EARLY CARE: Angus, Jenny Heron, Jan Smith, Robyn Fletcher, Josie, John, Ivy and Zane at the Early Childhood Development Program in Park Avenue
EARLY CARE: Angus, Jenny Heron, Jan Smith, Robyn Fletcher, Josie, John, Ivy and Zane at the Early Childhood Development Program in Park Avenue Jann Houley

School transition made easier for special needs kids

IT'S "full steam ahead” for the Early Childhood Development Program, following the announcement it will share in $63 million funding for children with a disability.

Twelve centres in Central Queensland - from Barcaldine to Yeppoon, from Moranbah to Mundubbera - will continue to enrol children who are diagnosed with a range of special needs.

No-one knows better than Gail Ilott the benefits of early diagnosis and community education when it comes to easing each child's transition to the classroom.

Zane, Ivy, Helen Heery, Gale Ilott, Josie and John at the Early Childhood Development Program in Park Avenue
Zane, Ivy, Helen Heery, Gale Ilott, Josie and John at the Early Childhood Development Program in Park Avenue Jann Houley

Mrs Ilott taught at Rockhampton's Special School for seven years before serving as an advisory teacher around the region, and completing her Masters in working with children with autism.

As the Head of Student Engagement at Park Avenue School, she oversees a program which services the whole region in making students ready for school, and the schools a welcome place for each student.

"Their autism makes them who they are, they being a whole new way of looking at the world,” she said.

"Once you look through their eyes, it's really exciting and never boring.”

Park Avenue Principal, Helen Heery, points to a cohort of her students, who began with the program and are now close to graduating as the school's top achievers as evidence of the ECDP's success.

"Thanks to the early intervention program, they confidently entered Prep with school-ready behaviour,” she said.

"Not only the student but also their family and teachers are provided with the routines and skills it takes to achieve an almost seamless transition.

"We can work so well with kids that were, once upon a time, thought to be a mystery or plain naughty.”

The Park Avenue program employs specialist educators as well as experts in occupational therapy, speech pathology, vision and hearing impairment and nursing.

But it prides itself most on establishing a family's trust in making the world of difference to their children.

Parents from Marmor, Barmoya and Duaringa travel to Park Avenue to work with the centre, and in turn Mrs Ilott regularly travels to educate farflung communities about the importance of early diagnosis.

Her favourite quote, from Tony Attwood, is "without a diagnosis, children are judged; with a diagnosis, children can be supported.”

"It can take as many as the child's first three years at school to get where they can be with early intervention,” she said.

"But it's quite a process to get students enrolled, and one which relies heavily on evidence from outside experts such as paediatricians, speech pathologists, community health and doctors.”

She said most parents seek diagnosis when their children are about three year old, especially when they engage with childcare workers or have another child against which to measure behaviour.

"There's still, typically, some grief at the diagnosis but there's so much more knowledge out there on Facebook and the web now,” Mrs Ilott said.

"It's our job to reassure parents that a disability is not a label, and that their children are normal people who will learn to manage.”

Mrs Heery said the main frustration was with children who don't get to go to kindy or even Prep.

"We would love to access that percentage who, inevitably, need to be identified,” she said.

Mrs Heery said Park Avenue School is very happy to host the program for at least another four years, following the funding announcement by Brittany Lauga MP.

"If you ask our students who the special needs kids are, they'd look at you a bit funny,” she said.

"That's not how they perceive their peers, so effectiveness is early intervention in preparing all students, teachers and parents to work as one, what we call Universal Design.

"If we lost programs like these, before a scaffolded replacement became available, there would be nothing to fill the vacuum.”



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