For many children and young people with disability and their families, it was hoped that 2022 would be a year of renewal and fresh starts. We all knew a federal election was coming. We hoped that the aspirations and goals of young people with disability would play a role in the pitches and policies presented. COVID has lingered and surged. Many people have remained at home or in their shrinking community, hoping that others wear masks and services and supports continue, safely.
3 years on from the first cases of COVID in Australia, children are growing up in a different environment to their older siblings or those leaving school and looking for work. Children born in 2019 may not have been to playgroup, a library nursery rhyme session or fewer family birthday parties. As families have experienced job losses or business failure, under employment or worked multiple shifts to pay the rent, inclusive experiences at early education and care may have been out of reach for some.
For young children with disability or development delays, access to early intervention, specialists, therapies and other services has been harder. Stretched professionals, tele-health limitations and COVID restrictions are just part of the pressures. Cuts to NDIS plans are also causing stress. Early intervention is a key aspect of a young child’s life. It gives children and families a chance to learn new skills, get intensive help and problem solve day to day challenges.
Image description: A child's toy train with carriages that include the phrases "Early childhood, education and care, early intervention, experiences"
Young people with disability recently shared their stories of childhood with families and early childhood educators on a CYDA webinar. (Children and Young People with Disability Australia) For example, webinar participants heard about the role of Penny the cat, trips to pat a tiger, tiaras and photo day, and great people in their lives.
Early intervention is a key ingredient when combined with the basics of childhood – fun, family and play. One does not replace or subvert the other. Early intervention is value for money when it can be leveraged into everyday places and activities. Whether it’s role modelling language, using physical techniques at the park or colouring in with a better grip, early intervention continues to be a great enabler for inclusion and helps create new pathways to ordinary places and experiences.
At times, there is a risk that families divert most of their attention and effort to therapy. It feels welcoming, supportive and understanding. People and places in their own local communities may feel less so. We go where we feel welcome and understood. The local park can be a hotbed of parenting approaches and judgement. Any exclusion or isolation does everyone harm. Young children, disabled or non-disabled, miss out on formative experiences together.
The early years of a child’s development can impact their entire lives. Research tells us, inclusive and accessible early childhood experiences are one of the surest and most sustainable pathways to an inclusive life and all the benefits that brings to the child and their family.
Let’s hope the rest of 2022 brings stability, health and happiness to our children and their families.