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Development and support: pre-school to employment

Considerations at the pre-birth stage may include:

  • Access to genetic testing where the possibility of predicting or diagnosing post birth disability, may be desired
  • Counselling for those with a condition that can affect the unborn child and lead to a possible or likely disability in the child

Pre-school provision

To highlight issues and make the piece less abstract the disability used is visual impairment. However, the points raised could apply equally to other disability too.

You can achieve a huge amount at home before your child starts playschool or formal education. However, professional advice and support is important because your child may find it harder to learn than, for example fully sighted peers if s/he has a visual impairment.

Regular home visits should take place by a specialist with appropriate experience and knowledge but, don’t assume that specialist advice and support will automatically be given.

A specialist, ideally one named person, should address the following:

  • Support your family from diagnosis through to a pre-school which is likely to involve listening to, and addressing family concerns and anxieties
  • Explain the role of professionals involved

S/he should also,

  • Assess your child’s disability, for example functional vision in a learning environment, including the home, whilst ensuring that you are fully involved as parents or carers during both assessment and planning for the future


  • With your consent, ensure that assessment findings and future reports are distributed between relevant professionals
  • Develop and maintain a close liaison with other early years’ services to ensure that collaboration takes place
  • Provide training for those working with your child and family
  • Refer on to a specialist where necessary in for example, movement, orientation and mobility

Information accessed through sight

It is estimated that a very high percentage of information is accessed through sight. A huge amount is also learned through incidental learning via sight. Incidental learning represents an important foundation for more formal learning later.

Through sight, your child gets information about:

  • Him or herself
  • The environment
  • Relationship to the environment
  • Others

Issues to consider

Issues you may need to consider include:

  • Early diagnosis and breaking bad news
  • Linking in to services and understanding the role of the health visitor
  • Local authority registration and integrated pre-school facilities; for example, nurseries, playgroups and parent drop-ins

You may need to gather information covering:

  • The disability, for example visual impairment
  • Services and specialist play materials for your child under 2 years
  • Additional aspects for children with other disabilities and visual impairment


  • Access to services for parents of ethnic minorities
  • Benefits and income maximisation
  • Local and national parent support groups
  • Respite services

If you feel isolated, in need of professional support and information see what Families and Special Educational Needs can offer.

Starting school

To highlight issues and make the piece less abstract the disability used is visual impairment. However, the points raised could apply equally to other disability too.

In most cases children with a significant disability, for example severe visual impairment, will have been identified before starting school. Those with a less severe disability might not.

A specialist teacher, for example in low vision, might have visited you at home to advise and work with your child from an early age.

Following is a list of issues you may find necessary to address when your child is aged below 5 years.

  • Referral by Health to the Education Department for children with special needs
  • Consideration of an Education, Health and Care (EHC) assessment and plan
  • Access to a nursery school or specialist nursery provision suitably equipped and with trained staff

The gathering of appropriate information covering:

  • Age appropriate play materials, playground access, leisure facilities at home and in the community; for example, learning to swim
  • Access to books in an accessible format
  • Discussion with the Education Authority regarding parental preference about schooling


  • Mixing with other children
  • Impact with a child with a disability; for example visual impairment on a sibling(s)
  • Prognosis, diagnosis and monitoring
  • Transfer between specialist medical services; for example ophthalmic service, paediatric service and other services


  • Adaptations to the child’s environment
  • Mobility training
  • Specialist equipment

Early years specialist support

To ensure that your child has full access to a pre-school experience specialist advice will be necessary before s/he starts.

This will involve explaining to staff about your child’s disability, for example visual impairment and the developmental implications in order to help ensure that the experience is enjoyable and worthwhile.

A specialist, for example a low vision teacher, can deliver staff training. S/he can:

  • Advise in order to help ensure that the environment is safe and explain about any modifications needed
  • Explain about how the environment, for example lighting, colour contrast and acoustics may impact on your child’s learning
  • Advise about making learning resources accessible
  • Recommend suitable toys and activities
  • Provide information and contacts for further advice

Working closely with specialist support can enable you to:

  • Make informed decisions
  • Ensure that your disabled child with, for example visual impairment, has access to the same opportunities as fully sighted peers
  • Benefit fully from parent and child groups and childcare provision
  • Have the same opportunities to access the full range of educational provision suitable to meet your child’s needs

A specialist can also ensure,

  • The provision offered is flexible; for example, a joint pre-school placement in a special school or mainstream setting
  • You receive comprehensive and understandable feedback after multi-agency and other important meetings


  • Identify key professionals to support and attend meetings at your chosen early years setting
  • Get all the necessary assessments together so that a smooth transition into an appropriate pre-school placement takes place. This is especially crucial if your child has complex needs.

