The Inclusive Education Policy for students with disability applies to all department staff, including staff employed in government preschools, and clarifies existing roles and responsibilities of department staff to provide inclusive education. The policy does not add new responsibilities or change our definition of inclusive education. We are committed to strengthening practice in all our mainstream schools and their support classes, and schools for specific purposes.

[DESCRIPTION: Screen transitions to a slide labelled ‘The policy clarifies the rights of students and families’. In screen centre, five lavelledgraphics come together in a complement. These graphics are labelled from left ‘Enrolment; Participation; Reasonable adjustments and support services; Consultation; Harassment and victimization’]

Louise Farrell

- We want every student in New South Wales public schools to feel welcomed and included in all aspects of school life, and to reach their full potential. This policy identifies the role of all departmental staff in working towards the best outcomes for students with disability. Hopefully, you will see a connection between the policy and the Early Years Learning Framework, and the My Time, Our Place Framework. Across all of our services, we want all children to experience learning that is engaging and build success for life. Our emphasis on all students being welcomed, included, and supported to thrive at school and beyond aligns strongly with your common goals of fostering belonging, being, and becoming.

[DESCRIPTION: Screen slide labelled ‘Individual reflection activity’ asks the viewer to reflect on the following question: ‘In line with the Early Years Leaning Framework and the My Time Our Place what are some of the ways your service enhances communication and connection with students and their families?’]

We would like you to take some time now to consider the following question, "In line with the Early Years Learning Framework and the My Time, Our Place, what are some of the ways your service enhances communication and connection with students and their families?" You might like to pause and reflect or write some of the examples down.

[DESCRIPTION: Screen slide labelled ‘Implementing the Inclusive Education Policy for students with disability?’ indicates the video is moving into a fourth chapter. Then, the screen transitions to a new slide labelled ‘Collaboration is key to effective transitions. This screen displays three quotes, two from parents and one from a student, detailing the success of the program as it has been implemented.]

Amber Mackay

- We know that collaboration is a key factor in the success of transitions. We can all appreciate the need for strong partnerships and collaboration with parents and caregivers. On this slide, you will see a snapshot of some more experiences of New South Wales students and families. We are going to use this last part of today's session to update you on some of the supports we have put in place to support schools to work effectively with families and the team around the child.

[DESCRIPTION: Screen transition to slide labelled ‘Inclusive Practice hub of evidence-based resources’. It shows an assortment of examples of documents available on the hub, and are expounded upon as follows.]

The Inclusive Practice hub is a resource for teachers to easily access evidence-based practices, guides, templates, and resources. Here are a few that you might find suitable for children accessing your services. For example, there are disability and common needs guides. You'll also find visual supports, resources to champion student voice and to drive family engagement. The transition to primary school guide is another useful resource for staff in early childhood settings. The guide outlines how schools support the transition to primary school, and some of the relevant resources for families and the team around the child. This includes the Transition to School Statement, resources for parents, such as social stories, the school readiness checklist, school preparation activities, and more information.

[DESCRIPTION: Screen transition to slide labelled ‘Inclusive Learning Support hub’. It shows an example of a web page available on the hub and is expounded upon as follows.]

Another resource to share with families is the parent and carer hub. This is a one-stop online resource with information for families and carers of children with additional learning and support needs and disability. The hub features friendly information and resources to guide them through the education journey of their child. It also provides concise information about the supports available, including how to access them. Resources can be printed by school and given to parents in hard copy.

[DESCRIPTION: Screen transition to slide labelled ‘Innovation in braille and large print services’. On the right of screen, two images show tools and apparatuses being used to assist those who are blind or have low vision.]

Louise Farrell

- There has been incredible progress in the resources available to support students who are blind or have low vision. Over the past two and a half years, we've conducted research and development of our 3D prints. We have developed a growing library of files for printing more than 70 3D resources that are aligned to the curriculum and support all students to engage in learning. Schools can print the new 3D print materials on their own 3 printers or borrow one from the department's central store.

[DESCRIPTION: Screen transitions to slide labelled ‘Integration funding support for NSW public preschools’. The slide shows a list of points that detail the expanded eligibility to support transitions. These are discussed as follows]

Integration funding support has been expanded to include children who attend Department of Education preschools who require substantive or extensive supports to participate in preschool. The expansion of this program will support children to meet key educational milestones, not only while they are in preschool, but will also help with their transition to kindergarten and their inclusion as they start in primary school. Preschool children do not require a confirmed disability diagnosis to access this funding.

[DESCRIPTION: Screen transitions to slide labelled ‘We are supporting school access to allied health services. The slide shows a list that is detailed as follows.]

Occupational therapy, speech pathology, physiotherapy, exercise physiology, and specialist behaviour support is available to all schools through the Specialist Allied Health and Behaviour Support Provider Scheme. The scheme is a pre-qualified panel of allied health providers that support schools that are looking to engage allied health or behaviour management support providers using their local school budget. There are currently 99 providers available to all schools across New South Wales to provide occupational therapy, speech pathology, physiotherapy, exercise physiology. And this also includes 29 specialist behaviour support services.

[DESCRIPTION: Screen transitions to slide labelled ‘Resources relating to the use of allied health services are available for schools, providers and parents.’ The screen shows a number of examples of document resources and are described as follows.]

Allied health providers are often engaged by parents using funds provided by the National Disability Insurance Scheme. The department has produced resources for parents and providers about the processes and considerations when families seek to have those services provided in school, during school hours. While delivery of these services at school is sometimes necessary to support learning, it is sometimes not possible for schools to accommodate these services. And it is often better for the student if their allied health support does not conflict with their attendance and participation in school. Whether an allied health provider is engaged by a school or by a parent, the key to success is good collaboration and communication between the provider, family, and school staff. Good collaborative practice ensures that everyone is working in a coordinated way to support and meet the needs of the student. The department has developed materials for schools to support understanding and improvements in collaborative practice.

[DESCRIPTION: Screen transitions to slide labelled ‘We have developed a professional learning in disability roadmap. A graphic shows three stages leading into one another. These stages are ‘01: Influencing system reform’; ‘02: Influencing professional learning’; ’03 Developing and procuring disability-related PL’.]

We have also developed a roadmap to guide professional learning to build the capability of our workforce. Our professional learning in disability roadmap identifies three workflows. We are seeking to influence system reform, which includes developing professional learning to support the roll-out of new curriculum, influencing the professional learning quality assurance process, and developing systems to provide improved disability professional learning data. Influencing professional learning across the department to embed information that supports students with disability in an inclusive environment is also a key part of the roadmap. As is developing and procuring a suite of targeted professional learning options that strengthens teacher capability and confidence to support the diverse range of student needs and improve inclusive education pedagogy.

[DESCRIPTION: Screen transitions to slide labelled ‘There are more resources to help you support families’. A graphic displays an assortment of resource documents, accompanied by three short paragraphs of text are mentioned as follows]

Amber Mackay

- I encourage you to familiarize yourself with the supporting resources that have been developed. The suite of resources were informed by consultation with disability and education experts, and through stakeholder engagement with students with disability, their parents and carers, and school staff. There are downloadable resources and handy contact details on the parent and carer hub. It is a good source of truth to refer families to who are about to have children start at school, as well as families you may come into contact with who need a bit of extra guidance in terms of understanding how to access support. There are videos featuring worked examples of collaboration amongst schools and families. There is also professional learning that your teams might benefit from. The Disability Standards training for early childhood is a great starting point.

[DESCRIPTION: Screen transitions to slide labelled ‘individual reflection activity]. The graphic displays a reflection activity which is discussed as follows.]

Louise Farrell

- We would like to end today's presentation with a reflection activity, as a bit of a call to action. Let's all take a moment to think about the way your service collaborates with other services and providers that support children who have disability, including in transition to local schools. How can collaboration at your service be strengthened? I would like you to think of one action that you can take back to your team following today's presentation. Will you commit to starting a discussion about inclusion with your colleagues? If you are a leader, is there any professional learning or development activities your team could undertake? Thank you for exploring the policy, broader reform, and resources in detail with us today. We thank you for your continued collaboration in creating inclusive and supportive environments for children and young people in New South Wales.

[End of transcript]

Despite its best intentions, for too long Australia’s Early Childhood Development (ECD) services and support ecosystem has created complexity and barriers that disable young children and their families. These systemic barriers prevent families and their children from accessing the funding, services and support they need to ensure an empowered early years development journey – where each child no matter their background or circumstances is given every opportunity to thrive. Instead, we now face a services and support ecosystem that is leading to permanent and/or long-term disability. Currently, children account for 56% of all NDIS participants and, shockingly 1 in 11 boys (9%) aged between 5–7 years of age are in the NDIS.

This session will explore the ways Reimagine Australia is advocating for change from a policy and systems-level, down to the grassroots and community level and will cover:

  • An overview of the Reimagine Action Plan – a vision and blueprint for 2030
  • Every Child, Every Possibility – a campaign for total systems reform and radical redesign
  • THRIVEABILITY – a new digital tool that enables real-time access to ECD best practices, systems navigation and learning resources
  • The role of educators and how educators can help every child THRIVE!


Domenica De Crea
National Project Director
Reimagine Australia

Reimaging a more inclusive Australia, where every child has every opportunity to THRIVE! (0:53:19)

Domenica Decrea

Hello, everyone at the New South Wales Department of Education 2022 Inclusion Forum. It's a pleasure to be here with you today, and to present more to you about how Reimagine Australia are reimagining a more inclusive Australia, where every child has every opportunity to thrive. My name is Domenica Decrea, and I am the project director here at Reimagine Australia. For those of you who don't know, we are the peak body for early childhood intervention. We work with the early childhood disability and developmental delay sector in Australia, advocating for a more inclusive early childhood development ecosystem. And I'm so excited to be able to share with you all, the ways in which we are doing that, and our message to the education sector, and to educators more broadly, around the ways that you can get involved with this Reimagining as well.

Before I continue, I do want to start and begin by acknowledging the Kaurna people, who are the traditional custodians of the land from which I'm presenting on today, and pay my respects to their elders, past and present. And I extend that respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who are attending this presentation today as well.

Let's get into it. Before we do, I do just want to make a point that we are sharing some sensitive data and insights and IP with you all today. So I just want to start with a copyright and privacy disclaimer, just to highlight that this presentation is for the forum attendees only, and that it does contain data insights and IP that are not to be circulated or distributed beyond viewing this presentation, or to anyone other than the attendees of this forum. We thank you for respecting our privacy. I will be providing my contact details towards the end of the presentation. So if there are things that you want to explore further, we can discuss that outside of the forum, just some food for thought.

To set the scene for this presentation, I want to start with this statement that really captures the problem that we are working on solving at Reimagine Australia, and that is that "Despite its best intentions, for too long, Australia's Early childhood development (ECD) services and support ecosystem has created complexity and barriers that disable young children and their families. These systemic barriers prevent families and their children from accessing the funding services and support they need," and in a timely manner, "to ensure an empowered early years development journey where each child, no matter their background or circumstances, is given every opportunity to thrive. Instead, we face a services and support ecosystem that is leading to permanent and/or longterm disability." To kind of back that up with some numbers, we know that currently, children account for 56% of all NDIS participants. And shockingly, there's many other shocking statistics, but I wanted to draw attention to this one, 1 in 11 boys, that's 9% of boys, aged between five to seven years of age are in the NDIS. So as you can see, it's a pretty big problem, and one that really needs some urgent attention and care.

So this is why we are reimagining early childhood development and early childhood intervention in Australia. Today, I'm going to specifically talk to you about this journey, the Reimagining journey that we are on. I'm going to talk a little bit about where it began, where it's at, and where it's going.

Where it began. It began with and/or by developing a National Action Plan to 2030 to support outcomes for children with disability or developmental delay, and their families. "The Reimagine Early childhood National Action Plan to 2030 is a 10-year roadmap to enable the human services sector to realise its potential to be a responsive and easy-to-navigate and holistic early childhood development support system. The Action Plan provides a clear roadmap to 2030 to support the development of children and their families in a broad range of evidence-based and innovative approaches. It's grounded in strong family context. It's been co-designed with families and for families, to support the success of the early childhood development support sector, and to maximise outcomes for tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of families and caregivers who support young children with additional needs.

We utilised all the learnings and deep insights that we gathered during a very extensive consultation process, and entwined them with international evidence to reimagine early childhood development as a 10-year roadmap through the lens of children and families who are currently using these services. We did this because we realise it's vital that families and the early childhood development support sector is guided by a transparent, shared, and clearly articulated national vision. A vision that will enable the building of family capacity and the achievement of the very best outcomes for families and their children, ultimately ensuring that every child is afforded every possibility to thrive.

We were really lucky to advocate for the development of this Action Plan. We did so with the Department of Social Services. The minister at the time was happy to support this work, and gave us funding to go out and develop this Action Plan. Now, I'm not going to talk about this in-depth. I will make sure that all attendees get access to the Action Plan. I will share how you can do that on your own as well. But I do just want to give you a high-level overview of what the Action Plan is and covers, because this is the center of everything that we're advocating for at Reimagine Australia. So the Action Plan was informed by 12 months of deep consultation with families, along with human services practitioners, which includes early childhood development professionals who work across disability, education, and also health, along with a range of other service areas. We also spoke to researchers, community organisations, government, and other stakeholders, and designed the Action Plan to enable an achievable roadmap to realising this future where every child has every opportunity to thrive. The findings of our national consultations were then synthesised into six defined priority areas of focus. The Action Plan is led by one governing recommendation, and each recommendation is supported by a set of targeted actions.

What I'm going to share with you now is just the six defined priority areas of focus, because again, these are essential to everything that we're advocating for at Reimagine. So, the first is about being empowered and resourced. So this is where caregivers must be empowered with information and resources and choice, to support the development and wellbeing of their whole family. Children with disabilities, developmental delays, and their families meaningfully participate in their networks, communities, learning and work environments. So two is all about meaningful participation. Three, Seamless and Integrated is about having an early childhood development ecosystem for all children, where systems and services work in an integrated and holistic way to support children and their families. Four is about being responsive and relational. So, this is about ensuring families of children with developmental delay and/or disability receive early childhood support as soon as they require, with or without diagnosis. Five is about capabilities and quality. So, this is ensuring Australia has a collaborative and diverse workforce that delivers a range of evidence-based developmental supports. And six is all about outcomes and innovation. This is about having meaningful data on developmental and participatory outcomes for children and families, that drives policy change, research, and innovation in Australia. This is where this Reimagining began.

As mentioned, we set out to conduct deep insights and research with a range of stakeholders, to understand what their pain points are as it comes to navigating all the different services, supports, and funding that is available for early childhood development. And these six key priority areas is what we heard overwhelmingly from the majority of people that we spoke to. And as mentioned, these six key priority areas are at the center of everything that we are now advocating for at Reimagine Australia. And that advocacy is recommendations to government, but also to start getting the support and funding that we need to be developing solutions that address these key areas as well.

That brings us to one of those first solutions that we are developing, and have been supported to develop, again, from the Department of Social Services, and that's THRIVEABILITY. I'm going to talk to you more about what THRIVEABILITY is and how it's our way at Reimagine Australia of ensuring that every child has every opportunity to thrive. So, this is where The Reimagining is at right now. During all of that consultation for the Action Plan, we identified that it's up to 1 million families of children in their early years who are confronted and confused by systems that, despite their best intentions, have become inherently complex. So what we identified in particular are two key barriers. One is a knowledge gap, and two is complexity. So the complexity is a barrier in and of itself. That knowledge gap is about early childhood developmental support and early childhood intervention, and the evidence of its effectiveness is not widely understood by caregivers. And I will even go one further to say, it's not entirely understood by many early childhood development professionals as well. Often, it depends on their experience as well as their area of domain that they work in. And complexity also is a barrier. So the caregiver's journey towards accessing funding support and services for Early childhood development is complex and overwhelming, and we identify that there needs to be an independent body to assist, navigate, and simplify their journey. Now, in addition to family and caregivers being faced by this complexity, we also know that early childhood development professionals who play a role in helping families and caregivers find and access the right funding, supports, and services, is overwhelming and complex for them as well. So both for families and carers of young children, as well as early childhood development professionals, we know there's this knowledge gap and this complexity, both of which are barriers.

What we did is we went out and we conducted some user-led design based on really deep research. And we've created THRIVEABILITY, I will share more about what that is. We created THRIVEABILITY through a co-design and really deep collaboration with disability, education, health and allied healthcare professionals, and with families, which includes diverse families, such as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families, culturally and linguistically diverse families, LGBTQIA+ families, and parents with disabilities who have children with disabilities. During this process, we've reviewed over 50 different pieces of literature and all things best practice for early childhood development and early childhood intervention. We've had over a hundred users who participated in this co-design and collaboration approach. We've mapped out over 20 journeys and processes, and have created over 20 journey and process maps that map the experience and journey of accessing funding, supports, and services when it comes to disability, education, and health and allied health services. And we've collected, collated, and curated over 470 ideas of how to solve these problems that we've identified, or how to help early childhood development professionals and families overcome these barriers that they face.

We have discovered a little bit more from that user-led research. Through the Action Plan, we got a real high macro-level overview of what some of those problems were, but this additional user-led research enabled us to get a clearer, more micro idea of what's going on on the ground. Here's what we found. We found that there is no one way to obtain knowledge and information on best practice for early childhood development and early childhood intervention; as well as on evidence-based best practice in general and/or on how to access funding, supports, and services for early childhood development services across Australia. We know that there is significant frustration at service systems, that navigating funding, navigating services, navigating support is a highly complex and very frustrating experience. One that many families can become completely disillusioned by or lose hope, in general, of getting the right support. It can become a traumatising experience, if not a re-traumatising experience for certain families who are already experiencing grief or stigma towards detection or diagnosis of a disability or developmental delay, or may be facing significant disadvantage as a of being vulnerable or marginalised by systems.

