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How to get school-aged children the help they need

Updated: Sep 13, 2022

Once a child enters their school years, typically around age 5 or 6, the opportunity to seek help with communication, developmental or physical special needs is directed through a program called SBRS, or School Based Rehabilitation Services...

"School-Based Rehabilitation Services (SBRS) consists of the delivery of Speech-Language Pathology, Occupational Therapy and Physiotherapy for children and youth in publicly-funded schools to support children’s functioning and development so they can participate more fully at school, at home and in their communities." -

For children already engaged in services at Lansdowne Children’s Centre there is an internal process where a client’s current therapist, with parent consent, will refer the child to the SBRS team through the SmartStart Hub.

For a school-aged child seeking a new referral for assessment or treatment the process typically involves a representative from their school. The school needs to complete a referral and submit to the SmartStart Hub, not the parent or caregiver.

As Family Engagement Coordinator, and a mother of two Lansdowne clients, Renee Cochrane understands the challenges that families can face when seeking help for the first time after a child has started school.

Shares Cochrane,

With increased school personnel, community services and different pathways, the road to therapy can be challenging at times.”

Speech delays are an example of a need for support that can go unnoticed or untreated until a child enters the school system. Before senior kindergarten (SK) entry a parent or caregiver has access to preschool speech and language services, an early childhood program that helps children discover their potential and reach new milestones in their communication abilities. Parents can self-refer early into a child's junior kindergarten (JK) year, and no third-party involvement is required to initiate a referral. That changes once a child enters their school years.

The process for school-based referrals begins with a representative of the school completing their portion of a referral form, followed by the parent/caregiver review and signed consent to have the referral submitted. In the case of speech and language services, the Board appointed Speech Pathologist will assess the child and attach their report to the referral form. That package is then submitted by the school to a SmartStart Hub contact, like Lansdowne Children’s Centre.

Sharing experiences, that she has witnessed as a parent of a child with special needs and a volunteer mentor of other special needs families, Cochrane hopes to help others be better prepared for the work they may have to put into managing their own experience in the system.

Being a strong advocate for your child helps to ensure all the steps are taken in a reasonable amount of time. There’s required input from multiple sources, travelling paperwork, and sometimes follow through can get delayed or lost. Workshops we offer through our Family Support Network (FSN) offer instruction on advocacy and organization.

10 Tips for Advocating For Your Child Within The School Setting:

1. Learn the names and contact info for the people involved in the process. This includes the school staff (the Principal, Teacher, the Special Education Resource Teacher (SERT) or Learning Resource Teacher (LRT), and Educational Assistants.

2. Learn the names and contact information for the Board personnel. This includes the System SERT/LRT, program coordinators, and student support services.

3. Document your conversations by keeping emails, or phone logs, any time you need to talk to school personnel or support staff. Include who was part of the conversation and what was discussed. Take notes anytime you speak with someone about your concerns or questions.

4. Write your questions down beforehand. If you find yourself needing more information it can be helpful to make notes for your next conversation. This is an overwhelming process but having your questions in front of you will help you to stay calm and organized.

5. Never sign something you are not fully confident about. If a referral is needed, be sure to review it carefully. Ask questions if you are unsure, ask someone you trust to read it. Speak up for yourself and your family and don’t hesitate to insist that language be made clear to you.

6. Once signed and submitted you can call to follow up. Calling to follow up ensures that the process is done in a reasonable amount of time and provides you an opportunity to ask more questions if needed. Start with your school contacts.

7. Requesting meetings may be required and is okay. If this is the case for you, be sure to bring someone with you for support and a second pair of ears, and have your questions prepared ahead of time. You are allowed to ask for timeframes to be set for goals to be reached.

8. Keep in mind that waitlists are long and normal. Unfortunately, it is the reality that demand for support services is high across the region. Waiting is hard for you and your child. It is natural to feel overwhelmed. Many families have been where you area. It does get better.

9. There are productive things you can do while you wait to be called. If you would like goals to work on at home while you wait for service, you can ask your school or contact Lansdowne Children’s Centre to provide you with activities and ideas. You do not have to be active in service (waiting list counts!) to participate in Lansdowne’s Family Support Network or to access our online resources.

10. Respectful persistence goes further than bullying. Emotions play a large part in advocating for our children, and it’s easy to become frustrated while waiting for the process to work. Your goal is to not let emotions interfere with your role and ability to advocate. If you feel you need support, please reach out for resources to assist you.

It is not uncommon for clients to wait more than 12 months for their first service appointment when referred to speech and language, occupational therapy or physiotherapy through school-based rehabilitation services. Any delays in submitting the referral to SmartStart Hub only extends the waiting period for families.

“If you have questions or concerns about your child’s development, there is no bad time to ask for help.”

- Renee Cochrane, Family Engagement Coordinator

Suggested resources:

Milestones Matter child development poster 3 - 48 months (4 years):

A collection of early childhood development milestones from birth to age 4 years, including communication, developmental and physical abilities. Download the JPG image or the printable PDF file below.

Lansdowne Milestones_11x17_poster
Download PDF • 2.43MB

Speech and Language Development, 0 – 36 months Parent Checklist:

Map the progress of a child’s skills as they learn to communicate and discover any areas where they may have a challenge. Download the printable PDF document.

Lansdowne SLP 0-36mth parent checklist-web
Download PDF • 3.34MB

EarlyOn, Early Years Strategies and Tips for Parents (Lansdowne on YouTube):

Available on YouTube, these helpful videos hosted by Lansdowne Resource Consultants include topics like behaviour, communication, milestones and preparing for Kindergarten.



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