I think my child has some learning support needs - where do I begin?

As a parent and carer you're usually the first to notice differences between your child and others of a similar age. You'll want to know if there is an issue, and if there is, what can be done to help you and your child and who to go to for help.

What are the signs that my child might need additional support for learning?

Every child learns in different ways and at different rates. But if your child doesn't seem to be learning in the same way as other children, or is having difficulty with speaking, hearing, seeing, moving about, or with their behaviour then they may need some extra support to learn and develop.

Who should I talk to about my concerns?

My pre-schooler

Getting support early on is really important. This can be from family and whānau, friends, your child's ECE service, kōhanga reo, or groups in your community.

As well, the Ministry of Education's learning support team provides an early intervention service for young children 0 to 5 years old. You can read more about the early intervention service and what support is provided through it.

If you are concerned about your child's development or learning and they are going to an ECE service or kōhanga reo the first thing to do is talk to your child's educators. They know what is a neurotypical young child. They can talk with you about their own observations of your child and whether there might be something that needs to be looked into. They also know all about the services and support that the Ministry's learning support team can provide in these early years, and can help you access this support.

If your child doesn't go to an ECE service or kōhanga reo and you have concerns you can get in touch with your local Ministry office(external link) directly. Ask to speak to someone who works in early intervention. You can also talk with your family doctor, your child's Plunket nurse, call Plunket Line on 0800 933 922 or your iwi health authority about what's normal development for your very young child.

The early intervention team works collaboratively with families, whānau, educators and specialists. They may work in your home and in your child's ECE service or kōhanga reo and will support you until your child has settled into school.

My school-aged child

By the time your child starts school or kura you might know if they need extra learning support, but not always.

If your child is at school or kura and you're concerned about their learning and development talk first to your child's teacher or the learning support needs co-ordinator (SENCO) if your school or kura has one. Your child's school or kura knows your child and also provides most of the support for children with learning support needs.

Sometimes it's your child's teacher who first notices an issue and wants to talk with you about looking into some learning support.

You can also contact your local Ministry learning support office(external link) directly.

Your family doctor, iwi health authority or a public health nurse can also tell you what's normal learning and development for a child your age.

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How will we work out what support my child needs?

Your child's ECE service, kōhanga reo, school or kura can make a referral to the Ministry's learning support team if need be. They can assess your child's learning needs and can also arrange for specialists to help your child. They'll want to talk to you, your family and whānau, observe and interact with your child, look at how your child learns, and possibly carry out formal assessments.

What an assessment involves

An assessment will confirm whether there's a difficulty with some area of your child's learning or development, and whether your child has mild, moderate or high learning support needs. These are learning support terms which describe how much help your child will need to join in and learn alongside the children in their class. It will help to identify whether your child needs:

  • different styles of teaching to help them learn
  • help from a specialist
  • special equipment to help them learn, see, hear or move around.

Assessments are helpful for finding out what your child's needs are, but they can be stressful for you, your family and your whānau. Extra support and understanding from everyone involved will ease the process.

If you choose to pay to go to a private specialist for an assessment, make sure they're registered in their field and have a good reputation. Get recommendations from friends or other parents and/or carers who have been through a similar experience. The specialist should assess your child in everyday settings like your home and ECE service, kōhanga reo, school or kura.

What happens after the assessment

If the assessment was done through the Ministry of Education, learning support you will get feedback from them about whether your child needs extra support and what level and type of extra support that is. Most children with learning support needs have mild or moderate needs and receive all the support they need from their school or kura.

Based on the assessment, your child's educators, teachers and specialists may also work together to develop an Individual Plan (IP) or Individual Education Plan (IEP). These are written plans that outline your child's goals and how your child can reach those goals.

What types of support could my child get?

Once you know what your child's learning needs are there is a range of services and support available in both the early years and at school or kura. For very young children the Ministry provides an early intervention service and for children at school or kura there are a number of supports available, mostly through the school or kura, and some through the Ministry of Education, Learning Support.

Extra support for high needs

If your preschooler has high or very high needs they might get extra support from the Ministry's early intervention team.

If your child has high or very high needs and are at school or kura they might get extra support from the Ministry's Learning Support team through a range of services including:

  • Ongoing Resourcing Scheme (ORS)
  • School High Health Needs Fund
  • Severe Behaviour Service
  • Communication Service.

Your child may work with a speech-language therapist, psychologist, occupational therapist or physiotherapist, learning support advisor, kaitakawaenga or Māori advisor, or an adviser who works with deaf children.

They may also be able get help with transport to school, extra equipment and modifying school buildings.

Most school aged children with learning support needs go to their regular school or kura.

If you think your child's needs would be best met by going to a specialist school you and the school will need to complete a formal agreement with the Ministry of Education to do this. This is called a Specialist Education Agreement (previously known as a section 9 agreement). Talk to the Ministry's learning support team if you are considering this - they will be able to help you to decide, and help you through the process of enrolling in a special school.

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