We know that there's this culture of pursuing specialist services that leads to tunnel vision. And this is as a result of the way the medical model views disability from a deficit lens. So, it looks at an individual or a child with a disability, and says that they have a deficit that needs to be fixed. And so the culture has emerged from this idea where, in order to fix a child or fix an individual, there is this seeking of specialist services that are required to fix the child or the individual. However, we advocate for a social model of disability, and that is that acknowledging that systems and society is what disables a child and/or an individual person with a disability. So the fact that systems aren't designed to meet the needs of every individual; no matter their needs, no matter their background, no matter their circumstances, is what, in fact, disables children, it's what disables adults. So through the social model of disability, you don't have this tunnel vision of just seeking specialised services. You understand there's a whole ecosystem of support that plays a significant role, especially when it comes to childhood disability and developmental delay, and ensuring that the children in their early years get the support that they need to help address their individual needs, and their strengths, and their areas of development as well. We know that as a result of all of this, families can feel significantly isolated and alone at really critical times. I already mentioned the way that families can find this experience traumatising. It can add to stress, it can put strain on a family, they can lose hope. And all of that leads to these feelings of being isolated and really alone at critical times. And lastly, we identified that communication between and from service providers is overwhelming. So most services operate in silos, the ecosystem is extremely fragmented, there's different frameworks and lexicon, depending on what system or service you're engaging with, and that can be really overwhelming and complex as well. So, this is what we found at the more micro level, what the problems and the barriers and the pain points are that need to be addressed.

In speaking to early childhood development professionals and the families that we engaged with, we asked them what the solution was. And again, the overwhelming majority said there is a need to establish a digital guide and tool for families of young children, and the wider ecosystem of early childhood development services that navigates and directs them to real-time support, evidence-based information, learning programs, and more.

I'm introducing to you all what THRIVEABILITY is. It is an app-based platform that aims to remove complexity and overwhelm from a parent, carers, or early childhood professionals' experience of the early childhood development ecosystem. On the right is what all the features and functionality is of THRIVEABILITY. So it will provide information and resources. THRIVEABILITY will be a hub for all things evidence-based practice for early childhood intervention and early childhood development. It will be a space for learning and education. Within the THRIVEABILITY app will be a digital learning academy that will feature practical learning and development modules for capacity-building on all things early childhood intervention and early childhood development. It'll be a space for peer-to-peer support and advocacy. So, within the THRIVEABILITY app will be curated communities and also a social network where parents, peers, and community members can connect, support and advocate with one another and for one another. It'll be a communication and collaboration tool, a tool that connects the whole team of early childhood development professionals around the child, including the family, and it will provide guidance and navigation. It will be a real-time navigation tool that guides families and early childhood development professionals through systems, so through that process of finding funding, support, and services for early childhood development services.

On the left is a framework that really captures what THRIVEABILITY is and for who. So at the center of THRIVEABILITY is family and carers of young children. This whole app has been designed with families and carers of young children at the center of that. That inner circle is all those features and functionality that I just shared with you, and the outer circle captures what we refer to as the early childhood development ecosystem. So, this is all the services and supports that a family of a young child will receive, that plays a role in the early childhood development experience. So there's the obvious ones like disability services, early childhood care and education, health and mental health services, but we also include justice, employment and welfare services, housing, domestic violence, drug and alcohol. We include them as part of what we refer to as the early childhood development ecosystem, because a family who is requiring any of those other types of supports, funding, or services, all play a role in the health and wellbeing of that family. All of which plays a role in the health and wellbeing of a child and children. So we look at this as the early childhood development ecosystem, and THRIVEABILITY for being an environment that can help all these different service sectors understand their role in early childhood development and early childhood intervention, and their role in achieving best practice and evidence-based best practice, individually as different service sectors, but also as a collective as well. And it's one way that we look at this whole ecosystem, and are starting to work towards breaking down those silos and getting this whole space collaborating and working together more holistically towards the best outcomes for families, specifically families of young children who have additional and/or unique needs.

This is just a little snapshot of the UI, or the user interface for THRIVEABILITY right now. The green ticks indicate the parts of THRIVEABILITY that we are building right now and will launch in the first iteration of THRIVEABILITY. As you can see, this is a big product, so it's going to be a journey for us to develop over a certain period of time. But for right now, we are building the features that have the green ticks, and for the service sectors that are ticked in in the diagram as well, as well as for families and carers of young children. So here's a sneak peek of what the app looks like at the moment. You have your basic sign-in and create-a-profile functionality, but we're building out the information and resources, and then the learning and development and the peer-to-peer community and advocacy part at present. So there will be a resource center that will have a range of evidence-based best practice information and resources on all things early childhood intervention, early childhood development. And navigation, so that process of accessing funding, services, and support for disability, education, and health. And these resources will be for our early childhood development professionals, as well as for families. So for early childhood development professionals, there will be a range of information, resources, and learning and development programs on all things best practice and how to support families, all things family-centered care. And for families, it will be information and resources that are targeted towards their needs, so how to support their child's development, how to advocate for themselves, how to navigate the systems to get funding, support, and services. We have recruited what we call our ‘Content Council’ that's made up of subject matter experts on all those areas that I've just mentioned, and they will be sourcing and then curating all of the different resources, and information, and learning programs that are featured within the resource center. They've developed a rubric that has a certain set of criteria that includes ensuring that materials are peer-reviewed or come from a credible evidence-based source, and also meet certain criteria around best practice standards, but also quality, safety, and efficacy.

So all of the information within the Resources center will be curated. And the reason why we've developed this feature is because we know families are really overwhelmed by the sea of information that's out there. There's no one source to get knowledge and information. If a family wants to learn more about early childhood development, or an early childhood development professional, it can become really overwhelming to find the right information. So THRIVEABILITY is about curating and bringing that to you, or finding and curating that and bringing it to a family or carer of a young child. The Community area will feature different advocacy groups, peak bodies or professional associations for early childhood development professionals, but also for families of young children with disabilities or developmental delays. So it will feature all of those different organisations, but it will also feature different groups that families can go and learn about and join within their area, all things that are dedicated to early childhood development, as well as a range of social media groups. And the same will be true for early childhood development professionals. So where there's practice groups that you might be able to join, or peak bodies that support for the advocacy of early childhood development, or social media groups that would support your peer-to-peer learning, but also advocacy as a service sector. All of those communities will be curated and loaded within the Community center as well. So that's a little sneak peek into what THRIVEABILITY will look like and how it will operate.

So ultimately, what THRIVEABILITY is, is an app-based platform guiding the development journey for young children with unique needs and strengths. It will be a hub for curated tools, resources, and communities for early childhood development, and for navigating early childhood funding, services, and support. And it will be a hub on all things best practice, featuring content, resources, and tools for early childhood development professionals for capacity building, but also for enabling better outcomes for children with unique needs.

So for families, just to summarise, THRIVEABILITY will provide guidance through systems and throughout every stage of their child's development. It'll provide intuitive and free, easy access to assistance and information based on best practice. It will be digital information in a range of engaging and accessible formats and languages. It will provide easy communication, collaboration, and management of the team around the child. It will provide real-time connection to peer-to-peer and community support groups.

For early childhood development professionals, THRIVEABILITY will provide family-centered and best practice information, toolkits, and support. It will enable deep collaboration of the team of professionals around the child and family. It will be a connection point for professionals and families, which supports easy connection and communication. It will be a secure environment for sharing and storing records, documents, and information, and it will provide the ability for real-time collaboration between professionals, families, and children. Obviously some of those deliverables require us building out the full THRIVEABILITY product, which we are on our way to do. So watch this space, and towards the end of the presentation, I will share a bit more of how you can get involved with the launch of THRIVEABILITY.

So I've spoken to you so far about The Reimagining; what it is, where it began, where it's at, and now I just want to touch on where it's going. And this is something we're really excited about and also very passionate about at Reimagine Australia. This is a campaign that's being spearheaded by our CEO, but something that we're all involved with and very excited about, and especially to share with you all today, because this is an opportunity where you can get actively involved. So our Every Child Every Possibility campaign is a national advocacy campaign that is advocating and campaigning for radical reform and redesign of the early childhood development ecosystem. So this is where we're going.

We invite you to join our campaign. So I'm going to give you a bit of information about what it is, and then how you can join us. So I've spoken a lot about families today, and how everything we're doing at Reimagine has families at the center of that. That's because we know and understand, and evidence and best practice tells us this as well, that children live and thrive in the context of their families, that family is the most essential support system in the child's life. We also know that hundreds of thousands of families every year seek support for a young child, and they are confronted and confused by a system that, despite its best intentions, has become overwhelmingly complex. Families literally describe their interactions with Australia's human services system, which includes early childhood development as confronting, difficult, and confusing, and with no less than 10 separate service systems to coordinate and navigate at any one time. Now, as you could imagine, when you add extra intersections and layers to that, such as cultural barriers, entrenched disadvantage, and poverty, to a family circumstance, the journey becomes dangerously difficult to successfully navigate. Families need access to fully-inclusive, well-resourced, culturally responsive and innovative early childhood support systems in order to ensure that every child has every opportunity to thrive.

Empowering and supporting families through easily accessible information and resources, that are designed and delivered through the lens of the development and wellbeing of the whole family, will enable optimised outcomes for families and their children. What we're calling upon is for families, government, and early childhood professionals to universally support a program of investment in national service system reform, to establish one easy-to-navigate system that's harmonised at federal, state, and territory levels, and that best enables young children to reach their full potential. We believe there is no greater investment in our nation's future than enabling our children to reach their full potential.So we're asking you, as well as government and families, to add your endorsement and commitment to what we call the Reimagine Statement, and that together, we collaborate to make sure that every child has every opportunity to thrive.

A little bit more about the campaign. We’re stating that Reimagine and those who support the campaign are supporting a national reform program where early childhood development care and support for children with disability or developmental concern, and their families, is a fundamental priority for government. We support the establishment of a robust governance mechanism with a clear vision to oversee the reform program and to ensure seamless integration and strong embedded feedback loops within all related strategic government frameworks, and that we support an appropriately funded and accountable strategy to address the six key priority areas in our Action Plan, all of which is then commissioned by the federal government and co-designed with families from across the nation.

Some of these actions that we are advocating for against the six priority areas that I shared with you earlier, are as followed. So for priority area one, Empowered and Resourced, the action we're advocating for is to establish an easy-to-navigate pathway for families to access early childhood developmental supports and information from the beginning of the family journey, that these pathways will guide families fluidly through all systems and have a no-wrong-door approach. For number two, Meaningful Participation; we're advocating for individualized funding that must be complimented by a whole range of evidence-based supports in order to build a fully inclusive, holistic, well-resourced and innovative early childhood support system. Three, Seamless and Integrated. We're advocating to fully fund a family navigator service to aid families to access the universal service system, and to be the main point of contact and best practice information from the very beginning for all families of children with developmental vulnerability or concern and disability. Priority area four, Responsive and Relational, we're advocating to develop an integrated national screening and response capability across all government systems that interact with children and their families, to ensure that all systems operate in a responsive way to support early intervention and prevention. For five, Capabilities and Quality, we're advocating to develop and resource a comprehensive national workforce strategy that addresses capability, quality, and workforce supply. And last, for priority area six, Outcomes and Innovation, that there's investment in quality research, data collection, and monitoring of early childhood development, best practice and outcomes to build a responsive and innovative sector. This is our Every Child Every Possibility campaign.

We invite educators, and the education system, and the schools to be part of this campaign, to sign up, to join and support, and to advocate with us. And again, I will provide some more information towards the end of the presentation of how you can get involved. So that's The Reimagining journey that we are on at Reimagine Australia. As shared with you, it began with the creation of the Action Plan. Where it's at, at the moment is the development of THRIVEABILITY, and where it's going is advocacy for this campaign and where we see the future direction for the early childhood development ecosystem via the likes of radical reform and systems redesign.

What I would love to finish with today and leave you all with is some of the insights that, through this Reimagining journey, we've gathered about the education system. And the opportunities that we see, the education system, schools, and educators being able to leverage to play a role in helping every child thrive. What I want to just start with is some of the feedback that educators gave us about their experience with supporting families of young children who have a disability or developmental delay, and the role that they play in helping or guiding them through that detection or diagnosis process and/or accessing funding, services, and support.

These are some sound bites that educators shared with us about that journey. And I'm just going to read them to you one by one. So one educator told us, "There's a missing link between the education and medical side of being an early childhood educator. There is an opportunity for employers or accrediting boards to play a more active role in this area." One educator told us a story of parents who went for an interview with the school. They said, "The counselor sat silently, and the principal was dismissive of what the parents wanted, which was support in a mainstream school, and instead suggested they go the SSP route. The family did not receive a spot in the school." Another educator said, "Honest, transparent, and empowering communication to support parents makes the transition smoother, should consider having an advocate role." Another said, "Greater collaboration between preschool, support workers, school and parents is very important but often lacking." Another story that was told was that, during the transition to school, collaboration between education and medical professionals; how that's key, how to facilitate a meeting, and the roles and responsibilities, as well as that "One family had 18 other people in the room when meeting about the transition to school. It was overwhelming and not a family-centered approach." Another educator highlighted, there's a "Need to reduce ignorance in the education sector around learning difficulties often being dismissed as bad behavior."

What families have told us. Similarly to educators, these are some sound bites from families about their experiences. And both educators and families, what we've captured and what I'm sharing here they very clearly show everything that we've shared around our Reimagining journey and why it's so important. You know, these soundbites really help ground everything I've shared with you into reality and into this lived experience that's taking place. One family told us, "My son goes to Aboriginal-specific preschool. He's quite educated. I saw things, but was in denial about it. It was his educators who wrote support letters of weird things he would do at school." So, really highlighting that critical role that educators play in this journey and in this process for families. Another family said, "A mainstream family has an easier time picking the school." For them, they were a rainbow family, so there was a requirement for a school to be queer friendly, accepting of them as a family, evidence to show they have dealt with and they want other rainbow families. They needed a checklist to ensure that it was right. Another said when putting their daughter in a primary school: that most private schools, they were looking for private school, are religious, and that they didn't think that was the right environment because of all the stigma and the prejudice. And they acknowledged there was not enough support for rainbow families. They highlighted how that, plus needing disability support on top of that, is just too risky. This is where intersectionality really plays a big role in the experience of families who are made more vulnerable and marginalised by these systems. Another family highlighted, "There is no collaboration between the school and services," that they "spend a lot of time going back and forth." Another told us that "The teachers would not believe my son needed extra support. We escalated this, and the school had no solutions. They overlooked several concerns until we eventually were able to get him assessed. After his assessment, my son was diagnosed with developmental delays. Once we received this diagnosis, things got easier, but it took us over 12 months to achieve this." Lastly, a refugee family told us, "We are refugees. We are learning about education in Australia, which is hard already. My child needs help with disability in the school, but no one helped her. She felt lonely and stressed, which impacted her learning." So again, I just wanted to give you these sound bites to really ground in reality these experiences for educators, as well as families, when it comes to navigating the diagnosis or the detection process of a disability or developmental delay, as well as getting the right funding, support, and services.

From all of the consultation that we did, we have five key areas when it comes to education that we know are challenges or barriers when it comes to that journey of navigating the education system. So the first, we know that pursuing early education is a non-linear process, but it's time based. So what we mean by that is early childhood education can take many paths, requiring caregivers, parents, families, educators, and coordinators to maintain and manage relationships across multiple contacts. However, we know that's very, very challenging and often doesn't happen effectively. Hence, it takes this nonlinear pathway and can become very overwhelming and complex. We know educators are not set up for success. Educators are not always adequately equipped to be confident in identifying developmental red flags and communicating these to families. There's a lack of training and resources for educators, and that's also impacted opportunities for primary schools to improve the transition to schools, a process for families. Education, disability, and health work in silos, so there's an opportunity for greater collaboration between education, disability, and health. And this would result in a less bureaucratic experience for families, as well as for service providers. We know that finding and accessing resources is time-consuming, and also tends to be relation-based. So we know accessing knowledge and resources, especially when it comes to rural and remote communities, is difficult, and it's often held by individuals who have longstanding relationships in the areas, and can make those recommendations of where to find and where to access resources. And lastly, cultural barriers for families and educators. So trust and important information is being lost due to cultural barriers, and it's a limiting factor in being able to deliver a truly family-centered approach that's culturally responsible, but also culturally responsive as well. So these are five key areas that we know are specific barriers and challenges when it comes to navigating the education system.

Now, what I really want to leave you with today is some ideas for creating solutions, so how educators can help in the role that the education system, that educators and schools can play in helping this journey for families become less overwhelming and less complex. I'm going to share some of the specific pain points we've mapped out, and our recommendations of solutions that can be developed to help families overcome these pain points. So the first one, we know that approaches and education on disability services and schooling differs state to state and system to system, so there's an opportunity for schools, the education system, and educators to develop resources that explain terminology across services and region, that increase knowledge of the importance of best practice approaches. We know that caregivers do not have adequate or accessible information about schooling options to make informed decisions, so there's an opportunity to build solutions that provide information about schooling options and their requirements, which should be provided to caregivers early on. And they should be culturally inclusive as well as available in a range of different formats, and of course, accessible.

We know that accessing funding in education for disability is complicated and timely, so educators, schools, the education system should know and provide information about the requirements to receive funding early on. So there's that comment earlier from the educator around considering creating an advocate role. This is where the education system, educators and schools can become advocates for these families of young children with disabilities and developmental delays, vulnerabilities, or concerns. This is by helping, understanding the wider ecosystem and the ways that families can get the support that they need, and playing a role in educating them as well. We know that collaboration between schools, health, and services is important, but not always achieved, so there's an opportunity for educators to learn about other systems and services, and to develop resources which enable caregivers to advocate for their child's needs in a schooling setting. So, if additional supports are needed, that come from a different service sector or system, but overlap with the education system and the school setting, there's an opportunity for educators to learn about those other systems and services>. And to develop those resources that help families and caregivers advocate for that support, advocate for that access, and what that looks like in the school setting. We know that the ability to recognise and raise concerns often lacks and/or differs between services and states, so there needs to be training for educators to build confidence in recognising and raising concerns with a range of families as well, so for all those diverse families.

There's a lack of advocacy skills that empower families to receive the outcomes they want for their child. So there's an opportunity to support families and caregivers in knowing their options and feeling confident to ask for what they believe is best for their child. We know that caregivers want to know what the difference is between schooling options, so there's an opportunity to develop a guide to choosing a school, that explains the difference between all the options. Again, this is stepping into that advocacy role to support these families as they make these choices. And lastly, we know that there's an opportunity to support the connection with other families and carers who are going through similar journeys, via local social groups and forums, either online and offline. So there's an opportunity for schools and educators to make recommendations to safe, supportive, reliable, and evidence-based groups, which families can join and get that peer-to-peer advocacy and support from as well. So that these are the tangibles that we see and recommend for educators and the ways in which educators, the education system, and school, can play a role in helping families navigate these systems and make this journey less complex, but also to close that knowledge gap for families and carers as well.

