Children and young people with learning support needs, and their whānau, are still getting the help they need over the lockdown period.
Our learning support staff of nearly 1,000 specialists are checking in with the needs of families and their children, and continuing to provide services from their own homes. Deputy Secretary of Sector Enablement and Support, Katrina Casey, says “we’re listening and adapting support to meet the needs of children and young people in their bubbles at home. “We’ve had great feedback from families who appreciate that they can still discuss issues around their child’s learning either through a video chat or by phone. “This means we can continue to coach parents, from the educators’ homes, in how to support speech and language development.” Tele-therapy is proving successful, with one teenage student speaking much more smoothly via a Zoom session, says speech language therapist Cat Hulst from Dunedin. “For this student the on-line discussion seemed to take a lot of the pressure off compared to face-to-face sessions.” She says a communication assessment for a four-year-old and her parents also worked well recently, with the youngster responding enthusiastically when Cat shared by screen her pictures to prompt speech sounds. “Another benefit is the saving in time from having to commute between family homes, schools and early learning centres - so we can actually be in contact with more young children, students and their families in the working week.” Early intervention teacher Tania Barker from Dunedin says she’s sharing links to resources and new ideas with the members of her parent group, whose children have behaviour needs. One family with a high energy four-year-old has set up a tricycle with training wheels on a platform so the youngster can “peddle his heart out” while remaining stationary – with a video on the screen in front adding an element of virtual reality.
Early intervention teacher Tania Barker is one of around 1,000 learning support staff with the ministry, who are connecting with young children, students and their whānau over the lockdown through video meetings and by phone. Ms Casey says “we’re continuing to collaborate with other learning support staff across the sector, such as the new Learning Support Coordinators in schools and kura, along with principals, and support people from other agencies”. For example, Learning Support Coordinators in Dunstan had helped by canvassing all the schools and early learning centres in their cluster to identify vulnerable families, and those needing devices and connectivity for on-line distance learning. The Ministry is assisting schools and kura to prepare for distance learning for all students, starting the Wednesday after Easter, on 15 April. “To enable this we’re also helping parents to plan how to adjust their child’s daily routines, and introduce more learning at home,” says Ms Casey. “This includes reminding parents and whānau to encourage and celebrate their children’s learning successes.”