Teaching strategies and behaviour

A specialist, for example in low vision, can raise awareness about the common characteristics of your child’s condition and how to address them. These might include,

  • ‘Stilling’ when your child is listening and analysing new sounds
  • Rocking
  • Eye poking
  • Taking longer to explore equipment
  • Using the tongue in order to extract more information about, and understanding of, an object

A specialist can also advise about,

  • The extra time often needed for explaining to your child about the environment and learning resources
  • Building confidence when all of those around are moving quickly. This might be frightening and cause your child to cling to staff

Further advice to those working with your child could include,

  • Using your child’s name before giving instructions
  • Introducing themselves before touching or even sitting beside your child
  • Delivering activities when your child is seated and allowing time for settling into the new setting
  • Avoid giving your child more than one learning resource at a time, for example a toy, thereby avoiding possible confusion


A specialist can advise about equipment. For example, if your child is visually impaired, s/he is more likely to enjoy toys which are brightly coloured and:

  • Feel interesting
  • Give a sound as a reward; but not a sudden sound or movement
  • Give a visual reward

Specialist equipment might not be necessary but you should avoid learning resources always made of plastic.

Your child may enjoy sand and water. Consequently, more space may be required so s/he can get close to a toy in the sand or water, see it better and explore.

Water or sand may cause apprehension. Your child may be afraid of water or apprehensive about engaging with unfamiliar textures (tactile defensive).

Climbing equipment may be enjoyable but close supervision will be necessary to ensure s/he is safe.

Accessible resources, modifying and adapting resources

Story time is enjoyable for all children. However, showing a picture as part of a story may mean little to your visually impaired child. To access the information s/he may need to see the picture close up.

Nursery staff may need to find another way of making information accessible. For example by:

  • Explaining what is in the picture
  • Making the picture tactile
  • Using smell or sound to highlight the picture’s main theme
  • Enlarging it
  • Simplifying and removing all unnecessary information

Pre-school should be an exciting experience for all and every child should have full access to learning. However, by whom, how often and when will the above points be addressed?

If you feel isolated, in need of professional support and information see what Families and Special Educational Needs can offer.


Although the following piece uses visual impairment to highlight necessary provision the same basic principles could apply to other disabilities too.

Links with parents

It is extremely important and helpful that links with you, parents or carers, are established before your child starts school. You should have previously visited the school, ideally supported and advised by the specialist teacher, in order to enable you and the teachers to establish a good working relationship.

A strong relationship can help allay any anxieties that you might have. Opportunities for your child to visit the school several times if necessary, before starting, will also help reassure your child.


Open and effective communication is a two way activity and throughout your child’s education effective home/school links will help you work closely with teachers thereby aid communication and ultimately help your child’s progress.

Training and transition plan

It is important for the school to be receptive of your child and be fully supported by the headteacher and all staff.

Because visual impairment is a low incidence disability those in the placement may have little experience in supporting a visually impaired child. Therefore, initial and ongoing training along with regular ongoing specialist support is vital.

Acquired expertise and knowledge should then be disseminated to all within the school and not remain solely with those working closely with your child. This way, all staff adopt a consistent approach. 


  • Teachers and teaching assistants (TAs) need training in, for example low vision, before your child arrives
  • A transition plan should be produced so that everyone has a quantifiable understanding of your child’s needs and how to address them.


Before your child enters the placement the specialist teacher should have provided the school with full details of your child’s vision, having undertaken a functional low vision assessment. The report should outline the general implications for learning. This information will provide the class teacher with a baseline of knowledge and enable the production of an Individual Education Plan.

By working with your child, placement staff will then develop an understanding of your child’s individual abilities and visual difficulties. Ideas and techniques will be developed about the optimum way materials should be presented.