In addition, educators can play a role in getting involved with what we are doing here at Reimagine Australia. So you can download, read, and share the Reimagine National Action Plan and get on board with supporting that vision to 2030. We can make sure that you get an access of that. Otherwise, a quick, easy a Google search, the Reimagine National Action Plan to 2030 will give you the results that you're looking for. You can be part of the THRIVEABILITY testing, pilot, and early launch program. I will provide my contact details at the end of this presentation, and you can reach out to me directly if you want to be involved with that. You can follow us as well. Subscribe to our database, and you'll get updates on the launch of THRIVEABILITY, as it is a tool for educators as well. This is something that you will be able to use to find easily accessible resources, information, learning programs, on all things early childhood development, early childhood intervention best practice, as well as recommending this to families and carers that you're working with as well. Lastly, the opportunity to sign and share our petition advocating for radical reform and redesign.

If you scan the QR code there, you will be directed to the landing page of our Every Child Every Possibility campaign. There's more information on there about the campaign and what we're advocating for. You'll find the Reimagine Statement there and the links that you need to sign the petition, but also to join our campaign. You will also find the Action Plan on that landing page as well. Another way to access the Action Plan is by scanning the QR code, where you will be taken to that landing page. We do encourage all of you to get involved with these campaigns. And the best way to do that is, as I say, to connect with us. So visit our website, re-imagine.com.au. That is where you can subscribe to our database and get emailed updates. But also have a look on our website. There's a range of resources on there for families of young children, as well as for educators and other early childhood development practitioners. Follow us on social media, so Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, by looking for the handle ReimagineAus. You can find us on LinkedIn by searching Reimagine Australia. And for those of you that want more information on anything that I've shared today, or more information on how to be involved with the campaigns and projects, especially with THRIVEABILITY, please feel free to reach out to me directly. You can catch me at domenica@re-imagine.com.au.

Thank you all so much for taking the time to listen to my presentation today, to learn about The Reimagining journey that we're on at Reimagine Australia; where it began, where it's at, and where it's going, and our invitation to you all to join us in reimagining a more inclusive Australia, where every child has every opportunity to thrive. I want to thank the New South Wales Department of Education for inviting me and Reimagine to be part of this very important forum. I wish you all a successful rest of conference ahead. Thank you so much. I'm Domenica, and it's been a pleasure sharing with you all today.

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This session will explore some key aspects of practice that educators can consider and implement when supporting autistic and neurodivergent children. These approaches include using a strengths-based approach, providing a balance between structure and child-initiated activities, modifications to programs and strategies used, critical reflections and trusting your intuitions.


Chris Varney
Founder and Chief Enabling Officer
I CAN Network

Practical strategies for supporting young autistic children in the early years (0:45:17)


Incorporating the neuroscience and practice of mindfulness, this presentation is delivered from an Aboriginal perspective. It includes: a brief overview of the neuroscience relating to attachment and educaring, a window into educaring pedagogy through the lenses of traditional Aboriginal child rearing practice, attachment based and brain based educaring models, practical ideas for intentional teaching of self-regulation and wellbeing via the modes of deep listening and movement as well as enhancing connections to community and Country. In developing this program, Kate has drawn on her lived experience in cultivating mindfulness as well as her great work interests in the areas of both the education and care of young children and traditional wellness systems. The program aims to support educators with strategies that they can use to support children's self-regulation and brain health. It does this within the context of Aboriginal ways of knowing. It aims to improve children's learning outcomes by helping educators to mindfully connect with themselves so that they can collaborate with children through a conscious use of deep listening, playful movement and connection with community and to Country/place.


Kate Norman
Inclusion support teacher
Lead Practitioner with Attunga Yoga and Mindfulness

Conscious, curious, connected and calm (0:37:19)

[DESCRIPTION: Opening slide titled, Inclusion Forum, shows several infant children outside under a tree, some playing with counters, others playing in a sandpit. One is sitting with a teacher. Katie Norman is in the top-right corner of the screen for the duration of the presentation.]

Katie Norman –

- Well, how lovely it is to be here today at the Inclusion Forum.

[DESCRIPTION: transitions to next slide showing an acknowledgment of country, along with an artwork called Kariong – Our meeting place by Stella Haynes, Year 2 Cammeraygal Country, Eora Nation].

Before I actually start with my session today, I would like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the various lands on which we are meeting today, and pay my respects to Elders past, present, and emerging, and extend that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people joining us today.

[DESCRIPTION: transitions to next slide titled, Conscious, Curious, Connected, and Calm, Kate Norman BA.Dip.Ed. An image of a young girl and a boy playing shows in the top right of the screen.]

Hello. My session is called "Conscious, Curious, Connected, and Calm." My name is Kate Norman. I'm an early childhood teacher, an inclusion support teacher part-time, and I'm also a registered yoga teacher with Durungul Minds Attunga Yoga here in Kiama. Also, I'm just letting you know that I do have some, I have Bundjalung heritage, and so that's the area of the Northern Rivers of New South Wales, and also, I have English heritage through my mother's side.

[DESCRIPTION: transitions to next slide titled, outlining the agenda for the presentation which is discussed as follows. To the left of the screen shows a photograph of a colourful woven basket containing feathers, flowers and dot-painted Bilma (clapping sticks).]

On this screen, we can see what the aims of the presentation are today. And I'm letting you know that, in fact, this is a much shorter version than a three-hour workshop. So we've brought this down to a 45-minute workshop today. And my aims in presenting it to you in this short version today is, first of all, presenting mindfulness as a cultural strength of First Nations people. Finding that skill of deep listening, peace, and connecting to country is one of our great strengths. Secondly, we're going to be having a brief look at the neuroplasticity of the brain and the brain-heart connection. Even though we've already been looking at that in longer detail with Dr. Stuart Shanker and his people's sessions today, we're just having a brief look at that in this one. Thirdly, we're going to be looking at the neuroscience of educaring. What does that mean? And looking at how we can weave our own pedagogy around that when we're talking about inclusive practice with young children. And finally, we're going to be trying to really make some moves on conscious connection with children, cultivating calm in ourselves, in our children, cultivating curiosity for learning in children, and collaborating with children to do this. So those are the four main aims of the session.

[DESCRIPTION: transitions to next slide titled, Breathe. The right of the screen shows a beautiful landscape image, looking through branches across a misty river as the sun shines through the trees on the opposite side].

Let's breathe. Just take a little moment to breathe. Breathing in, bring all that goodness in on your inhale. On your breath out, push it all out yourselves.

[DESCRIPTION: Kate uses her hands to accentuate the process of breathing. Her hands and arms move towards her chest as she breathes in; and she extends her hands away from her body as she exhales. She then lifts her arms above her head on the next inhale and brings her arms down while joining her hands and placing them on her heart, which is described as follows.]

Maybe reach up on your next inhale. Bring your arms all the way up and just consciously breathe out. On the way down, connect into your heart. We can see that breath, the intentional connection to our breath, brings our own presence more into our present moment. And as we will find out, conscious breathing helps us to take care of our own minds and to become more competent educators.

[DESCRIPTION: transitions to next slide titled, Traditional Aboriginal mindfulness practice. Deep listening, mindfulness, is an important aspect and strength of First Nations culture. The right of the screen shows a sprawling tree on a riverbank and another tree growing up out of the water. The trees’ reflections are rippled in the water. The sky is a mixture of blue and white clouds.]

Now let's have a little look at traditional Aboriginal mindfulness practice. Deep listening, mindfulness, is an important aspect and strength of First Nations culture. Part of the very great work of Aunty Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr-Baumann, who was the Australian Elder of the Year in 2021, has been to widely share the practice of dadirri, which translates to deep listening. Dadirri is a word that comes from Aunty Miriam-Rose's people, the Ngangikurungkurr people of the Daly River in the Northern Territory. meaning sound, meaning water, and, deep. Ngangikurungkurr, sound of the deep water. Even thinking about the meaning of sound of the deep water or imagining the sound of the deep water instantly brings us into a more grounded moment. Sorry about that. I went the wrong way.

[DESCRIPTION: transitions to next slide titled, Inner stillness, strength, and peaceful flow. The left of the screen shows a river landscape. A caramel-brown inlet winds around the river bank. Trees, and their reflections, fill up the rest of the image.]

Let's look further with this concept. Inner stillness, strength, and peaceful flow. Dadirri as a mindfulness practice, a traditional practice of the Ngangikurungkurr people, means in Aunty Miriam-Rose's words, "Inner, deep listening and quiet, still awareness." And I should just say that you can easily find more about Aunty Miriam-Rose's work on her website, the Aunty Miriam-Rose Foundation, the Miriam Rose Foundation. Also, through We Al-li with Professor Judy Atkinson and Dr. Carly Atkinson. With deep listening, we connect to our breath. Across many Aboriginal Nations as well, there is often a word or concept signifying dadirri. Where my mob is from, the Bundjalung people of the Northern Rivers of New South Wales, we have the word, and this refers to the idea of listening, being still, and very deep understanding.

[DESCRIPTION: transitions to next slide titled, feel peace, understand, accept, respond. The right of the screen shows a photograph of Uncle Claude McDermott standing on a riverbank. Behind him, the river is visible through the trees.]

Let's think about feeling peace, understanding, accepting, and responding. Here, we have a lovely picture of my uncle, Uncle Claude McDermott, who was actually the Mindjungbal NAIDOC Elder of the Year in 2020. And he says, "Peace, we make ourselves peaceful by walking, listening, and sitting on country. We make our country, our connection to country strong, and we can feel peace that way." Uncle Claude himself practices this every day and has certainly encouraged me also to practice this every day. And he says it helps him and it would help us to bend with the wind and to drift with the tide. And by this, he really does mean by becoming peaceful in ourselves, by having that ability to come into some deep listening with ourselves, we are more able to accept the present circumstances and adjust our behavior appropriately.

[DESCRIPTION: transitions to next slide titled, the human brain and neuroplasticity. The right of the screen shows a depiction of a human brain, from side on, as if the head was looking to the left.]

Let's take a little moment to have a look at the human brain. And you can see here on my screen that we do have a picture of the human brain. And let's be thinking of neuroplasticity, which is, as we've heard already at this conference and today, the way that the brain can be developed and make its own connections to learning to do new things.

[DESCRIPTION: Katie uses her mouse pointer to hover over the depiction of the brain, circling around the bottom-right of the image to bring attention to the brain stem.]

So first of all, we have the brain stem here, the reptilian brain. The reptilian brain is the part of the brain that brings us into the flight-fight-and-freeze mode, the survival state, the state that, when we're under threat, helps us to feel safe, to do something to get safe, and gives us, asks us the unconscious question, am I safe?

[DESCRIPTION: Katie moves her mouse pointer further up the brain, circling around the middle-left of the image to bring attention to the limbic system.]

Moving here up to the limbic system, the mammalian brain. This is the part of the brain where we store our emotional memory and connection. Am I loved? All sorts of feelings and memories that we have emotions with the way we connect with others and to different situations throughout our lives, it's stored in the limbic system.

[DESCRIPTION: Katie moves her mouse pointer further up to arrive at the front of the brain, circling her mouse pointer around the middle-left of the image.]

And then, also, we have at the front of the brain here, the prefrontal lobes, which, of course, rules our higher thinking, our cognitive capacity, our ability to learn. And it tells us, what can I learn from this? So when it's working, that's what it's telling us.

One way of thinking about the brain, I like to think of, is as this hand.

[DESCRIPTION: Katie holds her right hand up in front of her face, side on pointing upwards, like giving someone a high-five. She moves her thumb from an open position and tucks it into her palm. And then closes her fingers towards her palm, making a fist and enveloping her thumb. She holds her right wrist with her left hand.]

We can be thinking of the wrist as actually the brain stem. We're thinking of the thumb moving over and connecting in with the brain as being the limbic system. And then we can think of the fingers that are open, closing over, and connecting as the prefrontal lobes. And you have probably heard the expression, I'm flipping my lid. When I'm feeling upset, when I'm feeling stressed, I'm flipping my lid.

[DESCRIPTION: Katie un-opens her closed fist while keeping her thumb in place. And repeats the action to symbolize ‘flipping the lid’ on the brain.]

And when we use the hand as this way, you can see how the prefrontal lobes, when we come into this flight-fight-freeze mode, helps us flip the lid. And of course, we're not able to learn from our situation when we're in that sort of state. So we like to try and bring ourselves into this state as much as possible.

[DESCRIPTION: Katie closes her fist to the previous position, then lowers her wrist and finishes the demonstration.]

And we also know that cells that fire together wire together. Any two cells that are repeatedly active at the same time will become associated. Activity in one facilitates activity in the other. And I think that this kind of gives us the idea, really, that by practicing anything that we're doing, we're going to be able to get better at it. And certainly, this is the situation with any learning and learning of mindfulness practice.

[DESCRIPTION: transitions to next slide titled, the brain-heart connection. The top right of the screen shows a 2D black and white graphic of a brain. Below this is a 2D black and white graphic of a heart.]

Let’s bring us in the brain-heart connection. I don't know if you have heard of the vagal nerve before, but the vagal nerve is one of the main nerves in our parasympathetic nervous system.

[DESCRIPTION: Katie uses her hand to trace from her tummy up her chest, around her neck to the back of her head.]

And this is a nerve, the vagal nerve, that connects from down here in the gut, across over the lungs and heart, and comes in and connects into the back of the brain here. The upper section of the vagal nerve connects to the heart and to the lungs and this system assists and controls social interaction, and it makes it possible for us to develop social and emotional intelligence. The bottom section of the vagal nerve connects to the gut. And that aids in our digestion but also basic relaxation. And under threat, when we are under threat, the vagal nerve activates the flight-fight-freeze response. And this brain-heart connection supports us by connecting us with others rather than making us defensive around them. The brain-heart connection, I will... Brain-heart connection is not my words, but actually, the way that Jonathan Hughes, Jonathan Baylin and his co-presenter, Hughes, describe it.

[DESCRIPTION: transitions to next slide titled, key significances of brain-heart connection.]

The key significances, however, of the brain-heart connection are that heart rate and breathing is regulated by the upper vagal system over a variety of conditions so that we do not become defensive. It supports us. This is a key significance. It supports us in our educaring or educating roles to become grounded and remain connected. We ourselves can activate the parasympathetic nervous system and inhibit the sympathetic nervous system, which helps us to actually get a little bit not grounded. We can do that by using our breath. Just using our breath can really help us to calm the parasympathetic nervous system, activate this brain-heart connection. It helps us to remain open in our social and emotional relations, to be connected and true to ourselves, and to remain the bigger, stronger, wiser, and kind adult in our educaring or educating roles. And of course, I've borrowed that quote from Circle of Security.

[DESCRIPTION: transitions to next slide titled, bringing yourself into a connection moment with Dadirri or gan’na by conscious breath. The right of the screen shows two painted rocks sitting on dry leaves, leaning up against a tree. The rock on the left has a painting of a male sitting in a meditative state; the rock on the left has a painting of a pelican.]

There's some ways that we can, perhaps just in our everyday life, be thinking of bringing ourselves into a grounded moment or a connection moment using this sort of deep listening practice of dadirri, becoming peaceful. If we're just going about our everyday life, two kinds of ways that I like to talk to myself is when I'm perhaps on a walk, saying, "My feet are grounded." I take a breath in. I take a breath out. I look around to where I need to go. It's just bringing that presence and me being present in the moment where I am, connecting to myself and to my surrounds.

Another one, "I connect with the breath of the earth. I feel the ground on which I'm walking. I'm on the path that I choose to walk." If I'm at work and it's a more challenging sorts of situation that I'm facing with a very boisterous group dynamic in the classroom, I might say this instead, which is a similar sort of thing, the STOP practice, "Stop, take a breath. In, out. Observe what's going on before I proceed with deliberate action to respond."

[DESCRIPTION: transitions to next slide titled, mindfulness can be practiced… below is text in a red rectangle reading, I create new neural pathways… new thinking, new behaviour. Better brain heart connection.]

Another key message that I would really like to bring to you this morning, and which hopefully we'll have already been getting over the day anyway, is that mindfulness definitely can be practiced. Our deep listening can be practiced. We can bring peace into ourselves so that we ourselves feel self-regulated, so that we can co-regulate with the children that we work with every day. I create new neural pathways, new thinking, new behavior, and better brain-heart connection by actively practicing mindfulness.

[DESCRIPTION: transitions to next slide titled, developing brains and minds: concepts in relation to neuroscience and educaring. The screen shows an image of colourful threads or string that are fashioned to represent a brain.]

Let's have a little think now about children, their developing brains and minds, and the concepts is concepts in relation to the neuroscience of educaring. As we know already, young children's brains are certainly developing at the fastest rate in their early years. Children's capacity for self-regulation is still immature, particularly in these younger years where we are working with them. But as we've also discovered, we know that children's brains are developing so quickly and that cells that fire together wire together.

We've learned about the brain-heart connection. Children whose key adult caregivers have very strong brain-heart connection themselves and good social-emotional intelligence are more able to develop strong brain-heart connection themselves. So we can see from this, as educarers, as educators, teachers, we all have a fabulous opportunity to help children grow healthy brains and to develop, enhance self-regulation and social-emotional intelligence in their early years.

[DESCRIPTION: transitions to next slide showing a grey/blue paint brush stroke with a heart in a cirle at the bottom. The following quote fades onto screen.]

I'm just going to bring to you this quote from the late Uncle Bob Randall. He was an Anangu Elder, and the Anangu people are around the Uluru area in the heart of our continent. This is the quote. "Growing up with the oldies, our parents, grandparents, they always said that we are connected to everything. Being alive connects you to every other living thing that is around you. You are never lost and you are never alone. You are one with everything else that there is. The purpose of life is to be part of all that there is." And that quote actually comes from the children's book, "Nyuntu Ninti: What You Should Know." It's a fabulous book if you have an opportunity to find it. And it's also part of a bigger package which has some information for adults as well. And this is the part that... I think I liked that quote with Uncle Bob Randall, particularly because it gives that idea of the older person, the bigger, stronger, older person, bringing their wisdom to you and us being able to deeply listen to that wisdom and to be able to hear it. It's a little bit like us as the educators with the younger children. We are those bigger, stronger, wiser, kind adults with the younger children who are listening to us.

[DESCRIPTION: transitions to next slide titled, weaving pedagogy: common threads between Aboriginal Australian practice, neuroscience-based practice and attachment-based practice in educaring. The right of the screen shows a purple, yellow and natural-coloured weaved basket.]

