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Monday, November 23, 2009

What is a Reasonable Adjustment?

If you are a parent, have you ever been frustrated with what has been done to support your child in an inclusive classroom? Have you ever wondered what limits there are on the types of things that can be done?

And teachers, do you feel you have been asked to do too much? Have you wondered what can be reasonably expected of you when including a student with a disability?

Part 3 of the Commonwealth Disability Standards for Education 2005

Part 3 lays down some guidelines to help learning support teams make the decision about what might be reasonable in terms of adjustments to be made for a student. The criteria centres around the concept that any adjustment made must “balance the interests of all parties affected.” (p10)

But first…. What is an adjustment?

Basically, it is anything that a school and/or teacher do to help a child with a disability to participate and access facilities. It can be anything from using visual schedules to putting in ramps for a child in a wheelchair to employing a teacher’s aide.


Part 3 states that the decision about adjustments must be made in collaboration with the student and/or their associates. It also states that the student and/or associates’ (ie. parent/caregivers) opinion must be taken into consideration as to whether the adjustments are adequate.

So as part of the learning support team, parents should have a voice in the discussion about what adjustments are appropriate. But as in any advocacy role, we need to make sure we are as well-informed as possible about our options. As stated in the previous post, parents have a right to ask for information and can bring a friend and/or advocate with them when they attend learning support meetings.

One parent I knew got much more support for her child when she brought her privately consulted speech therapist with her to the learning support team meeting. This was primarily due to the fact that the therapist knew a lot more about what the child needed and could provide evidence of that need through official reports and so on.

The student

Part 3 states that the decision about adjustments must take into account the student’s disability. This may seem superfluous, but it is important that the Learning Support Team be well informed about the characteristics of the disability, and also how that disability affects the individual student – as all students are different, even if they do have the same disability.

The adjustments need to support the student in achieving the curriculum learning outcomes, whilst also maintaining the integrity of the course or ensuring that the accreditation standards for the course are maintained. This means that some adjustments will need to be abandoned because they either water-down the content of the courses as specified in the Syllabus documents. Alternatively, they might create a false impression of the child’s capabilities.

For example, students who have intellectual disabilities who are completing the School Certificate or High School Certificate would be completing the Life Skills Certificates. The Life Skills curriculum has been specifically designed for students with intellectual disabilities as it focuses on functional skills, or skills that will help the child succeed in their future life.

It is not a “watered-down” version of the regular curriculum. It is an alternative set of criteria. But it is only accessible to children under strict guidelines as it would be inappropriate for children who can learn the skills contained in the regular Syllabus if given appropriate supports.

For example, a child who is deaf can meet the requirements for accreditation under the Curriculum guidelines if they are provided with adjustments such as an interpreter. Click here for guidelines (Word doc) on who can complete the Life Skills Curriculum.

This brings us to the next point Part 3 makes: That the adjustments must provide adequate support so the child can participate in the educational activities.

The adjustments should also promote the independence of the child. I previously discussed this in the context of teachers aides.

Part 3 mentions that the adjustments should be the “least intrusive” option. The least intrusive adjustments are subtle. They don’t take away a child’s independence or choice. They have minimal effect on the child’s social belonging and status in the classroom. In short, they don’t “intrude” on the child – or their friends - socially or academically as they learn together in the classroom.

For example, let’s say a child is struggling to sit still in the classroom for long periods of time. The most intrusive approach would be to continually correct and re-direct the child. “Johnny, sit down.” “Have you finished your work yet, Johnny?” and so on. This will affect the child’s self-esteem, it could be disruptive to others (perhaps even more so than the actual getting out of the seat), and can lead to a labelling of the child as “naughty.”

A less intrusive approach would be to know the child’s limits, as well as their strengths and work with them. Have clear, visual guidelines like a picture that you put on the board/Smartboard to indicate when it is time to stay in their seat. Use eye contact and pointing to the picture to prompt the behaviour. But also know how long the child is able to sit still. For some children who have ADHD, or cerebral palsy, sitting still for long periods of time can be physically impossible. So occasionally have fun physical breaks, or options for movements like running errands, getting children to bring their work to you for checking or having a one minute “stretch break” every 10 to 15 minutes.

But as the child gets older and has more practice at sitting still, the time they can “last” is likely to increase. Then, as Part 3 states, the adjustments need to be reviewed and changed with the child’s changing needs. This should be the case for all adjustments.

Teacher and students

When making adjustments, we also need to balance the interests of the teacher and students in the classroom.

The concerns of teachers often revolve around their ability to equitably cater for all children in their classrooms in terms of the amount of time they may need to spend with a student who has a disability, answering their questions or managing their behaviour. They may be concerned about the disruption caused by some of the more difficult behaviour, and doubt their ability to deal with that behaviour without extra training. They may also be concerned about extra time and expertise required to plan inclusive lessons and design appropriate materials.

All these factors need to be taken into consideration when planning for inclusion. But it is important to note that we cannot expect zero disruption in inclusive classrooms. Inclusion does come with its challenges, and for some children placement in specialist classes may turn out to be the best option in the context of the resources currently available in our education systems.

However, as reported by Foreman (2008), research does indicate that children without disabilities who learn in inclusive classrooms may develop extra-curricular skills such as respect, value for diversity and social values associated with inclusion that they may not have developed in other classrooms. It also indicates that students not diagnosed with a disability may feel an advantage from the adjustments made for fellow students with disabilities.

So, when choosing adjustments, Part 3 states that not only should we look for the least intrusive option, but we also need to look for the least disruptive option.

So, some examples of what we cannot expect from teachers are:

  • To spend chunks of time one on one with a single student
  • To spend all their time planning adjustments that will only cater to one child

But we can expect teachers:

  • To participate in learning support meetings or collaborate with support staff
  • To spend a reasonable amount of time planning adjustments that are essential to the child’s completion of class tasks

And, teachers, you can get support from specialist staff such as Support Teachers to help you access ready-made resources, or for help in designing appropriate resources for students with disabilities.

When it comes to the challenge of behaviour, you might also want to read this post to hear the perspective of a teacher.

School and Education Departments

In making sure that adjustments are reasonable, school and education departments will also need to look at the available funding and resources. Part 3 highlights that the costs and benefits of every adjustment need to be weighed up. It is important to make all effort to implement the best adjustments, but these need to be realistic in the context of the funding rules and other regulations governing what can be implemented in schools. You can get more information about this from the disability consultant in your local education office.

Finally, whenever a learning support team has decided on a specific adjustment, it is important that it be implemented as soon as possible. As Part 3 indicates, the adjustments should be made available as soon as possible so as not to disadvantage the student in their learning.

So if you are heading off to negotiate adjustments for your child or your student, make sure you keep these things in mind.


Foreman, P. (2008). Setting the Scene: Teachers and Inclusion. In P.Foreman (Ed), Inclusion in Action, p2-36. Thomson: Australia.


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