General Issues to consider for parents with children of primary school age 5 to 11 years

Building on the support points highlighted pre-birth to 5 years you may need to address several other issues. These include:

  • Updating, specifying and quantifying a Statement of Special Educational Needs
  • Undertaking or updating an Education, Health and Care (EHC) assessment and plan


  • Specifying and quantifying a pre-school to primary school transition plan
  • The need for transport to and from school
  • The potential role of voluntary services
  • The role of Education (integrated and/or special school provision), Medical and Social Services in relation to educational provision and funding. For example, will support and equipment be jointly or directly funded by the school?
  • The funding and supplying of aids, adaptations and therapies

Advice from a specialist will also be advisable regarding:

  • An environmental audit and then the fitting of for example, loops, appropriate lighting, signage, ramps and highlighted steps along with suitably positioned storage space for equipment and materials
  • Who is talking with your child about being different regarding for example, visual impairment?
  • The initial supervision of your child with other children in the same class. This may be necessary in order to begin to establish friendships

You may also need to consider:

  • Access to leisure activities and facilities such as playgroups, after school clubs, school activities, junior clubs, activity centres, sports groups, art and crafts outlets, drama groups and youth clubs etc
  • On-going disability assessments; for example, eye assessments in relation to the effect on accessing the National Curriculum
  • Low vision assessment in relation to low vision aids
  • The use of specialist equipment by both your child and those supporting him or her; for example, computers, interactive boards and general classroom equipment
  • Specialist age appropriate play materials

The list is long but should also include,

  • Accessible age appropriate books, magazines, CDs and tapes
  • Provision of accessible materials in school; for example, text books and accessible library books
  • Provision of access to subjects in school which can present difficulties to both your child and teachers; for example, PE, music, drama, maths, science and Geography etc
  • The training of teaching assistants and meal time assistants

Specialist tuition in for example Braille, touch typing, mobility and, where necessary, age appropriate independent living skills

School should be an exciting experience for all and every child should have full access to learning. By whom, how often and when, will the above points be addressed?

If you feel isolated, in need of professional support and information see what Families and Special Educational Needs can offer.


Once again the disability used to highlight issues is visual impairment. However, many of the same general points apply to other disabilities too. Below are a few points in relation to adolescence and disability.


For an adolescent disability can be traumatic. Adolescence is about learning to live with emotional and bodily changes. It is a time when young people are seeking their own identity whilst trying to make sense of their position and future in the world.

Low vision and image

We learn a great deal by copying others. With low vision however, issues arising during adolescence can be more complex.

  • Many young people, and particularly during adolescence, do not like being told what to do but for those with a disability, this is often a common occurrence
  • With low vision and socially isolated peer observation to create an acceptable image is very difficult. It can also be very hard asking for advice from outsiders


Rebellion is a normal part of the growing up process. However, rebellion in dress can be very hard to achieve for someone who is visually impaired. It can be one area of legitimate protest entirely or partially blocked because someone else is setting style and a dress code.

Aids such as a cane or low vision device which draw attention to the disability might be rejected. Even if they make life easier or improve performance using them can appear uncool. They draws attention to the very thing the individual feels insecure or unhappy about.

Frustration and tension

Adolescence can be demanding emotionally, stemming from frustration and tension. This can be compounded by a disability. Many come to believe that being unable to find something or trip over an object, especially at an inopportune moment, will inevitably occur.

  • Being unable to go out with friends as a result of a disability can undermine confidence and self-esteem. It disrupts friendships and builds isolation
  • It is hard to protest about staying out late when the dark reduces vision even more. Moreover, even going out at all can be a problem if support is needed.

Many visually impaired people are dependent to some extent on family and friends. It can be hard therefore not expressing frustration with the very people you need to provide support.

However, not rebelling as a teenager could be storing up trouble for later. It is even less acceptable rebelling when 30, 40 or 50 years old.

Anger, depression and confusion

Feelings of anger, depression and confusion are often common. If visually impaired accessible information about them may be hard to find. An adolescent might also fell ‘uncool’ or embarrassed to ask.

If suppressed, anger or its cause could lead to depression. The release of tension through bad temper can therefore be seen as healthy.