And I'd like to take a little look now at a few different pedagogies, looking at our own pedagogy, using our own pedagogy to weave a way of working that works for ourselves. And I'd like to take a look at the common threads between Aboriginal Australian practice, neuroscience-based practice, and attachment-based practice in educaring of young children. As we know, as educarers, we do have a common intention whilst working with young children. We are likely to agree that a mutual aim in educaring would sound like this. To provide positive and nurturing experiences so that children can maximize their potential and lead fulfilled lives. We are likely to want to help children experience that embodied sense described by Uncle Bob Randall, "To be part of all that there is." And I can't help but think about the EYL effort, this being called being, belonging, and becoming, and how that that quote really seems to fit in with our learning framework.

[DESCRIPTION: transitions to next slide titled, Aboriginal cultural strengths in relation to raising children.]

Let's have a look first off at Aboriginal cultural strengths in relation to raising children. And in particular, I have again looked at some of the work of Professor Judy Atkinson and Dr. Carly Atkinson in relation to this. And so a strong connection to family and community is a big strength in our culture. Childrearing is definitely a communal and shared responsibility. We think of children as unique and beautiful, and that they are to be protected. Children learn by watching and doing. Parents in community have knowledge of and provide activities reflective of the children's stages of development. Play is educaring. And communal parenting has age-relevant knowledge about healthy experiences on country, storytelling and story-making, music and dance, art for strengthening cultural and spiritual identities. Sometimes also when I'm reading this, I'm thinking also of perhaps the Healthy Mind Platter that Dan Siegel has developed, which you may have heard of. But I just, on the other side of my slide here, I've just mentioned three of the Aboriginal organizations that are pretty interesting for this sort of work with young children. We Al-li runs programs for healing people, sharing culture, and regenerating culture. Wayapa Wuurrk is a worldwide accredited First Nation well-being program. I think, even in Victoria, it is accepted as part of the Victorian preschoolers' ways of programming. And then there's the Yiliyapinya Aboriginal Corporation, which also runs programs for building brain health. And Yiliyapinya have some great podcasts, actually, you could listen to, and they run out of Queensland.

[DESCRIPTION: transitions to next slide titled, neuroscience-based and attachment-based practice in relation to raising children.]

Second, one of these ways of pedagogy are the, well, the second two are the neuroscience-based and the attachment-based practice in relation to raising children. So starting off with one of the well-known attachment-based pedagogies, the Circle of Security is a, or philosophy. The Circle of Security is a program which helps adults to think about how to meet children's genuine relationship needs. The Circle of Security is always taking place in the lives of children and adults. And it recognizes that we are hardwired to feel secure and that this need for relationships is built into all our important interactions throughout our days. And I think even whilst we know that we're talking about relationships, therefore, attachment, we've also got the word hardwired there, which also brings us into thinking about the neuroscience and the way our brains are connecting. Cells that fire together wire together. The caregiving formula, PACE, was developed by D.A. Hughes and also Dr. Jonathan Baylin. And PACE stands for playfulness, acceptance, curiosity, and empathy. And in their work, they really explore how these four characteristics actually relate to our neuroscience and our body-mind physiology. Their work is really great to have a look at. And then we've got the...

The other organization that I wanted to mention is the Conscious Discipline. Dr. Becky Bailey set Conscious Discipline up. And their model requires four elements for connection. And these are actually eye contact, presence, touch, and playfulness. The Conscious Discipline program and educaring philosophy teaches adults to regulate their emotions so that they can help children to do the same. It's a method by which adults can override their natural responses to stress so that they can respond to children with rational thinking and problem-solving.

[DESCRIPTION: transitions to next slide titled, common strands in the weave of all of these educaring practices. The left of the screen shows the same purple, yellow and natural-coloured weaved basket.]

And looking at some of common strands between all of these educaring practices is children can feel belonging. They can embody a sense of well-being. They can engage in deep listening, mindfulness, and reflection. We can see that they bring in the ideas of sharing presence and connection in space or place, connection to country, connection to place. Share presence in interpersonal and emotional space, so being with others and getting that social-emotional learning. They share delight and curiosity in each other, value and encourage play, and respond to children as individuals.

[DESCRIPTION: transitions to next slide titled, general but intentional approaches to encouraging self regulation with children. The left of the screen shows colorful shapes, like clouds or speech bubbles suspended by string.]

In wanting and thinking of bringing those in and looking at, therefore, some ways of bringing that into our work with children, we know that this is going to be strengths-based from a First Nations' perspective. It's going to be bringing that perspective in some general but intentional approaches to encourage self-reg with children tells us that, by consciously practicing our own deep listening, by practicing getting peaceful ourselves, we can encourage children's capacity to develop self-regulation and social and emotional intelligence. Some general ways that you could do this may be by practicing deep listening mindfulness for yourself. Being able to activate and practice soothing our parasympathetic nervous systems by actioning mindful techniques. We activate our brain-heart connection. And by activating conscious breath, we're looking after our minds as well and it's helping children do the same. We want to be with. We want to be truly present and listen very deeply with children. Consciously cultivate a warm face. A nice smile always goes well. We know that children really pick up on the vibe when we're working with them. Using your light tone of voice to speak motherese, which we know motherese is the thing that research tells us that cultures all through the world speak when they're talking to very young children. A light and kind of floaty voice or a light and singsong voice may be a better way of describing that motherese. Create routines and rituals in your everyday program. When you are challenged at work, before you step in and actually escalate, you can take a safety second, use the STOP practice. Stop, take a breath, observe what's going on, proceed with deliberate action. Having some connections, some conscious connections, at arrival and departure time can get the day going well. Having a group kindness project, where you're looking at random acts of kindness amongst the group in your classroom. Got great digital technology, we can capture those random acts of kindness and put them on a kindness board. Practicing collaborative games. Where we are doing things together, we're facilitating collaborative collaboration between the children and ourselves. And of course, we can always be thinking about stories embracing concepts of empathy and kindness.

[DESCRIPTION: transitions to next slide showing a grey/blue paint brush stroke with the text, specific experiences to explore with children.]

More specific experiences to explore with children are as follows.

[DESCRIPTION: transitions to next slide titled, connecting to place, connecting to country, connecting to curiosity. Each example explored is represented in light blue, mid-blue, pink and grey text boxes.]

And again, thinking about a variety of ways of bringing in this way of self-regulating and well of deep listening. Bringing some First Nations' perspectives into your classroom. How can we do it? We can be thinking of connecting to place, connecting to country, connecting to curiosity, connecting to each other. And some of the ways that we can do this, through sensory nature-based play experiences. We can be sitting in circle together indoors and outdoors. In a little bit of a yarning circle, there's a bit of a to and a fro of information coming backwards and forwards. We can notice where our body connects to space when we're sitting in circle. We can notice where other people are in relation to us in space. We can facilitate, as the adult, an active to-and-fro of communication of whatever we're doing in that circle.

We can observe natural elements and use those observations to inspire us in our art, our dance, drama, and story making, and of course, our science and mathematics experiences as well. We can provoke curiosity about place through local stories and exploration. And I guess if you're thinking about using Aboriginal stories, it's really great if you have got some nice local stories local to your particular place of work that are going to be thinking about places in your particular area, and be looking at those through First Nations lands. You can walk on country. This might be just walking in your outdoor play space and organizing what natural things you can see in your outdoor play space, connecting there, having some time for sitting. Or you can organize a walking experience further afield.

Another way of doing these sorts of things with young children is you can create an outdoor deep listening space, which could be one of your calming spaces that you use in your outdoor area. You may like to think about guided visualizations with children. I've had a few experiences recently of doing guided visualization sessions with groups of preschoolers, threes and four-year-olds. And I've been pretty blown away by how they take it on and respond so well, and actually come and ask me afterwards if they think that this is going to help them when they're feeling very, very sad. So I'm always amazed by children's own voices and what they are gleaning from things we're doing. Observing natural settings and growing things is another way that you can be doing it. And certainly, it's connecting into the natural world that way.

[DESCRIPTION: transitions to next slide titled, movement. The right half of the screen shows an image of two kangaroos, one larger and one smaller, on the sand at the beach. In the distance is a headland and an island.]

And with movement, activities with children, of course, we can be thinking of doing some children's yoga. There are some very nice children's yoga experiences that you can even download online. Certainly, what we want to be doing in those experiences in order to get calm is linking the breath with the movement and the physical connection to place.

[DESCRIPTION: Katie uses her hands to symbolise breathing, drawing breath in with her hands to her chest.]

But in your yoga, in your movement, it's actively linking your movement and the breath in a conscious way that helps you to really calm that vagal nerve and will help the children to do the same. Active play in a natural space is usually pretty calming for children.

[DESCRIPTION: Katie taps on her heart with her right hand. Then overlaps her right hand with her left making an X shape and places them on her chest.]

Heart tapping, even just connecting into your own heart brings that sense of connection in. It gives you that time to just settle down for a grounded moment of deep listening. And the Brain Gym activities, if you want to look those up, are a little bit same.

[DESCRIPTION: Katie crosses her forearms in front of her body, making a large X shape then taps down each arm with the opposite hand.]

Some of them are actually crossing over of the hands, giving yourselves a little cross-arm pat, which is, again, really activating the vagal nerve, helping it to calm down. Dancing, music, and movement, bringing us joy.

[DESCRIPTION: transitions to the penultimate slide titled, teach conscious breathing. The screen shows a black and white 2D graphic of a pair of lungs, a heart and a smiley face with three tiny hearts attached to the face.]

And finally, when someone's teaching of conscious breathing, not everyone will have permission to learn the circular breathing technique needed to play yidaki, or the didgeridoo, can all learn to pay attention to and to use our breath consciously. Conscious breathing, I like to think of it like this. It can be experienced like little love notes to ourselves. We can actively encourage children with some quiet time to listen to their own breathing and to our own breathing. You can add some practice of breathing, conscious breathing techniques, to your small or larger group times. You know this.

[DESCRIPTION: Katie accentuates her breathing, opening up her hands and arms and extending them outwards, diagonally above her head on each inhale, then back towards her body on the exhale.

Five-finger breathing.

[DESCRIPTION: Katie holds up her left hand, all fingers and thumb extended. She runs her right finger up the thumb to coincide with the inhale, then down her thumb to coincide with the exhale. Then up her index finger for the inhale, down her index finger for the exhale, and so on.]

The deep-belly breathing with the teddy bear. You might maybe have a teddy or a doll on the belly, watching that go up and down is a conscious way of getting children to think about their breathing. Blowing bubbles. And Becky Bailey's organization, Conscious Discipline, has some fabulous ideas for teaching breathing techniques for children, and I encourage you to look it up.

[DESCRIPTION: transitions to the final slide titled, conclusion and questions. The screen shows a photograph of soaring black and white eagle from below, the blue sky in the background. There is a little 2D black graphic of an owl in the bottom right of the screen.]

And that seems like we've come to the end quite clearly. Hope there's going to be a little bit more time for some questions, if anybody has some, in the actual presentation. And thank you so much. It's been really enjoyable sharing these ideas with you. Thank you.

[End of transcript]

This presentation addresses the impact of trauma, the pursuit of wellbeing and barriers to service uptake relating to transition to school for children and their families from refugee, asylum seeker or refugee-like backgrounds. Consideration will be given to the potential co-existence of trauma and disability, community engagement and cultural transition and safety. Trauma recovery focused interventions with examples of existing and new skills for Early Childhood Educators and Primary Teachers will be outlined. 


Rachel Hennessy
Refugee Student Education Advisor
NSW Department of Education

Rosemary Signorelli
Senior Early Childhood Counsellor and Project Officer
NSW Service for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma Survivors (STARTTS)

Effective practice for children and families from refugee backgrounds during transition to school (0:57:20)

Rachel Hennessy –

- Hi, everyone. How you going? My name's Rachel Hennessy, and I am here with my colleague, Rosemary Signorelli. We'll introduce our roles in a minute. The first thing that I would really like to do is to offer an acknowledgement of country.

[DESCRIPTION: transitions to next slide showing an acknowledgment of country, along with an artwork called Kariong – Our meeting place by Stella Haynes, Year 2 Cammeraygal Country, Eora Nation].

I'd like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the various lands on which we are meeting today, and pay my respects to elders past, present, and emerging, and extend that respect to any Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people joining us today. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

[DESCRIPTION: transitions to next slide titled, ‘Effective practice for children and families from refugee backgrounds during transition to school’. An image of a young girl and a boy playing shows in the top right of the screen.]

So, we have put together a presentation, called "Effective Practice for Children and Families From Refugee Backgrounds, During Transition to School," focusing on little kids. Rosemary is the senior early childhood counsellor with STARTTS, which is the survivors of, Rosemary, can you please explain that?

Rosemary Signorelli –

- It's the New South Wales Service for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma Survivors In other words, we work with refugees and asylum seekers.

Rachel Hennessy –

- And the reason why that doesn't just run off my tongue is because the word STARTTS within the refugee support sector, is very, very well known. So, we all just call them STARTTS. And my name as I said is Rachel Hennessy. I'm the refugee student education advisor with the New South Wales Department of Education, which is a statewide role.

[DESCRIPTION: transitions to next slide titled ‘Overview’, outlining the agenda for the presentation which is discussed as follows.]

So, this is what we have planned for you in the next 40 or so minutes. We've got this overview here, looking first at trauma, then trauma and transition. Then looking at cultural transition, safety and the barriers to engagement. We've got some strategies for trauma focused recovery. And then right at the end, we'll talk about collaboration with organizations and how to support your students from refugee backgrounds. Just before we move on to actually speaking about trauma, I'll just talk to you about refugees.

Within the Department of Education, we actually don't call our students refugees, we call them students from refugee backgrounds or sometimes refugee students. Over in STARTTS, they often will call them learners from refugee backgrounds or learners with refugee backgrounds. There's just a few different definitions that we just wanted to get across to you as well.

Refugees are people who come to the country with a visa that has been granted to them either by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees or by the Australian Government, acknowledging their refugee status and offering them special protections. We also have asylum seekers. Asylum seekers are people who come to Australia asking for special protection, and they don't come with a permanent visa. They're awaiting their refugee status to be determined. And also, we do have a category of people within our schools as well, or children within our schools we have what we call refugee-like backgrounds.

So, they are people who have come to our country and been able to come on different visas, you know, spouse visas, or some other migrant visa, but everything in their background indicates that they have refugee experiences and will need additional support, whether they're children, students in schools or adults and families. So, to get us actually started, Rosemary is going talk about trauma now.

[DESCRIPTION: Screen transitions to slide labelled ‘Traume and its impact on the brain’. A graphic shows an image of the brain, with three sections highlighted; The temporal lobe, the amygdala and the hippocampus.]

Rosemary Signorelli –

- Hi, everyone. So, first of all, I'm just going to say something briefly about how trauma affects the brain, because as you will see, that affects behavior and learning, et cetera. So, if you look at this picture, you see that if there's prolonged stress, prolonged trauma, there are high levels of stress chemicals going into the brain, including into the baby, during the pregnancy. And these can affect the brain cells. And that can have a negative impact on the structure and the function and the physiology of the brain.

And in particular, on this slide, you can see in the middle of the picture, the arrow and the circular shape. So, this is the area that relates very much to how stress experiences get into the brain in a sense. And so, there are two parts, the amygdala is that, at the end of that blue circle, there's like a little nut-shaped thing called the amygdala. And it's actually like our smoke alarm. So, when somebody hears something or sees something that reminds them of trauma, the alarm goes, "Oh, it's not safe, careful, careful, careful." And the other part, the pinkish part, is the hippocampus. It stores memories in words. Now, when there's a lot of prolonged trauma, the amygdala actually gets bigger because it's got so much work to do to protect the person. And so, it'll get bigger, and that can lead to increased anxiety and fear and aggression. But the idea of it is to keep us safe, so, you know, to be careful. So, it stores implicit memory, that's not explicitly expressed in words. And the implicit memory is of sensations and behaviours and emotions that go with a particular experience.

And so, when that's triggered, the person can go into fight/flight or running, or they can just totally shut down or somewhere in the middle. With the hippocampus, it stores the memory in words, but it shrinks with ongoing trauma. And so, the person's not going to remember, they're going to have problems with concentration and memory. So, on the next slide.

[DESCRIPTION: Screen transitions to slide labelled ‘Traumatic experiences for caregiver or child. On screen there are two columns. They are labelled ‘Direct trauma’ and ‘Transgenerational experiences’ and each has a list associated, the contents of which are referenced as follows.]

We've got a list of some of the examples of the sorts of traumas that the refugee children, including children that are born in Australia, so we just have to remember that even if the children were born here, they can still be affected by the family's trauma. So, there's direct trauma where the child either experiences violence or witnesses it, or the child is affected by the bombs and shootings that go with state terrorism. The sexual assault which could be of the child or of family members, caregivers, 'cause they've lost their home or their homes been destroyed, and their village. Forced family separation.

So, dad may have been captured or they might have been escaping, got separated somehow, and other losses, even the loss of the toys in the house, et cetera, and being separated from grandma and grandpa, and so on. Some children are kidnapped, and sometimes the adults have been kidnapped. And of course, we hear a lot about detention, so they could have been in prison, even the little children may have been in prison with their parents in another country.

And then, of course, there's detention, persecution and political betrayal, while the little child won't be aware of that, but they'll be affected by it in the family. And very importantly, they have limited access, we should say to health in education, but particularly, in what our conversation says about relates to education and other services. So, they may not have had an education because they're a boy or a girl or whatever, lots of reasons. Then the transgenerational experiences, unlike other traumas that you hear people talking about, like domestic violence and other. In our culture, with the refugee-like experiences, there's a point in time where everybody is helpless, including the parents.

So, that's significantly different and that has effect. Separation, anxiety, is a huge issue for these children. I mentioned already that stress during the pregnancy, that's a whole lot of cortisol flowing through that can affect the parent and child. The parent may be depressed, anxious, and not have worked through their trauma. And that means they might not be emotionally present with the child always. And if the runs everywhere and makes a lot of noise, and screams and throws things, this can actually trigger the parents' traumatic memories. And then in turn, the parent strategies might be impacted because they're feeling terrible and they might just give them a screen to quieten them. And that might not be the appropriate thing, et cetera. We've also got to remember that even if you have several children at your school or childcare who are from the same country, they can be very different because they could be coming from different cultural groups.

And so, they might all react differently to different things. There's one point about cultural patterns. In some cultures, children are not encouraged to express themselves a lot, but to just be very quiet and compliant, because and maybe in that culture, they had to run through through forests to escape and they had to be very quiet, et cetera. So, different cultures, some don't want the children to cry because that will trigger the parents as well. Don't want them to express emotions, but the important thing is we can't generalize because they will be different. I'm going to hand back to Rachel for the next slide.

[DESCRIPTION: Screen transitions to slide labelled ‘Challenges in early childhood education and school’. On screen is a list labelled ‘Young refugee children and families’ the contents of which is discussed as follows.]

