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Support a child with disability

Early Intervention

For every child you work with, early intervention for any suspected or diagnosed developmental delay or disability is critical. Early intervention means a child is getting support and therapy as early as possible for things like their health, wellbeing, development, or any other area of need. The Early Childhood Early Intervention approach is available to all children in Australia aged under seven with a developmental delay or disability.  This could include access to a Psychologist, Speech Therapist, Physiotherapist and Occupational Therapist.  Partner and collaborate with the therapists to ensure the child’s needs are being met and progress is monitored. (Refer to The early childhood approach for children younger than 9 on the NDIS website.)

At any stage along the child protection continuum and particularly for children in care, work with the child’s safety and support network including their parents, carers, child care or school staff, health professionals and NDIS providers to implement child focused, evidence based early intervention support.


If a child is not provided with early intervention (for example, in relation to their developmental delay) this is likely to have a cumulative effect on the child’s academic achievement, emotional and behavioural development, and their enjoyment of and motivation to attend school. This can result in low self-esteem, anxiety or depression, which can then exacerbate their delay and their wellbeing will continue to decline.

This video developed by Raising Children Australia provides an overview of early intervention for children with disability.

Your local Specialist Services Coordinator can provide you with more information about options for accessing early intervention supports.


For children age seven years or older who have a disability, the National Disability Insurance Scheme will support them to receive reasonable and necessary supports they need to enjoy their lives and achieve their goals. The NDIS also provides information and referrals to existing supports in the community. For more information on the NDIS, refer to Procedure 5 Respond to a child’s disability needs.

Your local Specialist Services Coordinator can provide you with more information about accessing the NDIS.

Positive Behaviour Support 

Positive Behaviour Support (PBS) is an evidence based, person-centred framework to support people with disability who use challenging behaviour. PBS improves the quality of life for the person who has challenging behaviours and reduces the impact of the challenging behaviour on the person’s family, friends and supports. The PBS approach seeks to:

  • Understand why a person may be engaging in challenging behaviour
  • Understand environmental causes for challenging behaviour
  • Modify environmental causes so challenging behaviour is not necessary
  • Teach new skills to the person so their needs are met without them resorting to challenging behaviour

(The State of Queensland, 2018).

The following video provides a simple introduction to Positive Behaviour Support.

An Introduction to PBS

Ten things you can do to support a person with difficult behaviours was developed by David Pitonyak (2005) who runs a consulting practice dedicated to supporting people with disabilities who exhibit challenging behaviours. He states:

 “Difficult behaviors are ‘messages’ which can tell us important things about a person and the quality of her life. In the most basic terms: difficult behaviors result from unmet needs. The very presence of a difficult behavior can be a signal that something important that the person needs is missing”.

Read Pitonyak’s article and reflect on the children and young people you are working with who exhibit challenging behaviours. Reflect the needs in the child’s life and consider how they could be better fulfilled:

Needs that could be better met Considerations
Meaningful and enduring relationships Does contact need to look different for this child? Who is important to them that is missing from their life? Who do they need to see more of?
A sense of safety and wellbeing What does physical safety mean for the child? What does emotional safety mean? How do we know we’re supporting this child’s wellbeing the way they want to be supported?
Joy in ordinary and everyday places What do most kids get to experience that this child doesn’t? How can we create those experiences for this child?
Power and choice What are we giving this child power over? How can we give them choice over important and everyday aspects of their lives?
A sense of value and self-worth How can the safety and support network show the child that they are loved and valued? What does this child say about who loves them and how they know they are worthy and valuable?
Relevant skills and knowledge What skills does the child need to learn to live the best life possible? What do they already know? How can that knowledge be built upon to help the child continue learning?
Supporters who are themselves supported How is the child’s parent / carer being supported to manage the child’s behaviours and fulfil the child’s unmet needs?

(Pitonyak, 2005)

Planned meetings with people who are important to a child including placement meetings, cultural support plan meetings, house meetings and case planning meetings are all opportunities to consider and discuss how the above needs can best be met for a child. This will help people around the child to acknowledge and better understand the messages being expressed through the child’s behaviour so supports can be implemented or changes to the child’s goals or lifestyle can be made.

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