It is hard for adolescents to accept support gracefully. By asking for support they are acknowledging that they have a problem and for some, this is very hard to do. It also conflicts with a strong desire to be independent.

Many families find it hard to allow disabled adolescents full independence. Over protection is a major risk and this prevents the young person from developing age appropriate skills. It is important to remember therefore that we all have a right to make mistakes and learn from them. In fact, it is often from mistakes that we learn the most.

Information from others similarly placed

Finding ways of exploring and releasing feelings can be therapeutic. When ready, opportunities to talk freely with like-minded people may help.

Acceptance and loneliness

If an adolescent has come to terms with his or her disability s/he may find it easier to keep friends and find new ones. Some, however, find it hard not to be suspicious with new friends through wondering why they are interested. This feeling is compounded if the adolescent lacks confidence. S/he may rebel when feeling emotionally low and/or vulnerable.

Fear of the unknown and fear of not being normal are common feelings during adolescence. This is particularly the case for adolescents with a disability. Not only are these feelings hard to talk about but they may also be accompanied by feelings of loneliness.

The helper

It is not uncommon for an adolescent to be arrogant, rude and ungrateful. This can impede support. Consequently, awareness of this by significant others is important.

A helper may also face anger and rejection which presents at times of distress. Knowledge, understanding and the building of trust is therefore necessary along with an ability to listen when the adolescent is ready to talk.

Identity, social and emotional skills and independence

A disability, for example visually impairment, can stimulate anxiety and isolation. Sight loss later in life can also mean losing a sense of identity.

A disability can hugely restrict the development of age appropriate social and emotional skills along with independence.

General issues during secondary school years for parents, children and young people below the age of 19 years

Building on the support from pre-birth to 11 years the following may also need addressing:

  • Updating, specifying and quantifying a Statement of Special Educational Needs
  • Updating an Education, Health and Care (EHC) assessment and plan
  • Dependence and independence

Independent advice from a specialist may be invaluable regarding:

  • Secondary school to college transfer with a quantifiable transition plan
  • Advice should be given to you regarding the full range of educational and training placements available. For example, integrated versus specialist educational and training provision. You, your child or young person should then visit those considered suitable with support if required
  • You should also check the Accessibility Audit of the school or college of choice with advice provided by your specialist teacher

The development of computer skills should be ongoing. Ensure that a regular ICT or access technology assessment is carried out with the information passed on to all those currently working with your child or young person.

Independent specialist charities may also be able to advise about the following:

  • Counselling and support where necessary
  • Access to, and expression of, youth culture; for example, accessible age appropriate magazines and information of general interest such as fashion, music, cinema, TV, DVDs, mobile phones, internet and safe social networks
  • Isolation and friendships in school, college and at home
  • Inclusive provision in sport and leisure

Once again, advice from a specialist can be useful regarding:

  • Careers advice. Your child and young person should regularly meet with a Careers Adviser at least once a year with the advisor fully informed about your child’s or young person’s needs
  • Meaningful work experience
  • Examinations
  • Continuing assessment in relation to visual aids, glasses, environmental adaptations and alterations. Clinical information should be up to date. If your child or young person hasn’t seen for example an optometrist within the past 12 months the specialist teacher can make a request and then explain the assessment report if necessary. Children and young people who use low vision aids should have a review at a local low vision clinic regularly, perhaps every 12 months
  • If your child or young person is visually impaired, a functional assessment of vision should be carried out by a specialist teacher in visual impairment every 12 months

Age appropriate independence is crucial.

  • The development of age appropriate independence regarding daily living skills, life skills in general to include mobility skills should be ongoing. There should be a regular assessment or re-assessment of these skills to ensure that they are age appropriate

The list is long. The following issues though are equally important for you to consider.