Rachel Hennessy –

- So, you can see on this screen here. So, Rosemary's just talked about some of the actual impacts of having a refugee experience. So now, this slide just brings some ideas of the past into actually what it's like to be in school, whether it's early learning or preschool or early the early years of primary school. And what we've got on this slide here is just an articulation that it's not just about the children, but about the families as well. So, the families, thoughts, feelings, backgrounds, also have an important impact on the children as well.

So I mean, a lot of our families have had to hold their children really close, and they need to know that they are safe, and they find it hard to let their little kids explore. So, there are times, you know, like when in early learning context where parents are encouraged to drop their children often, leave pretty quickly to stop that moment of separation being drawn out. That is very highly likely something that is difficult for the children, but for the parents really to achieve that, drop them off and walk out. And if they cry, we'll deal with it.

So, these are things to consider here as well on the screen. Thinking about literacy, limited literacy for the families, as well as language problems as well or language proficiency is something that will be quite difficult in the early years. The children may not have attended childcare or preschool, and what this actually can do, is limit their readiness to schooling. And the big thing here is the Australian early childhood and school systems will almost always be very unfamiliar for our refugee families. The kids and the families have to think about preserving their own culture, as well as being engaged in the new culture within Australia, which can really be very stressful and also triggering.

In terms of progress, that we do hear stories of parents coming into the school and speaking to the teachers and saying, "You know, my kids have been laying on bean bags, reading all day or reading or playing." And so actually, we know as educators that that's a very, very valid way of educating children and really good strategies for literacy, right? But because of the unfamiliarity of the way we educate in New South Wales, that can actually be a big point of misunderstanding for our families. And of course, the undiagnosed health issues, including mental and physical issues as well, can really have an impact here.

[DESCRIPTION: Screen transitions to slide labelled ‘Trauma Aware and Trauma Informed Care’. The screen shows the definitions of ‘Trauma Aware’ and ‘Trauma informed’ and are discussed as follows.]

I'm just going to deviate just slightly for a minute about the difference between trauma aware and trauma informed care.

So, there are two separate things. And on the third paragraph, I've actually got the Department of Education, runs some training about trauma informed practice for improved learning and wellbeing. And so, that's a course that teachers can engage in and find out more about trauma and education.

There is a difference between being trauma aware and trauma informed. Being trauma aware is where people, like the educators within a school understand trauma and bring their understanding into aspects of delivering whatever sort of programs or whatever education they're delivering. The trauma informed service delivery, is actually much deeper than that, and much more extensive in terms of time.

So, it's about the whole organization from top to bottom, realigning itself and looking at the processes and practices to engage in best practice treatment models. So, most schools and most education facilities, are able to become trauma aware, becoming trauma informed is actually takes longer.

[DESCRIPTION: Screen transitions to slide labelled ‘How does the trauma affect the child who is transitioning to school?’ On screen is an image of a child in a classroom smiling while sculpting.]

So, what we're going to talk about now is, now, we've sort of introduced in a very basic way trauma. Now, we're going to talk about how trauma can affect the little kid who's transitioning to school.

[DESCRIPTION: Screen transitions to slide labelled ‘Impact of trauma’. On screen are two lists. The first is labelled ‘Can impact any stage of development’. The second is labelled ‘The impact of trauma can include difficulties with:’. Each list is referenced as follows.]

So, first of all, looking at trauma and its impact on the little ones, it can really impact on any stage of development. Think about, look at the things in that first column there, speech and language, literacy, gross and fine motor skills, attention, executive functioning, reasoning, memory, abstract thinking. Think about what you want to achieve in your day with teaching your young students, and how all of those things can be impacted by trauma and how all of them are needed all through the day, and how you need them all through the day to work for your children.

Over onto the second column there, those things in the first column, can have a big impact on the things in the second column. So, I'll just let you read through that I don't need to read them aloud. We, Rosemary and I, were speaking specifically about the implicit traumatic memory. Rosemary, did you want to just articulate that a bit further? 'Cause you're the person who knows more about that than me.

Rosemary Signorelli –

- So, examples might be a child I was working with individually who would stand in the door with hands on her hips and turn her back to me. And it took me a few weeks to work out that I was triggering her implicit traumatic memory, because I talk quite loudly and I tend to use quite a lot of energetic movement. And I said to the mother, "I noticed that you are very quiet with her. You speak very quietly, et cetera." And it turned out that they'd had a very traumatic experience where people were running and screaming.

And so, just my body movements and my kind of voice were triggering her. And I had to then just be quiet, speak more quietly and slowly. And you could, with the children, you see it can take a while to work it out. It's not always obvious what it is that might be triggering someone, but that would be an example. So, we'll come back to that in a minute anyway, but that's something I wanted us to rethink about because people are not usually aware of it and they don't realize there's always a reason why a child is behaving the way they are, whether it's their age or whether there's something that is triggering.

[DESCRIPTION: Screen transitions to slide labelled ‘Observable behaviours’. This slide displays two lists. The first is labelled ‘ Refugee experiences might alter attachment patterns in refugee children.’ The lists is as follows ‘Clingy and overly-dependent; Controlling (care-giving/punitive); Overly independent’. The second list is labelled ‘Assessment through the observation of play’. The list is as follows: ‘Withdrawn and anxious; Disconnected, avoids relatedness in play; Aggressive, unable to regulate arousal, can’t sit down to do activities; Chaotic, does not know how to manage anxiety.]

Rachel Hennessy –

- Yeah. Okay, so here are some of the behaviours that you may observe as people who are educating young children from refugee backgrounds. We're going to go into more detail about this a bit later on, but the main kind of the main idea behind this slide is that different behaviours can be seen in different children with different backgrounds.

So, you can't necessarily, so the story that Rosemary just told was about that particular young girl, you know, you might not be able to apply that story to other students, right? So, it's actually about observing these behaviours, thinking about what we're talking about today, what you may know already about refugees and trauma and children experiencing these experiences, and sitting down actually thinking about how you might move forward with that. Oh, that is the same slide, I think.

Rosemary Signorelli –

- It is. I wondered where the pink it had gone.

Rachel Hennessy –

- There you go, think about play. So, think about observing your students as they are playing, and also, think about the development of play as well. The development of play is actually, probably, a completely different presentation, but I'll move on to let Rosemary speak for a little while now.

[DESCRIPTION: Screen transitions to slide labelled ‘Trauma and disability’. The subtitle reads: ‘High incidence of delays in development for 0-6 year old’s from refugee backgrounds. On the left of screen there is a bar chart that represents this high incidence. On the right a list is displayed labelled ‘The good news:’ The list is referenced as follows.]

Rosemary Signorelli –

- And we will come back to that point later. So, this slide shows how prevalent delays in development are for not to six year olds from refugee-like backgrounds, even if they were born in Australia. So, this is based on some research I did with some refugee communities, and also from my clinical sessions with null to six year olds.

So, you can see here, for instance, that 93% of the children I studied had issues with health. And so, 91% was sensory, and so on. This is a very high percentage of children who have a delay. And if you compare that with the AEDC data nationally and across all of the regions that I've looked at, this is much higher than the rest of the population.

So, for instance, nationally, 22% of children when they start school, have a delay in one or more of the AEDC domains. And then that drops to 11% who have a delay in two or more domains. But for refugee children, when we translate this data across to the AEDC sections, they would have a delay in four or five of the AEDC sections domains.

So, that's much higher. Now, the good news is that if we work with the children in the first five years in particular, as in the early education sector and so on, if we work with them in the first five years, we can really help them to catch up. Something that's very interesting is that at birth, we make 250,000 new brain cells a minute. We lose them if we don't use them, so using them is really important.

By the time we're 35, we can still make new brain cells, but it's only 800 a day. So, that working with the children in the early ages is very important. So, we can stimulate that growth through the things we do with the children.

[DESCRIPTION: Screen transitions to slide labelled ‘Signs and symptoms in common with disabilities’. A graph is shown showing the prevalence of common symptoms and is discussed as follows.]

If we look at the next slide, oh, sorry, I did forget to say that with the refugee children, they can have a delay in, if we just got back to the previous slide, those nine areas there, the refugee children had issues with seven out of the nine domains, so in most areas. So, then we move on to the next slide, and this is a comparison of 30 childhood trauma and disability.

So often, we might see a child in a childcare center or in kindergarten and think, "Oh, I think they've got autism or ADHD," they might, "Or global developmental delay." But if you look at this and you see the red boxes, and you can compare, particularly, early childhood trauma and autism, you can see they look very, very similar. And they have a lot of the same signs.

So, sensory processing or regulation and attention, et cetera, a lot of these areas of development that you would look at with your children, particularly, autism, there's a huge similarity, between early child trauma and autism. Now, if that means they get help, it may not matter if we've got the wrong diagnosis, but the problem is people may not recognize the signs of trauma, and then some things can improve, but the trauma is still there.

[DESCRIPTION: Screen transitions to slide labelled ‘Signs and symptoms that are different’. A graph is shown showing the prevalence of different symptoms and is discussed as follows.]

So, you can see at all, ADHD also can look similar. Now, if you look at the next slide, we can see that there are differences. And so, you'll see that for the refugee children, just about all of them have problems with eating. And I think that's objective puzzle, there's so many explanations. Almost all of them have health issues. Now, down the bottom, you'll see the red box means the majority of that group of children have this symptom.

Now, interestingly, the decreased lack of eye contact, and will come to that shortly. We think of our lack of eye contact being about autism, but it can also be about stress. So, you'll see that with autism, repetitive restrictive interest, is actually one of the criteria for autism. Now, you won't see that when it's trauma, it is either not present, I've put there, so the green box means not present. The pink box means a small percentage. The pale yellow box means rare, but it's not a criterion.

So, it actually is important to think about, "Do I think this child has a disability or could it be stress?" And you as a teacher or early childhood educator, would then probably want to talk to somebody else, which we'll come back to that later, 'cause you are not going to be addressing all of those things. But it's important to be aware.

[DESCRIPTION: Screen transitions to slide labelled ‘Sensations and memories - Two types of stress response – Behaviours. A graphic is show depicting the relationship between sensations and memories in children who have suffered trauma.]

If we go to the next slide, sensations and memories, I've already mentioned. Now, they go with the two types of stress and they can lead to different behaviours. So, remembering that stress responses are designed to keep us safe, which is a bit ironic, but there's a reason for the responses. So, first of all, if someone's feeling unsafe, they're either going to fight/flight, running, screaming, throwing, kicking, biting, or they may shut down. And sometimes, the shutdown child just looks, like a very good child.

They're not causing any trouble and it can be easy to notice that they might need help. But obviously, the fight/flight, they're overwhelmed, panic, impulsivity, all those things listed there, and their thoughts are racing overactive. And then on the other side, the childhood tends towards being shut down. Might just seem numb, they might not be feeling pain. You know, they might have no energy. They can't think, they'll sit down whereas the others, the fight/flight ones, don't sit down very much.

Now, in the middle, we've got the fact that there can be symptoms like tantrums, defiance, et cetera, or not seeming to listen. And not seeming to listen might simply be they're so stressed that that brain has stopped listening, or it might be that they're very preoccupied. and so, with something else, and that's why they're not listening. So, we'll come back to that again.

[DESCRIPTION: Screen transitions to slide labelled ‘Interpreting the child’s play. This screen depicts a list of various interpretations. They are discussed as follows.]

So, if we just go to the next slide, and here are some examples. So, in how the child plays. Now, if a child is very quiet and no trouble, as I said, that might mean that they have shut down. It might mean they're introverts, but it means just observing and seeing, does that go on a lot? Is it just sometimes as they tried 'cause they didn't sleep. So, there can be lots of different explanations.

Poor eye contact as I said before, we think of autism. However, it may be that dissociation, shut down response and all of them might be fears, maybe of, there might be something that reminds them of bad things that have happened and loud noise, for instance, they might have fears about loud sounds, et cetera.

Now, here's my favourite. Putting cars in a line when they play. They always put the cars in a line, so they must have autism. However, when you think about what cars do, actually, this can be normal, pretend play, symbolic play. They're doing what cars do, or it might be, they want everything to be in order and very neat, because their life is chaotic and they feel anxious. So, if they put things in a neat line, they feel better.

Repetitive play could mean that they're doing something familiar, and again, that helps them to have a sense of order. It could actually mean that they're acting out something that has happened, could be a good thing or a bad thing. But if you watch them over time, they might constantly play with trains, trains, trains, and after a while it changes, and what they've got it out of their system So, in a way, there might have been fighting or come back to that, and that helps them to work through something. It could be autism if it's restrictive. So, on this next line, it's only autism if the repetitive play stops them from doing other things. So, it's important to say, "Do they play with other things? Do they have to put the cups and sources in exactly the same way? Do they get upset if someone takes one of them away?" Now, smashing cars and figures, you might have a sand train. If the cars are smashing or they've got soldiers hitting each other, or even burying some of them, they might be re-enacting something. Now, that's equivalent to an adult going to therapy and talking about things. So, they might be actually getting over something in that re-enacting. So, not listening, could be, as I said before, they're very focused on something else, but it could also mean, they have an auditory processing disorder, which can happen with stress, and happen with autism. And it means that they're not understanding the words that are being said. They can hear, they don't have a hearing problem, that they they're not processing the words properly.

And you might say, "Okay, everybody, come over here." And one child doesn't, and you say, "Billy, come over here." Nothing happens, "Billy, I said come over here." And sometimes, we escalate with the frustration, and it may simply be that you didn't give them enough, or I didn't give them enough time for the brain to work out what I said. And so, we'll come back to what to do that we need to give time for them to understand what was said.

[DESCRIPTION: Screen transitions to slide labelled ‘Cultural transition and safety: Overcoming barriers to engagement.’ An image shows 20 high school students posed and smiling.]

Okay, so now, this beautiful slide is just taking us into another section of what we're going to talk about. And by cultural transition, we mean they've come from one culture, they're moving into another one, and how do they manage those things together? So, Rachel is going to talk about the safety side of things, the cultural safety side of things.

[DESCRIPTION: Screen transitions to slide labelled ‘Safety’. 7 dot points are displayed. They are ‘Translated documents; Bilingual staff and interpreters; Refugee families will need additional transition support; Consider digital literacy and access; Recognise the culture of the child and family; Acknowledge different cultural assumptions and expectations around play and its educational benefit; The impact of COVID and lockdowns disproportionately affected newly arrived communities’. A thought bubble on screen is filled with the text ‘There is no need to discuss a student’s refugee status with them’. A speech bubble on screen is filled with the text ‘Support rather than retraumatize the child and parent. Provide support if the parent chooses to tell their story.’]

Rachel Hennessy –

- So, within the Department of Education, we actually have some messages and some protocols and some approved language that we use around our students from refugee backgrounds. And as I said, I just used one then, our students from refugee backgrounds.

So, that is us conveying a point of safety and trust. So, we do come from a point of safety trust attachment skills and responsibility and skills, which is the stars model. Here, I've put some things on the slide. I mean, this is a very brief presentation, really?

So, there's a lot more here that we could talk about. But if we do have translated documents on the Department of Education's multicultural education webpage, and most documents come in 35 different languages. But you also have to consider that many of our refugee cohorts do have limited literacy as well, or in some cases, no literacy. So sometimes, translating documents, might not actually be the key to communication. You might need to think about bilingual staff or booking interpreters, especially at transition points. And it's something really important that we need to highlight with any of our students and refugee backgrounds who are transitioning, whether it's into early childhood settings or whether it's into high school or primary school or Intensive English Center, is that they won't be needing additional support, during around transition. And that means before, during and after enrollment as well, it's very, very important that those three parts of enrollment, that those three parts of transition are considered.

The other thing, and this was really highlighted in COVID, is digital literacy and access to devices, are not always going to be there for our refugee families. Asking people to go home and print things out and bring them back printed out, can really, really impact on the safety trust and attachment that our families feel towards the educational institution.

Again, Rosemary spoke about it, I think I mentioned it as well, recognizing the culture of the child and the family. There are some differences, some that, and some cultural assumptions and expectations that are around education both from on the side of the educator, as well as on the part of the family and the children as well. And really, let's not ignore COVID and the impact of COVID, and especially, the lockdowns was disproportionately, affecting our newly arrived communities, especially, our refugee communities. Some people had just got to the country when they were suddenly learning from home, or the kids were suddenly at home with all of the support agencies whereas trying to deliver support, but it was so hard.

Those two other points that I've got there in the two little breakout bubbles and thought bubble and speech bubble is, you need to be really careful about how you approach discussing a refugee background with the family. You don't want to re-traumatize the child or the parent you want to provide support. So, it's about developing some expertise in gentle questioning.

So, instead of saying to a family, are you refugees or do you have a refugee background? That can be so confronting, and really, within the Australian kind of context at the moment, who wants to say, "Oh yeah, I'm a refugee?"

Some people do, some people are proud of it, but we don't recommend questions like that. You need to develop a little bit of expertise and you can ask questions, like, what country were you in before you came to Australia? And if you understand that maybe a family's come from Afghanistan to Pakistan, then Australia and they speak Dari, then it almost will certainly be people from a refugee background.

And also, you might even have a visa category that you can use to understand that as well. In terms of the kids, there is barely any time where you need to speak to a child, whatever age they are about their refugee status. We're here to support them to provide support, and to educate them. If kids and young students do open up and speak to about their refugee background, it's not that you want to shut it down. You're not going to say, "Oh, Rachel and Rosemary said, 'I'm not allowed to talk about their refugee background with them.'" That's not actually the point.

You may need to refer them to counselling or to an organization like STARTTS. It means they've developed rapport with you and you don't shut it down. But remember, that you probably should not be bringing up with them that they have a refugee background.

[DESCRIPTION: Screen transitions to slide labelled ‘Positive messages.’ The subtitle reads; non-deficit thinking and focus on strengths, resilience, survival. The text on screen is referenced as follows.]

And Rosemary and I actually, sort of put this slide together really is that within the Department of Education, we really think about the positive messaging, around our students. And the good things that they bring and the strengths and resilience and survival that they bring with them into the classroom, into our communities, into our economy, into our society.

Although, and there's a little kind of blue box there, and I've just taken a quote that actually comes from a report that was commissioned by the federal government in 2019. And it's all about the benefits to our society that refugees have brought to us, and that's coming out of their federal government as well. So, you know, we'd like to think about a non-deficit point of thinking about our families and our kids. The parents have made huge sacrifices, so that their children will have a good life, like absolutely huge.

