Geelong-Based Gaining The Edge is the only occupational therapy-informed program in Australia that specifically addresses the transition period from primary to secondary school for young people with disabilities.
The big move to high school can be tricky enough for a grade six student. For young people with additional needs, the transition between primary and secondary school can be especially daunting.
Understanding timetables, catching the bus, emotional regulation, bullying, sensory overload, or homework stresses are some of the many challenges neurodiverse adolescents can face amid this transition.
Concerned about the big move for her son Phoenix – who loves music, Fast and the Furious movies and animals – it was a relief for Armstrong Creek mum, Karen, to find Gateways Support Services’ Gaining The Edge program.
12-year-old Phoenix (who is autistic (Level II) and has ADHD, short-term memory loss, anxiety and depression) initially felt hesitant about a number of aspects of schooling but concluded the program feeling confident and ready for high school.
Designed by Gateways’ multi-disciplinary Youth Plus team, the program provides a helping hand at a time when concern, anxiety and even fear can diminish excitement about the milestone.
Gateways Support Services Adolescent Occupational Therapist Jessie Hutchinson says Gaining The Edge was developed to address the concerns raised by many parents and their grade six children regarding the transition.
‘Many of my young clients and their parents advised me that they were feeling overwhelmed by this transition before it had even started. Yet, there was no evidence-based, therapy-informed program specifically tailored to support them. So we developed one,’ says Jessie.
Gaining The Edge aims to assist families during this significant change, making the move to secondary school as stress-free and successful as possible.
Through a combination of online webinars and a one-on-one session with Jessie and Thien Truong (Gateways Adolescent Speech Pathologist), the program provides parents and carers with evidence-based recommendations regarding the most common challenges. It also offers an opportunity for parents and carers attending the program to connect.
Now in its third year, Jessie says that the feedback she has received from both parents and students from the past two years of Gaining The Edge has been overwhelmingly positive.
‘Students who were terrified about getting lost and being unable to read their timetable were able to do so before their first day. Students who were highly anxious and having meltdowns at the mere thought of the transition were able to unpack their fears and apply strategies to address them,’ says Jessie.
Karen says that Gaining The Edge addressed the concerns she had for Phoenix and empowered the whole family to manage the challenges that arose during the move.
‘The program made the transition to high school beneficial not only for Phoenix but the whole family as it made us all feel more confident and ready for high school,’ says Karen.
‘Being able to speak to Jessie after the program, as well, allowed us to unpack the information we received through the program and personalise it to Phoenix and our family before school started, so it was not as overwhelming for him.’
Karen says that thanks to Gaining The Edge, Phoenix had a smooth transition into high school and is well on his way to achieving his dream of becoming a scientist, and equally as important, getting a pet husky.
‘Phoenix started school this year and had the most amazing transition, a lot better than we could have hoped,’ says Karen.
‘He went to camp after only one official day at school, was able to navigate his classes and made friendships.’
Due to Gaining The Edge’s innovation and success, Jessie presented an overview of the program at the Occupational Therapy Australia National Conference in June of this year. The program received tremendous interest from other Occupational Therapists wanting to up-skill and increase their understanding of how best to support their own clients experiencing this transition.
Find out more about Gaining The Edge