  • Sexuality, sexual health and sexual knowledge
  • Personal safety
  • Social skills including awareness of self, others and attitudes. There should be an assessment or re-assessment of social skills to ensure that your child or young person has age appropriate skills
  • Benefits, income maximisation and money management generally for young people must be addressed. Any funding issues should be researched and discussed as early as possible. Young people should be given information about benefits and grants in their own right; for example, the Disabled Students’ Allowance
  • Ideally you will be asked if you would like a Carer’s Assessment or equivalent. If not, make the request yourself
  • Seek out information about voluntary or independent agencies who offer additional support during the transition process
  • Registration as disabled should be considered; for example sight impaired or severely sight impaired and then placed on the local authority disabilities register
  • Specific issues for children and young people with multiple disabilities. Include ensuring that advices from all relevant professions are kept up to date
  • Collaboration should be encouraged. All areas of need should be collated with information shared between all those working with the young person

School and college should be an exciting experience for all and every child and young person should have full access to learning. By whom, how often and when, will the above points be addressed?

If you feel isolated, in need of professional support and information see what Families and Special Educational Needs can offer.

Issues to consider

Building on the support points raised in the sections above, the following issues should also be addressed. You should have an understanding of how to deal with the following:

  • Updating or renewing an Education, Health and Care (EHC) assessment and plan
  • Further preparation for age appropriate independent living to include the development of mobility and other life skills
  • Preparation for further or higher education; for example, entrance exams, payment for further education in specialist colleges, vocational training and support in a university or college
  • Specialist equipment in preparation for employment or education; for example computers, access to the internet, mobile phones and navigation aids
  • Transition from children’s services to adult services with access to joint planning mechanisms for adult services
  • Income maximisation and managing finances
  • Housing

You may also value specialist advice in the following:

  • Counselling and in particular genetic counselling
  • Leisure options: for example, access to sport, art, pubs, cinemas, theatre, newspapers, books, videos, TV, radio and holidays
  • Sexuality, sexual health and sexual knowledge
  • Identity, personal relationships, loneliness, making friends and social outlets
  • Personal safety
  • Availability of information in an accessible format to make an informed choice
  • Preparing for interviews, support whilst in work, support if you are unemployed and additional training


A crucial period in the life of young people is the transition from education or training into employment. Developing independence and the pursuit of employment are huge challenges. For many, the transition into adulthood is often made more complicated by disability. Consequently, at this time it is a good idea to reconsider the often heard mantra ‘education, education, education’ but replace it with ‘employment, employment, employment.’

Of course, education is crucial but for most of us employment is the end game and not education.

Many young people often arrive at this transition stage without the necessary skills to find or sustain employment. They are without the skills employer’s demand. The skills under consideration here are:

  • Communication skills
  • Managing information
  • Using numbers
  • Problem solving
  • Attitude and behaviour
  • Working with others
  • Being responsible
  • Being adaptable
  • Continuing to learn
  • Working safely

You will note that these are skills we all need and not just disabled people in order to succeed professionally.

Blindness, no barrier to employment?

As already mentioned for most people education is not an end in itself. Therefore, construct an education programme better suited to seeking and sustaining employment and thereby see education as a functional exercise rather than an academic one and use it to assist along a road to employment.

Addressing employability skills

What can the individual do to improve employability and develop the skills we all need to find and sustain employment?

You might like to ask yourself four questions when considering the education or training planned or being delivered.

  • How well is the young person being prepared for life after education?
  • Is/was the lesson building towards life after education?
  • What does the young person want to do after education?
  • How well does the lesson help support the young person’s aspirations?

These issues apply to both the disabled and non-disabled communities.

What is necessary?

The following will therefore be necessary:

  • Independence and employability skills needed to live effectively in today’s society
  • Skills which it may be necessary to develop for someone with a disability
  • Information about appropriate mainstream, specialist day and residential colleges in the UK to develop skills
  • A programme to help improve the individual’s employment prospects

Who is being considered?

Learners under consideration here are not necessarily academic high fliers. Neither do they have to have learning difficulties with an IQ below 70. Some may have been through a mainstream education placement whilst others may have attended special schools. The common denominator being, they do not have the necessary independence and employability skills to secure and sustain employment.

Consequently, we find a disabled person needing to develop the same general skills as non-disabled peers. The issue, therefore, is how do we construct a programme of learning covering employability skills so that a disabled person has the same and equal opportunities? That is, the skills a fully sighted or non-disabled person learns through general maturation in mainstream society.

By whom, how often and when, will the above points be addressed?

If you feel isolated, in need of professional support and information see what Families and Special Educational Needs can offer.

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