The things that Rosemary and I have heard over the years, will just, you know, you sometimes you just think to yourself, "What's next? Like, have I heard everything yet." And then someone will walk in and tell you another story. And it's like, well, that's even worse than what I've heard before. The shared objectives are listed there. You know, obviously, child safety and wellbeing is really important, but thinking about justice and opportunities for children is something that isn't always considered. Often our families and our children, do have a heightened reaction to injustice. In a country like Australia, where it is a very justice society, I mean, and we know that there's inequalities and things go wrong.

But compared to where a lot of our families have come from, it's a fairly stable just society, right? But you will notice some flare up sometimes because of their sort of the heightened reaction to injustice. Early intervention is obviously essential, and that's where you guys all come in as people who are working within early learning. The ARC model is something that Rosemary actually has some understanding, and I think that comes up a little bit later on, right, Rosemary?

Rosemary Signorelli –

- Yeah, yeah.

Rachel Hennessy –

- So, I won't necessarily speak about it now. We can just move on to the strategies.

[DESCRIPTION: Screen transitions to slide labelled ‘Trauma recovery focused interventions as children transition to school? An image of a child in a messy room is displayed on screen.

So, Rosemary is actually going to talk about the strategies, around trauma recovery focused interventions as the little kids transition into school.

[DESCRIPTION: Screen transitions to slide labelled ‘Context and traumatic experiences & recovery environment’. A graphic displayed 6 hexagon text boxes that surround an interior hexagon. The interior hexagon is labelled ‘Trauma for 0-5 year old refugees.’ The exterior hexagons are labelled, from the top in clockwise order: ‘Perinatal experiences including loss, deprivation; Direct sensory experiences; Hazardous trip to safety displaced, detention, violence, CP issues; Parent’s inability to engage emotionally, nurture or stimulate child; Disrupted attachment & parenting strategies – cause & effect; Lack of boundaries, difficulty protecting child, guilt.’]

Rosemary Signorelli –

- So, that last line about identifying the stages, that we're going to talk about strategies that relate to that. But first, let's just look at this jigsaw puzzle, which represents, so the pale purplely pieces, are a child's experience of trauma, different types of experience. It could be just the mother's stress during pregnancy, the loss of their toys, their grandparents, et cetera, moving country, direct sensory experiences, things they've seen and heard.

And then the prep to come here, and the violence and so on that they may have witnessed. So, those things the child might experience directly. And then the sort of pale orangey ones are about the parent, and how the parent is affected by their traumatic experiences. Now, I've put in the middle, not to five year olds, but obviously, the kindergarten children and older children, this applies to children.

Parents may have difficulty setting limits just because of their own stress, and also they might feel guilty that their child might have been kidnapped, et cetera, which was not the parents' fault, but you know, feel that maybe they didn't protect their child, et cetera. Whereas, as we've just said, they've done everything they can to try and keep their children safe. And the parenting strategies, the attachment can be disrupted at times, but it can be a bit of a circle.

And so, the parent might sometimes also be shut down a bit and not engaged. So, all these things work together as pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. The point of this jigsaw puzzle is that you, as an early childhood educator or a teacher or a health worker or whoever you are, you can't handle every piece of the puzzle. We need to work together. Somebody might work on one piece of the puzzle and someone on another, but we want the pieces to kind of fit together.

[DESCRIPTION: Screen transitions to slide labelled ‘Arc for children with complex trauma’. A pyramid with four levels is displayed on screen. The fourth and bottom level is labelled ‘Attachment’ The third level is labelled ‘Self-Regulation’. The second level is labelled ‘Competence’. The first and top level is labelled ‘Integration’. Each of these levels are made up of building blocks and are discussed as follows.]

And so, we might need to refer the child, et cetera. Now, here's the ARC model. So, ARC stands for attachment, regulation and competence. And a lot of parents, really, what they want is for their child to read, to say the alphabet, to count, to use those educational skills. And don't always understand that actually, it starts with the attachment, and the consistent responses, the routines and rituals that are part of attachment. And when there's some strong attachment, then the regulation comes next developmentally.

And so, you may in school and in the early childhood area, there'll be some attachment with you as well, but you'll probably often have to do things that help with the regulation. And the child who's just running, running everywhere, and can't sit at table, to do the drawing and the writing, and so on, may need help first to get to that. The executive functions and self development.

And so, they're the skills that you are teaching them at school, the reading and writing, the social skills, et cetera, that are built on those other things. So obviously, as you would be aware, until a child can sit at a table and sit still for a while, it's got to be hard for them to go through the learning experiences that you might be helping them with. You might have to have an easel and a whiteboard, so the child can run around the room, but still stop and draw on the easel, et cetera.

So, this all happens in a context of development and therapies, and play and sensory motor work, but it also relates to the social nervous system where people are looking at each other, talking to each other, and that helps them to feel safe. So, the educators and teachers are a part of that.

[DESCRIPTION: Screen transitions to slide labelled ‘Window of Tolerance’. A graphic on screen depicts the spectrum of Hyperarousal, Optimal arousal and Hypoarousal. These topics are referenced as follows.]

Now, this slide is very helpful for us when we are working with children and the parents, and ourselves, that understand what's happening when we are very stressed. So, in the middle of the slide where it says, "Optimal arousal," this is all of us. Most days, where there is some stress, like having to get to work on time or some other thing, that's normal, heavy traffic, whatever, but we're still okay, we can still work out to do it. If I'm going to be late, I know that I can ring someone and pull them.

But the arrows indicate, when the stress is growing up cumulatively, and when we can get it to come down bit by bit as well. And so, with the refugee children, as with all of us, we may start maybe sleepy, not very aroused at all. And then, oh my goodness, I've got to get the train.

So, then our stress level lifts. But if several things happen, the stress increases. So, I wake up a bit late to come here to do this recording, then there's too much traffic, then someone has an accident and my stress is going up. And then I might get to the office and get a phone call about some bad news. And then I go right up outside of this window. So, the window of tolerance is the bit in the middle. And if there is repeated stresses, happening one after the other, I might get to the stage of hyperarousal, when I'm really feeling unsafe, I get angry. I can be hypervigilant. I can't think because the brain says, "Oh, the alarm system's gone off, so don't worry about thinking or talking, just get out of bed."

And so, when we are in that state of hyperarousal, when we've just gone over the top, doesn't matter what anybody says to us, but teach them to say to a child, "Just sit down, it's all right, just calm down." And then not ready yet, and hear what's being said. And so, what we do then is to slowly, slowly bring them down, until they're back into that middle area where they're still not happy, but they can listen to what you're saying, and they can maybe go and sit down or do some jumping or something to help them.

[DESCRIPTION: Screen transitions to slide labelled ‘Strategies’. A list is displayed, showing a number of strategies for transitioning children from Hyperarousal into optimal arousal. The list is as follows; Deep pressure; Butterfly hug; Breathing; Gross motor activities; Rhythmic activity; Auslan hand signs; Short instructions; social stories; resilience; give child time to process information.]

So, I'm going to tell you in a minute, some of the activities you can do, with that purpose of just, or actually bringing them back down to where they can start to listen and do things.

[DESCRIPTION: On the right of screen, footage of Rosemary Signorelli appears. She shows a piece of green cloth to camera.]

Well, the first thing I'm going to show you, is a bit of stretchy cloth. There's just a bit of lycra material, and you can get a child to wrap it around them, and wrap themselves up very tight.

[DESCRIPTION: Rosemary demonstrates, wrapping the cloth around the back of her shoulders and around her body.]

You can tell them, they're like you know, they're going into a cocoon. And really, really grabbing themselves really tight in giving ourselves a big hug with that cloth.

[DESCRIPTION: Rosemary stands and demonstrates by tightly hugging the cloth to herself.]

That's one example. Doing something like the butterfly hug, where you've got one hand on each shoulder, and you just tap one at a time, and that can help us to calm down, because it's using both sides of the brain working together to slow us down. Breathing, where you breathe out for a long time. Now, that could be dragon breathing, which you don't do in front of someone. You do it facing the wall because you blow out like a dragon. So, like this. And so, the breathing out is longer. Flowing bubbles, perfect. No one can resist bubbles. Gross motor activities that use up the muscle tension.

So, they might need to jump up and down. They might need to jump on a trampoline or do a bit of running. Again, rhythmic activity, running and jumping are good for that, but it could be drumming. It could be doing hopscotch where they're jumping, but there's a pattern to it. Another thing that's good is using hand signs, 'cause remember, if they're outside the window of tolerance, if they're way up here or they've shut down, which is the other reaction when they go outside of the window of tolerance, and they're not following your words.

But if you use a few hand signs like stop, which you don't do it quickly like that, you just slowly stop or go, can't remember that one. Wait, wait, listen, listen and finished. Make sure you turn your hand, 'cause in some cultures, this is a rude sign, but turning your hand is okay.

Thought instructions, you'll know a lot of these things, but I'm just reassuring you if you like. You'll know a lot of things that you can do to just gradually bring the child down. Short instructions, singing is finished, jumping is finished, sit down, you have just very short instructions.

You can sing instructions. So, for instance, if a child is throwing things, you can sing. ♪ I pick it up ♪ ♪ I poured it down ♪ ♪ I pick it up ♪ ♪ I poured it down ♪ And very quickly they learn that, and they'll start saying the word.

Social stories. So, some of you will be used to social stories, which might be stories about a favourite character. I'll show you slide in a minute about these books that you can get online from STARTTS. So, I'll show you those, but where the monkey is managing their emotions. And then you later on you say to them, "What did the monkey do when he was angry?" "He book a deep breath."

And so the book is helping them to learn those things. Resilience. I could ask you to think of a song that would take too long on the recording, "Incy Wincy Spider," is a song about resilience. And you can get the children to climb up the wall, like in Incy Wincy, fall down and get up. And then that they can feel it in their body. One of my books, "The Monkey's Build a House," is about that. But as I said before, giving the child time to process information.

[DESCRIPTION: Screen transitions to slide labelled ‘Other strategies for transition and regulation’. A list is displayed, showing more strategies for transitioning children from Hyperarousal into optimal arousal. The list is as follows; ‘Visual schedule; Child can have small transitional object in pocket; Countdown; Easel for child; Have a movement session early in the day; Sensory area; Calming background music.’]

But then if we look at the next slide, we've also got something that you probably use You know, hello, it's finished. Now, we are going to do this, et cetera. It might be up on the wall, and it helps the children to know the transition from one activity to another. And so, that helps with transition as well.

If a child has separation anxiety, I, sometimes, suggest they take some little toy in their pocket to school that no one's going to see, or maybe even a picture of mommy and daddy just in their pocket, so they have a sense that there's something there with them as a transitional object. Counting down, preparing for transitions. So, in five minutes, we're going outside or whatever it is. Having an easel as I said before, so if the child's running, running, running, they might just stop and draw on that for a while and then keep running.

There's probably more in the childcare centre preschool for setting. And then they're still starting to learn about drawing, while they're still running around, and then gradually, they'll settle down. Having a movement session early in the day, having a sensory area that the child can go to as needed. Some of you, if you have children with autism, will be familiar with that idea. Calm background music. At times, they can't do that through the class all the time, but there might be times. There's an app called the Dreampad app, that's free on your phone, and you might use some background music. Coming back to these books, and I've got the link at the top where you can get these books.

[DESCRIPTION: Screen transitions to slide labelled ‘Social stories for trauma recovery’. Four images are displayed on screen sequentially. They depict a monkey doing an assortment of activities. The first image shows the monkey working with other monkeys building a house. This image is labelled ‘Resilience & shared problem solving. The second image shows the monkey waiting at a traffic light. This image is labelled ‘Regulation’. The third image depicts the monkey as angry. This image is labelled ‘ Time In & managing feelings’. The fourth image shows the monkey holding the hands of two larger, adult monkeys. This image is labelled ‘ Separation and reunion.’]

So, there's a book about the monkeys building a house. And so, they build a house. They think, "What are we going to do to that building?" They move it, because the elephant walking past. Moved the house, so the elephants are okay, and they're okay.

There's a song about regulation where we start by running around the room and then we stop. And you'll see, we've got the traffic light there, but we also use the hand sign. Then there's one about managing feelings, and there's another one for separation and reunion. So, I won't go into them, but you can look on that website. And if you ask for these slides later, the image is on there, you can always just put it in your chat box. Sorry, I'm going to hand over just in time, when I start coughing.

[DESCRIPTION: Screen transitions to slide labelled ‘Support and collaboration’. A photograph depicts 19 adults standing and posing for the camera. This group is the Department of Education’s Refugee Support Strategy with STARTTS School liaison team and members of the Refugee Student Counselling Support Team.]

Rachel Hennessy –

- Yep, it sounds like. Thanks, Rosemary. So, just to finish up, we just going to chat about support and collaboration. There's a really good photo there. What this photo is, is obviously, it was before COVID. In 2019, when the refugee support strategy was finishing up, it was a three-year strategy. And what's in that photo there, are members of the Refugee Support Strategy, the STARTTS, School Liaison Team, which Rosemary's not part of the School Liaison Team. She's in a different section of STARTTS, but we work very, very closely with the School Liaison Team. And also, the Refugee Student Counselling Support Team, which is a Department of Education Team as well. So, when I see that photo, I love it because it's all of us together, all working together.

[DESCRIPTION: Screen transitions to slide labelled ‘Collaboration and referral’. A list of resources are displayed on screen. This list is referenced as follows.]

So, on the slide here is just a few, I mean, there is so much depending on where you are, depending like as in which local government area that you are in, there will be all sorts of different supports around you. These are just some of the ones that we kind of thought we'd communicate today. Like I said, the Refugee Student Counselling Support Team, is the Department of Education. So, there's a specialist group of psychologists who can do professional learning, or also can support students and give advice to schools as well.

This STARTTS has many, many different services and programs. The one that I work most closely with is the School Liaison Program. But as I said, there are so many different programs as part of STARTTS. The Refugee Health Service at times does work in Intensive English Centres within the Department of Education, but is also has a much broader service. Like I said, there's the translated documents.

You can see over there, I've got a screenshot of the multicultural education webpage. And on there, there's heaps of stuff, but that's where you'll find the translated documents, the one I mentioned before with all the different languages. Rosemary has articulated there that there are paediatricians, psychologists, allied health professionals, the NDIS, which obviously includes asylum seekers, under the age of seven.

And then just one more thing is the welcome program, which is, again, another initiative that sits within the multicultural education webpage there. In our supporting refugee students webpages. You'll see the welcome program, it's an orientation program that you can convert to your own context.

[DESCRIPTION: Screen transitions to slide labelled ‘Websites and links’. 5 dot points are displayed on screen, the first three are links to websites, and the fourth and fifth are formal academic references.]

And just to finish up, if you get the slides, you'll get all of these websites and links, plus a lot of what Rosemary has put down as her references.

[DESCRIPTION: Screen transitions to slide labelled ‘Contact us’. The contact information of Rosemary Signorelli and Rachel Hennessy are displayed.]

And that's actually the end of our presentation. Thank you so much for watching this online today. We absolutely appreciate it. There's our contact details. If you would like to get in contact with either of us, we would be very, very happy to speak to you.

Rosemary Signorelli –

- Thank you.

Rachel Hennessy –

- [Rachel] And thank you to Rosemary for coming as well. Thank you so much, Rosemary. It's been absolutely beautiful working with you.

Rosemary Signorelli –

- Thank you for having me.

[DESCRIPTION: Screen transitions to slide labelled ‘Evaluation’. Text displayed reads ‘We value your feedback. Please take some time to complete this evaluation form: [no longer active] forms.office.com/r/BkijFBt34y. A QR code is also displayed on screen.]

[End of transcript]

Practical strategies to support the inclusion of children with disability or developmental delay in your early childhood service or early years classroom. You will be guided through how to best structure the environment to support the access, engagement, and participation of all children. An overview of different evidence-based strategies will be presented, along with examples of how they can be implemented.


Dr Sarah Carlon
Manager of Research and Education
STaR Association

Megan Cooper
STaR Association

Practical strategies to support inclusion (0:48:09)

[DESCRIPTION: Music plays as light blue, pink and red circular shapes enter the screen from each corner, colliding in the centre to form a growing light blue, then red, then dark blue, then light blue shape. They expand to reveal a light blue background with the title, Inclusion Forum – on demand. Circular shapes animate on screen. A photo is revealed in the top right corner of two young students holding paint brushes in paint tubs on a table.]

[DESCRIPTION: transitions to slide titled, Inclusion Forum, Tuesday 24 May, 2022. The screen shows several infant children outside under a tree, some playing with counters, others playing in a sandpit. One is sitting with a teacher. Sarah and Megan are in the top-right corner of the screen for the duration of the presentation.]

Sarah Carlon –

Welcome everyone.

[DESCRIPTION: transitions to next slide showing an acknowledgment of country, along with an artwork called Kariong – Our meeting place by Stella Haynes, Year 2 Cammeraygal Country, Eora Nation.]

Megan Cooper –

Hello. Lovely of you to join us.

Sarah Carlon –

We'll begin today, by acknowledging the traditional custodians of the various lands on which we meet and pay our respects to elders past, present and emerging, and also extend that respect to any Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people joining us today.

[DESCRIPTION: transitions to next slide titled, Practical strategies to support inclusion, Dr Sarah Carlon and Megan Cooper, STaR. An image of a young boy playing shows in the top right of the screen.]

Today we'll be talking about practical strategies to support inclusion.

[DESCRIPTION: transitions to next slide titled, Who are we? Below is the STaR logo showing a white hand print in the middle of an orange star, with the words: access, opportunity and acceptance. Text below reads, Presenters: Dr Sarah Carlon and Megan Cooper.]

First off you might be wondering who we are. We're Sarah and Megan. And we are from STaR, which is an acronym that stands for Special Education Teaching and Training and Research. We believe that with the right support, all people can and should learn together, that lifelong learning is a human right. We work across early years school-aged and post-school settings to ensure that people with disabilities, have access to progressive and meaningful learning. Established in 2001, we've worked with over 600 families and 300 educators, across 30 inclusive early childhood services. We look forward to sharing some of our experience with you today.

[DESCRIPTION: transitions to next slide titled, Overview. Bullet points listed on the screen are read out as follows.]

Megan Cooper –

Excellent. So, what are we going to cover? We are going to look at what inclusion should look like, including a nice definition. We're going to talk about supporting inclusion, through your environment, how that can be done. Suggestions and strategies to set the scene for success, successful days for us all and successful outcomes of our children. Tips for supporting communication and some take home messages to take back to your team or your service and to reflect upon.

[DESCRIPTION: transitions to next slide titled, What does inclusion look like? A definition shows in a blue speech bubble above a photo of an early years teacher sitting on the floor of a classroom with three students holding musical instruments. To the left shows a pictorial flow graphic containing a semi-circle arrow with the number 1 and the word, Access, leading to another semi-circle arrow with the number 2 and the word, Participation, leading to another semi-circle arrow with the number 3 and the word, outcomes. All three semicircles are joined by a weaving, dotted line.

Sarah Carlon –

So, what does inclusion looks like? Inclusion of children with disability in early learning services is actually mandated through law. So, specifically the Disability Discrimination Act, 1992 and the Disability Standards for Education, 2005, which state that educators, need to make reasonable adjustments, so that children can have access to, be involved in and benefit from their education on the same basis as their peers. So, what does that mean in terms of what is this inclusion that's mandated? Early Childhood Australia, provide a nice definition of inclusion in that it means that every child has access to, participates meaningfully in, and experiences positive outcomes from early childhood education and care programs. So, what that means for us is that it's not just about access or enrolling the children with disability or developmental delay into your service. Actually that's the easy part in a lot of ways. What we really want to focus on is the child's participation and engagement within your early learning service. And that participation and engagement is what's going to lead to the positive outcomes for that child and their family. So, our aim is always for participation in meaningful experiences to lead to those outcomes. And of course teaching strategies that we use, are going to be really important to help us get you there.

[DESCRIPTION: transitions to next slide titled, Supporting inclusion through the environment. A large blue speech bubble titled, Practices of the EYLF -Learning Environments contains a quote that reads, “Learning environments are welcoming spaces when they reflect and enrich the lives and identities of children and families participating in the setting and respond to their interests and needs. Environments that support learning are vibrant and flexible spaces that are responsive to the interests and abilities of each child. They cater for all different learning capacities”.]

Megan Cooper –

Absolutely. So, we like to share with you lots of practical things that you can do and I'm sure that you already do. So, hopefully you'll find this quite validating. There'll be lots of things that you're doing already to promote and to make sure inclusion is happening. One of the first things we can do is create a physical and social learning environment that has really positive impact on children's learning. And this is one of the pedagogical practices, outlined in your EYLF. It is absolutely vital that our learning environments, are welcoming, flexible spaces that are responsive to the interests and abilities of each child and that they cater for different kinds of learning capacities.

[DESCRIPTION: transitions to next slide titled, Environmental considerations – organized and inviting? Three images show a wooden desk with craft equipment; colourful teddy bears and building blocks on the floor; and a busy room full from wall to wall with toys, a desk, a bookcase and a chair.]

Sarah Carlon –

Absolutely, so what does an engaging environment look like? Just have a look here at some of these images and imagine what the child, or even you as an educator and adult working in this space, what a child might feel like, when they walk into these learning spaces. So, if you're expecting them to sit at this table here and engage in some activities, what might that feel like for the child? The walking through the room and something like this, you can imagine the behaviour and just the ability to actually engage, actually focus on something. We think about this in our own lives, often our own working spaces. Sometimes you can walk into a staff room to do some programming and if it's dark or cluttered or there's, so it's really hard to find where that pen is, where all the resources are, where's the mouse, where's the mouse’s batteries, all these sorts of things. How can we make sure that our spaces, are organised and inviting? So, having a think about what it might feel like for you as an adult and for the children to walk into these spaces. We're going to have a look at some other ones.

Megan Cooper –

That's it, there's certainly a lot of choices there in one of those photos, aren't there? Very distracting.

[DESCRIPTION: transitions to next slide titled, Environmental considerations – organised and inviting? Three images on the screen show three rooms that are organised, void of any clutter, toys kept neatly in bookcases and shelving.]

So, what does an engaging environment look like? I know from many services that I go and visit, I'm interested in the ones that I actually want to get down and play, I want to get involved with, something that looks so inviting that I actually want to hang around and engage with that. So, we want to present things in the way that they're fun. We're not saying clinical or boring at all, but lovely little scenes that are set up of suggestions, of resources. We love activities that can include all sorts of learners from very complex, abstract, almost mathematical thinking play to the very sort of fundamentals of some simple cause and effect or sensory sort of play. So, we want activities that draw children in, and don't overwhelm people with choices and distractions and diversions, like there's a lot happening. I like particularly when there's a space, where this indicates that four or five children, are the right amount to sit around, this activity experience as well. So, there's not 20 kids sharing that sort of thing. It needs to be organised and inviting. And I hope you see something there that reminds you of the space that you work in.

[DESCRIPTION: transitions to next slide titled, Environmental considerations – organised and inviting – enough resources? The left of the screen shows a sandpit at a daycare centre with buckets and spades neatly arranged in a large circle in the sand. Pots and pans are lined up orderly on the edge of the sandpit. A second image to the right of the screen shows three young toddlers playing in a different sandpit with buckets and spades.]

Sarah Carlon –

Yes. We can also think about the resources that we provide, as Megan said, we want it to be inviting, drawing children in, but if we only have one or two sets of those particular resources, how is that going to impact the ability for the children to engage? What sort of environment are you setting up there? So, you can see here really simple, sort of have their buckets and spades here in a circle. There's enough for all of the children that will be coming here. The equipment doesn't have to be exactly the same. You don't need to have sort of five, 10, 15 sets of exactly the same equipment, but just the equipment that will be similar. So, you can see here, all of the cooking equipment's quite different, but there's enough for all of the children to engage with. That enables not only parallel play to occur, but that children, can then sort of start working together as well, depending on where the child is at. So, we can see here, just by simply presenting those resources in a particular way when the children come out, then that's really going to start with thinking about using that environment as a third teacher, it's going to start to draw the children in.

[DESCRIPTION: transitions to next slide titled, Environmental considerations – accessibility. To the left of the screen shows an image of a carer and a toddler with a hydraulic changing table. The image in the centre shows person wearing a lavalier microphone and recorder, holding up a book. The image on the right shows a man looking towards a younger child, appearing to be using AUSLAN.]

Megan Cooper –

Absolutely. So, there's also some other more specific, environmental adjustments that will ensure that your environment is ready or welcome for any child in your community. And they might be permanent environmental adjustments, like ramped access, placement of furniture to ensure that there are clear pathways to move around space. We can see here on the left a hydraulic change table to enable you to safely and respectfully change a child that's not yet using a toilet or ensuring that educators are confident in using keyword sign. You can see the photo there. So, you might also make adjustments to your learning environment to enable access for specific children. Some examples might be, we've got our educator in the middle there, wearing an FM device. I don't know if any of you have used that before, when you've got the small microphone at your chest and the recorder on your hip, when that's turned on and you're doing say, a big group story time, a child can be tuned into what you're saying. I've seen a service recently use that on a little excursion on their nature walk. Still the teacher was walking at the front and the child at the back with the FM device can still hear. So, there's some specific ones. If you've had a child that's enrolled that might have a vision impairment, you could use tactile indicators, contrasting colors. You could also consider the placement of what you want the child to attend to, and the amount of glare that they might be exposed to. So, organize a space so that that child's facing you or their peer or their activity or experience, either they're interacting and the light source, like the window is behind them, so that they're not looking into glare. You could also make specific adjustments to enable access for children with a physical disability. This could include specialized equipment, such as standing frame. We'll see some photos as we move on. What else? And for one child access to peers and learning experiences, was supported by standing frame and a specialized chair in some other photos that we'll see further on.

[DESCRIPTION: transitions to next slide titled, Environmental considerations – Educator ‘supervision’ or participation? An image to the left of the screen shows an organized room in which three young children of different age and cultural background playing with building blocks on a mat. Behind them, an adult sits at a table with two young boys playing with lettered blocks. Another image shows a female playing in the sandpit with a young toddler. Below this, a third image shows an adult sitting cross-legged on the floor with several students sitting around him, holding up their hands]

I'm sure you've all got examples of things, clever things that you've done in your environments to make sure that everyone can engage with the experiences that you've provided.

Sarah Carlon –

Absolutely. In terms of environmental considerations, also consider yourselves within the environment. So, over the years, we've seen many services, where educators are sticking strictly to our supervision plans, standing in the set positions in the room or the outdoor environment to sort of watch over and supervise the children. We know that there's a reason for this and that most of your services, would have those plans written up, but we've often seen it result in children sort of struggling to engage with the activities and the environment. Think about how you can supervise while also participating and engaging with the children. And then also being available to offer that support where needed. So, you can sort of see in the pictures here, we've got this educator here who's supporting the children to engage in a activity at the table. So, he's doing some language and turn taking work building with the blocks, talking about the sounds that the letters make that are on the blocks. He's also able to have his eyes on the children that are playing here. If he was sitting on this side of the table, facing the children, just a really small adjustment, then his back would be to the other children. So, just sort of being aware of the way that you place your body, within an environment can make a big difference. Similarly here in the sandpits, they're sitting down actually engaging with the child in play and her peers over here, you can't see, and having her eyes out to the rest of the outdoor area and here as well. So, actually engaging that small group of children, breaking the group down into a smaller group as well. And we had some workshops, face-to-face workshops here at the office, within the last week or so. And a lot of what the educators there were talking about, was the importance of communicating as a team around this. I'm going to be focusing on a turn taking experience with these four children. I'll be sitting here, can you be aware that that's what my focus is going to be? So, that then the other educators in your room or your group or your classroom, can have their eyes over the other children as well.

[DESCRIPTION: transitions to next slide titled, Have high expectations – when we have high expectations – and expect and plan for participation from children that we work with - this sets the scene for successful learning. Below are two speech bubbles with quotes from Michelle, a mother of twins with disability. The quotes are mentioned as follows.]

Megan Cooper –

That's it. So, you'll be glad to know the first strategy to set the scene for a successful inclusion is to have high expectations. This sounds really simple and really obvious, but it's incredibly impactful. This is something I always remember. It's a very simple idea, but one that I really liked, without engagement children cannot learn. Unless children are involved and engaged in activities, experiences, your environment, they can't learn. So, it's this beautiful, that goes together with when children are engaged, they're also being included. So, what we need to do is have high expectations of all the children that we work with. And in terms of their engagement in your activities and routines, this is really one of the principles of the EYLF and absolutely what inclusion's all about. So, you can see, how everything's going together nicely there. We need to expect and encourage participation, encourage independence, very important for some of our children, with different backgrounds and different sort of skill sets that we don't enable this sort of learnt helplessness. We really want to push all of our little, our friends to be as independent as possible. This brings all children great sense of self esteem and agency. We can only do that when we have high expectations and push them a little bit further, than maybe you suspect possible. Your expectations and for anyone that's joined us in any other webinars we've done, we have a lovely video of one of our mom friends, Michelle mother of twins with a disability, who attended one of our services that said, my children learnt to socialize, they made friends, the educators taught them things that I didn't think possible. A very nice video clip that we've got of Michelle explaining, how much it meant to her that her local, early education service taught a lot of those girls, pushed them hard to make sure that they're involved in doing what all the other children who were three were doing and what an incredible impact that had on her and the whole family and the trajectory of those girls. Don't underestimate the effect that you're having on a family.

Sarah Carlon –

And the long-term.

Megan Cooper –


Sarah Carlon –

Yeah, this was a quote sort of not immediately after or during the time. It was a few years later looking back, that still that experience of the first early learning experience that's-

Megan Cooper –

She really did explain it that the work that we did in those early years, set the scene for her as mom to have high expectations and expect her children to travel alongside their peers, their age-appropriate peers.

[DESCRIPTION: transitions to next slide titled, Encourage participation in natural activities. Several images on screen show children, one with disability in the classroom watching the teacher play a guitar; infants eating; three young girls playing on the floor; several students enjoying craft activities; a young student on the grass with a ball at her feet; and two students raising their hands in the classroom.]

Sarah Carlon –

Okay, so what might having high expectations look like in practice? What we really want you to think about is that regardless of the degree of disability, the child can still be assisted and expected to participate. So, it's going to promote inclusion, their self-help skills and self-worth. Now as early years educators, we know that children learn through play and gain independence skills, through being supported to do more for themselves. Engaging children in natural activities is really strongly supported in the early childhood, early intervention research literature. It's one of the key best practices in early childhood intervention, more broadly and specifically, when we're talking about natural activities, we're not saying particular learning activities, you might call them learning experiences. You might just call it, the learning the program of your day, what the children are involved in, in your day. So, we're not saying that they need a set up particular activities. When we say activities, we're using it more broadly in that everything that is involved in your learning service, throughout the day, we want the children to be involved in. So, it should be age appropriate activities. We want to be using concrete materials where possible, of course it's going to be play-based, because we're talking about the early years. It should be alongside peers and really focusing on self-help. So some examples here, sitting down included with the other children within a music group time, focusing on all the language that we draw out of that, one of our favorite things is sitting alongside peers learning to eat. So, we've worked with children that have come to services, initially eating through tube feed, tube feeding. So, they weren't able yet to eat orally. And they work towards that, but always sitting alongside their peers. If you have a child that is really focusing on fine motor development, it doesn't always have to be something, I think a lot of the time we think fine motor, means sitting up at the table like these guys here, you can see the educator sitting alongside them, there to support were needed, there to model. It doesn't necessarily have to be something that's up at a table. You can see here this group of children and the children that are a little bit more competent in those skills, modeling that skill for this child here down on the floor. And of course we've got in the early years of school that this should continue. So, our friend here very much part of the group, sitting at the table alongside his peers. It's not that because he has an individual learning plan and individual goals within that plan, that he's sort of withdrawn to a different area of the classroom with the teacher's aid or the SLSO within the room. He's very much part of the group.

[DESCRIPTION: transitions to next slide titled, Encourage participation in natural activities. The screen shows several images of a young student with disability named Freddie, who uses a mobility chair, playing with the teacher. A speech bubble asks the question, how could this fine motor ‘therapy’ be imbedded into the natural activities of the EC setting?]

Megan Cooper –

Excellent. So, next we're going to meet a little fellow, his name's Freddie. He has a diagnosed disability and attending his local center in this session when it's live, this is a chance that we have to build a word cloud and get ideas from you. But this is just going to be a thinking point for us today in the recorded session. So, we we've got here Freddie. He needs to work on some fine motor skills and goals. He has therapy. And when we visited him at this service, we found that he was doing some great therapy work, but what we did observe, it was always one-on-one separate from his peers, within the room, but in a classic therapy type manner. So, how could we embed this type of practice, therapy practice into natural activities of a preschool room? You can see, like I said, first of all, they're not using the most obvious resource we have to us. And that's our little friends.

[DESCRIPTION: the speech bubble on screen fades out. A large blue arrow fades in, as well as the text, encourage peers to join in with Freddie! An accompanying picture shows a smaller sandpit sitting on a table, up at Freddie’s level, with young students playing.]

There's no reason, I don't think that Freddie can do this kind of work with some buddies around him. And it could also be with activities that the children are using within their room. So, he can be up in his supported sitting on a high chair, but he could be playing with the dinosaurs alongside. We can get the other kids up at his height. I'm sure that you can think of many ways that we can encourage the children to join in with Freddie and to make sure that the activities he's playing, are those of his peers, playdough, who doesn't love playdough? We just get that work when he's doing his fine motor or finger work there with the other kids around, it's a really obvious way to include him in a way that's more inclusive.

Sarah Carlon –

Absolutely. And you think of the number of times, we're focusing on that for several other children, within our group anyway. A lot of the time we're focusing on fine motor skills for children within a preschool group. So, why not just sort of embed that, even if Freddie needs a little bit of extra support or it's slightly adjusted, like slightly larger things to manipulate, we can still do that alongside the peers.

Megan Cooper –

That's it.

[DESCRIPTION: transitions to next slide titled, Use routines and structure. Routines and structure enable: Engagement and participation; distributed practice; predictability. An image shows an arrow pointing to the word, Lunch. Another image shows a number of ways to say hello, with cartoons of people waving.]

Sarah Carlon –

The next strategy we have is the use of routines and structure. And again that's going to set the scene for successful inclusion for any child within your group. Why? Because embedding learning opportunities, into functional daily routines and activities, enables engagement and participation. And as Megan said, that's really the key component of inclusion. It enables as well distributed practice, which just means that there's lots of little opportunities to practice skills throughout the day or week, rather than just trying to focus in for a specific amount of time that, "Okay, we're going to practice doing this now." You can just practice a little bit here a little bit there, and that actually builds up over time. So, we give we're providing the opportunity to practice those functional skills all the time that the child attends and predictability, which is really why it's so important. We spoke to a director of a very busy, early childhood service recently who has several children. I think they're up to over 10 now, Megan.

Megan Cooper –


Sarah Carlon –

Diagnosed disabilities and individual learning plans that come throughout the week, they are operating with their regular ratio of educators to children within their service, nothing sort of over. And it was really around, well, how do you and your team manage to make sure that you're implementing, all of the different strategies to work towards the learning objectives of the children that have individual learning plans, as written in their plans. And what she said to us is, "It's easy really. "We just embed it throughout the day." So, she gave us some examples of things like a child that was working on the self-help skill around feeding and fine motor using a spoon. So, it's like we just need to give Tommy, a little bit of extra support in hand-over-hand support to feed himself during lunchtime. We've got Levi, who's learning to toilet train. So, we just know that every time we are doing it anyway, we're taking the children to the toilet anyway, that we just focus on doing that. She gave us some really little examples of, we're working on a group time, we focus on another child for this particular reason. So, just embedding that throughout the day, didn't make it overwhelming that the staff sort of go, "Oh, I have to read all of these different plans "and make sure that I'm doing this objective "for this child and using these strategies for this child." It became part of the day and part of their regular routine, the children, because it was part of the routine, got that regular practice. The educators all knew when to focus on different things with different children. So, use those routines and structure to your advantage.

Megan Cooper –

Absolutely. You're going to love the next general strategy.

[DESCRIPTION: transitions to next slide titled, Use interests and strengths. A blue speech bubble contains the heading, Practices of the EYLF Responsiveness to Children with a quote that is read as follows.]

Another really simple one, use the child's interests and strengths. Sometimes I know as a parent, it's sometimes hard to remember your child's strength, to focus on interest and strengths. We tend to look at deficit of what children need to learn or what we could be doing better. What's difficult about our day, but when we lean into interest and strengths, we'll probably have more impact. So, interest and strengths, are highly motivating to all of us. We all have individual interest, preference, strengths that we bring to households, communities, workplaces. And this is also echoed in the practices of the EYLF, specifically related to responding to children. Within the framework, it is highlighted that we should be responsive to children's strengths, abilities and interests, and this means valuing their strengths and skills and knowledge and build upon these and use that as a motivation tool. So, another way of saying that is if we want a child to be engaged, we should use high interest activities, especially when we are trying to teach them something new or something that they may not be enjoying. So, I'm sure a lot of you do this anyway. When you welcome children into your services, collect from families, what children are really motivated by, what's their currency, what gets them going? I think all we need to do is keep checking in what that is, because it might start off being robots and might turn into dinosaurs. So, it's one of the first things I usually ask families or educators, what's going to get this child moving, because we can use this in many ways.

[DESCRIPTION: transitions to next slide titled, Use interests and strengths. An image below shows a young female playing while sitting at a table. Below is a montage of images of Spiderman. And to the right, a cartoon image shows a boy packing away toys with the word, First, a green arrow connects the next image of several kids dancing with the word, Then.]

Sarah Carlon –

We can. And here are just some examples of how different services that we've visited, have used different interests and strengths to motivate children in some different ways. So, we visited a service, where there was a child that was difficult at drop-off time. Really had sort of struggled with that separation from mum and dad. And then even when that sort of went okay, he'd go with an educator he tended to wander the room a little bit. And what we ended up doing, that service educators ended up doing, was they realised that throughout the day, he loved going to the puzzle area and he actually had another little peer that also loved puzzles. So, what they're doing, and she would arrive relatively early in the morning. So, making sure that those puzzles were out when he arrived, she would often already be there sitting there. So, we were building that sort of familiarity with the peer as well, sitting down. So, really motivating to sit down beside peers, start to engage. So, just having that resource available, as Megan said earlier, when we were thinking about walking into a room, it was set up really invitingly. So, rather than just being like, all the puzzles are over on the puzzle shelf and we've got things that was actually set up specifically in the area each day. And that really helped to start his day off in a positive way.

Megan Cooper –


Sarah Carlon –

You might also adapt material. So, that's sort of using something that you've already got within your service. You might adapt materials to include a child's interest. So, what we seen at another service, was creating a Spiderman Lotto Game for a little guy that was working on turn-taking and on engaging for increasing amount of time. So again, he was very excited about everything that was around the room, but he would tend to come to one area, do a little bit, come to another area and that sort of all around the room, what is he up to? What's he tracking? We wanted him to spend a little bit more time, increase the time engaging in a particular activity and to take some turn-taking. So, we created this Spiderman Lotto Board and sat down with a peer where they would take turns and again, very motivated to get to that activity and to stay for a longer amount of time. What you might also do is to use a favourite activity as motivation to do something else first. So, here you can see a visual support to encourage a child to pack away. So, just letting them know, "Okay, first pack away and then dancing," which was a favourite, favourite thing to do. And having that there within the visual, not only can the child sort of see that, it's not just the words that disappear, but it's also telling every educator within that space, this is the language we use. It's not someone saying, "Oh, you need to go and put the things away. "It's tidy up time." All the different things that, that a child might be receiving, as different messages. Every educator there, knew that when it was that pack away time. Okay, first pack away and then dancing.

[DESCRIPTION: vtransitions to next slide titled, Give frequent and specific feedback. We use feedback to:. Two blue speech bubbles below are titled, Reinforce a target skills; and, Correct or redirect – quotes listed are read as follows. An image of a teacher high fiving a young boy as he paints a picture, overlaps the two speech bubbles.]

Megan Cooper –

That's it. So, another favourite and another one that we in early education, I think do very well if I don't mind saying so is providing frequent and specific feedback. A really important, very well researched, well known evidence-based strategy that we need to use. If you want a behaviour to be repeated, we need to comment on it. So, remember that, when we're talking about challenging behaviour as well. Comment on the thing you want to see repeated, yeah? So, when feedback is specific, we are telling the child exactly what we want them to be doing or what we see that we like that they're doing, yeah? So, we just say, "That was great." The child actually doesn't know what they're being rewarded or praised for. And then we are not sure what will be repeated, yeah? So, we need to frame it positively and clearly, so great sitting, great waiting, terrific sharing, yeah? So, really labelling the thing, the behaviour, the skill, the activity that the child's doing, that you want to see repeated, "That was so friendly," like really make it clear, what was good about what that child did. We can also use that specific feedback to correct or redirect or put them on the right path. "Don't forget, walking inside, feet on the ground." You know how we turn everything to the positive. It's not just to be nice people, it's because when we comment on that behaviour, it's more likely to be repeated. "Oh, it's Sam's turn, "remember waiting, taking turns." Next time you could say stop, instead of saying, "Ah, don't snatch that off your friend." Or we pick up there as of the snatching, be careful of what we reinforce and be really clear when we're correcting or redirecting. If we do this with thinking and focus, it can make an enormous difference. Be careful what you're reinforcing.

[DESCRIPTION: transitions to next slide titled, Give frequent and specific feedback. An image shows a young female student wearing a hat and smiling. One suggested objective listed on screen is mentioned as follows. The words, thinking point leads to a speech bubble with the question, how could you make this feedback more specific?]

Sarah Carlon –

And again, this was something that in the live session, this live workshop session we're planning to have you all contribute to a word cloud with your thoughts. So, have a think about this. You might even want to pause the video, but one of the objectives from Aria's ILP, was for her to collect her hat from her bag, after one reminder before going outside. So, we're really working on those independent skills. She was getting ready to go to school next year. And what was happening was that she was getting lots and lots and lots of reminders from the educators in the room that it was time to get her hat. And we really wanted her to be able to do that, after just the one reminder. So, she collected her hat one day and the educator nearby saw, very, very excited, good job. Good job. So, excited. She's actually doing what we've been working towards. But what we want you to think about is how could you make this feedback more specific. A little, think about that now, as I said you might want to pause the video and have a think and jot some thoughts down.

Megan Cooper –

Yes, sometimes we have to think what it is that we want repeated, isn't it? And I did this recently actually with my own child, to be honest. Working on latency, what we call latency. So, it's this pause between the time the directions given and when the child acts on that. And I had to really think about what my issue was with his behaviour. And it turned out, I was thinking, it's the time between when I say what I want done and when he actually does it, and what I do as a bad practitioner at home is giving 15 reminders in between, yeah? So, we were getting nowhere. So, what I decided to do is make the, "Levi come and make your bed" or whatever the direction was. And when he did that quickly, I said, "I love how you did that straight away." So, it wasn't about making the bed or packing the thing away or doing the dishwasher. It was about, you responded to that really quick. Thanks for doing that so fast. So, think about what it is that we are labelling. This is what I'm rewarding you for. I said, get your hat and you did that straight away. You got your hat really quickly. That was wonderful, more time outside to play.

Sarah Carlon –

"Yeah, you've got your hat on. "You can go outside straight away." So, think about those natural consequences of reinforcing those and sort of pointing those out as well. So, because your hat's on, you get more time to play.

Megan Cooper –

Yeah, we just have to think about, what it is that we are reinforcing. We've been out and about a lot lately, doing a lot of reinforcing of kindness and friendly hands. You know how we say gentle, gentle. Sometimes we've got to think about some different words, just to keep reminding that child, what behaviour we want to see repeated.

[DESCRIPTION: transitions to next slide titled, Use peers. Bullet points on the screen are read as follows. Several images show educators in the classroom with students laughing and playing.

Let's keep going. Oh, using peers. This is kind of my favourite, because it's so natural. I feel I'm often advising or strongly encouraging families with children with disability to attend their local early childhood service, because they get to hang out with their mates. Peers are so important. This is a normal thing for our children. Kids learn so much from each other. You'll notice often we tune our kids into looking up at and taking directions all the times from adults, really important that they learn from each other. Peers are fabulous models and sometimes they're not fabulous. Of course we're going to learn not so great things sometimes, but the peer tutoring ideas very naturally, stick within your service that they're available to us. It helps create an inclusive environment. And there's an incredible amount of research to say the benefits of those regular children that you might scoop up and say, "Hey, could you ask your friend Sam "to come and play with you?" You can feel free to include peers, into helping shape behaviours or direct children to the sort of things that we want them to learn, especially around the social skills. Lovely way to praise and reinforce other children's behaviour. Thanks for helping me out with that game. Thanks for leading that. Yeah, I mean, I could talk forever about using peers. They're great fun.

Sarah Carlon –

Could talk forever, but we're-

Megan Cooper –


[DESCRIPTION: transitions to next slide titled, Task analyse – break the tasks down into smaller and logically sequenced steps. Teach one step at a time. A strip of images underneath shows a young girl with an apron on with the caption, apron on; a picture of an easel with paper with the caption, clip on paper; a row of paint tubs with the caption, choose paint; a girl painting with the caption, paint; a paper drying rack full of artworks with the caption, paper to dry; and a portable rack holding aprons with the caption, hang up apron.]

Sarah Carlon –

A few more things to talk about. So, that's alright. So, the next strategy that you can use is to task analyse. So, the term for breaking a task down into its component or smaller steps is task analysis. So, just task analysing, just means breaking a task down into smaller and logically sequence steps, so that we can teach one step at a time. So, the reason that we do this is, because a child might not be able to do a complete activity or task at first, but if you teach them the skills that they'll need, just one step at a time, they may eventually be able to put the small skills together and complete the whole task. It also gives you something to focus on, something to celebrate and enjoy, share with their parents, share with their families, that we are actually making progress, share with each other as a team. Now, you might have actually found yourself, task analysing skills or tasks, without even realising that you're doing it, or without knowing that this process had a name. We were talking to some educators that came to some professional development this week, around task analysis. And I was sort of like, "Oh, that's what we do with the bathroom. "The steps in toileting and washing hands and all of that. "We break it down for the children. "We have photos there "to show them what's the next thing to do." So, you can actually do that, not only with sort of those self-help sort of skills that you might have throughout your day, but also other activities within your environment, like learning experiences. So, here you can see a task analysis of painting. So, when we sort of think about, "Oh, why is this child not going and engaging "in the easel painting?" It could be for a whole range of reasons and not necessarily that they're not interested in it. So, when you think about all the things you need to do to do a painting, it's going and getting the apron and putting it on, clipping the paper up onto the easel, choosing the paint, then painting, taking the paper off, hanging it up to dry, taking the apron off and hanging that up. So, what we can do is actually see what the child can do by themselves already, and then just support them in some of the other areas. So, maybe that the child just needs a little bit of help to get going and to sort of get to the area, a bit of assistance in getting that apron on and clipping the paper up. But once they're there, they'll select the colour that they want. They'll stay there for a long time. And then just a little bit more assistance here. It may be that they're doing more and more of the task by themselves, and you just need to help them or assist them to hang that apron upright at the end. So, it's really about breaking a task or skill down and seeing where the child needs support and providing that support there. So, and then fading the support out, so that we're just giving them enough help to do the next part.

[DESCRIPTION: transitions to next slide titled, Tips for supporting expressive communication. A bullet point list of tips is addressed as follows.]

Megan Cooper –

So, we're going to finish off today with a few quick tips, around expressive and receptive communication, some of our hot tips. I'm sure you are all aware again in the live webinar, we would normally now collect your ideas of all the ways that children communicate. We know as good practitioners, we need to interpret behaviour, screaming, gestures, facial expressions, pointing, all of those things. They're all communication. We need to respond to them. We need to interpret. We need to engage with all forms of communication, which then in turn encourages, children to continue communicating with us. One of the things we need to do is probably expand and recast utterance. It's a very gentle method of, it's kind of like a little mini speech session when a child, "Oh, dog, dog." "Yes, dog running, yeah?" So, all we have to do is say that word back to the child, add a little bit or interpret what they were trying to say and just repeat it correctly. Not correct them, but just, "Oh wow, red ball, yeah?" Pardon of me. So, that's an easy way that during regular experiences and activities in your day, we can just keep casting back the correct words for children. Model, we use keyword sign. Gestures, I'm sure all of you wave your hands, around a lot like I do, visual support, all of these ways, modelling different ways that we could communicate. From across the room, I can communicate to a child, "Don't forget your hat," just by gesturing. I can point to a visual. It's really important that we model this. It's not just for the child, who's having trouble communicating. It's important that we model this as well, as a communication partner. We need to provide lots of opportunities for shared dialogue. One of our favourite activities to do here at STaR with all our children that we visit is some shared book reading that we sit shoulder to shoulder and enjoy a book together, not read it necessarily, but just encourage the child to engage with pictures, point to things, turn pages and hopefully, maybe try to comment on something that they see. And because we were looking at the same picture, we can interpret what that is. "Yes, that's a doll. "Wow, big doll or tall door, short doll." We need to provide lots of opportunities. Another way we can do that of course is to stop talking. And if everyone's painting, we handing out paint brushes. We might fail to give someone a paintbrush and encourage them that they need to, "Hey, I need a paintbrush." So, we just provide as many opportunities as we can for children to share dialogue with us. The other thing we can do is offer choices. Another really simple one. Should we play with the ball or should we read the book and pause? And of course that gives a child an opportunity in whichever way they need to do that to make a choice. And I think one of the biggest things that I've had to learn as a parent, as a teacher over the years is to stop talking. Unless we leave those awkward silences, nobody's going to be encouraged to respond. Some of our children might have sort of a processing delay and need a little bit longer to organise their thoughts and to move their mouth in the way that they need to make the sound. But just to wait expectedly, don't just keep jumping in and offering the answers. We can ask a question and just wait. All we need to do then as a communication partner is be in a moment, just be there, ready to receive whatever it is you, yeah? So, there's some quick ideas for supporting expressive communication.

[DESCRIPTION: transitions to next slide titled, Tips for supporting receptive communication. A bullet point list of tips is addressed as follows.]

Sarah Carlon –

And now a few to support receptive communication or the children's understanding of what we're saying to them. So, first one is a big one. Be aware of potential distractions. You work in very, very busy, loud environments. And we've seen this when we've collected some video, at different services that we've supported, so that we can sort of look back and see, where the child's at, what strategies the educators are using and the influence that's making. The level of background noise, a lot of the time really sort of shocks the educators, 'cause when you are in it, you don't realise sort of. So, be aware of potential distractions. If you're wanting to really engage a child in some shared dialogue, making sure you're getting down to their level, choosing a place that might be a bit quieter, within your service. Think about the position of, we talked earlier about in terms of environment, where the educator was, that they could sort of see everything that was going on around them. If you're wanting a child to focus in on either a peer or yourself as a communication partner, it might be that you actually want the child's back to a lot of the action within your service, so that they're not distracted, by every single person that's walking past. We want to use clear and concise language. So, a lot of the time this means breaking things down. And as Megan said before stopping talking, even sort of reducing talking. So, rather than, "Oh, that's so lovely. "I love the way that you went "and took that over to your friend. "You're being a really kind friend that makes me happy." It might just be something as simple as, "Great sharing" for a child that has difficulty and think the same when we're giving directions. So, breaking directions down one instruction at a time. So, when we're talking about, the child that needed to go and get their hat, "Hey, okay, Aria your hat." And then waiting rather than, "Aria, it's time to go and get your hat. "You get your hat and then line up to the door "and then we can go outside and play." That's too many instructions a lot of the time or it might be, I often find just sort of using my fingers to give instructions useful too, say "Aria, get your hat and then come to me." Okay, so hat and then Sarah. "Okay, Okay, hat Sarah. "I've got it." So, think about the way that we give instructions and break them down. Tell the child what you want them to do. As Megan said earlier, early years educators you are onto this. This is something that you're doing all the time, phrasing them positively. We don't want reinforce what we don't want the child to do. So, keep telling them what we want them to do and that pausing for processing time, which sometimes can feel very awkward and it can feel like a long time. And you want, you want the child to succeed. You want to sort of jump in and give them what the answer is or support them to do the next thing. But a lot of the time it is just pausing. Wait, wait, wait. And then you'll be surprised at what can come back.

[DESCRIPTION: transitions to next slide titled, Take home messages. A bullet point list of messages is addressed as follows.]

Megan Cooper –

Absolutely. So, we'll summarise a few things for you to take back to your friends at your service, your colleagues. Don't underestimate the power reflecting on your environment, different ways that you can organise things, space things out, things that you can do within your rooms that can support inclusion through engagement. And we went through quite a few there. I think particularly setting up some great activities is such a simple and fun way to encourage engagement of all children, all different types of learners. And strategies reviewed, that we went through very quickly today, can be used to support the engagement of any child. So, we're not just focusing on disability. These are strategies that hold strong in the research. When we're talking about growing children's outcomes and potentials and skills, they're not just for children with disability, they're for all children. Individual evidence based strategies, will not work for every child every time. But when we start with these very simple strategies, we are more likely to have, good effect on children's outcomes. So, it's really nice. I hope that you feel good that you are already using a lot of these things. I find it doesn't matter how often, I do this sort of content, it does make me when I go back out there, remember I am that person that when you see something great, you go, "Oh, that was fantastic. "Yeah, Megan, what was fantastic? "I need to tell the child exactly what they did right." It just helps you focus and think about what it is that you're doing. Helps me to pause and do all those, really look at my room in a different sort of way and go, "How can I get more children to do that independently?" So, these are great things to go back and have a think about. I'm sure a lot of what we talked about today is very familiar to you. We just sort of use it in even a more targeted way. I think especially those interests and strengths, is a really, a really strong one.

[DESCRIPTION: transitions to next slide titled, Contact us. The contact details on screen are mentioned as follows. The education email address on screen is, education@star.org.au]

Sarah Carlon –

Absolutely. And we will be happy to hear from you as well. So, we've got our email addresses there. So, mine's sarah@star.org.au or Megan is megan@star.org.au. Our website is there, star.org.au. And also you can catch us on, in terms of education and training, our education email address.

Megan Cooper –

I'd say also look out on socials. We put a lot of good content up. It's not just about what we do. We also have tips and tricks for educators and families. So, have a look at our Instagram and Facebook page. We share lots of information, about special education regularly. Thank you everyone for joining us.

[DESCRIPTION: a dark blue and red circle transition takes us to the next slide titled, Evaluation with the caption, we value your feedback. Please take some time to complete this evaluation form: https://forms.office.com/r/BkoJFBt34y [no longer active], with an accompanying QR code underneath. To the right of the screen shows an image of an educator sitting on a rug with two young infants playing on hand drums.]

[End of transcript]

This interactive session will explore recent findings from national consultations with families and educators that will provide insights into the pain-points, challenges and needs of families, their children and educators when it comes to finding and providing the right support and care. We’ll discuss and explore how these pains, challenges and needs manifest, and the solutions available to navigate this often complex and stressful journey.


Domenica De Crea
National Project Director
Reimagine Australia

How educators can better support children with disability and developmental delay (1:01:57)
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