Ready, Set, NDIS Ready, Set, NDIS

Setting goals for your child


We want the best for our children, and having a vision is essential for them to thrive. Achieving it involves planning and setting goals for the child and family that lead to positive outcomes. While outcomes are a somewhat overlooked area in the current system, they will be a major focus with the forthcoming NDIS. How do we set goals effectively? The Ready, Set NDIS workshop held at Plumtree in April 2016 gave parents some insight and activities to learn about the process.

Less is more

Why are goals important? Workshop host and Plumtree CEO Sylvana Mahmic put it succinctly: not having a set of goals is like going for a drive but not knowing your destination—you want to know where you are going.

Goals need to be relevant and appropriate. Rather than speeding through a large list, it’s important to prioritise and set goals that can be achieved within a short timeframe. Work intensely on a few and pace yourself, as having too many goals will leave no time for family, relationships and other important things. From personal experience, Sylvana said that trying to do it all is not sustainable in the long term. “Bring others into your child’s life who can support you.” Therapies are not goals, she added. It’s a common misconception; they are services that help you achieve your goals.

Writing it down

Dr. Annick Janson, Plumtree’s partner on the Family Storytelling project and other initiatives, encouraged committing goals to paper for motivation. Parents were then organised into groups and given a worksheet developed at Plumtree by Robin Treloar which helps families to break down the process of setting goals and making them happen. The goal had to:

  • Be achievable in one month
  • Focus on the child’s strengths
  • Involve others
  • Make life easier at particular times of the day
  • Fit in family life

Parents also worked together to think about skills required for themselves and their child, people and agencies that can help, and changes to the environment needed to support the goal. They also considered how to identify progress being made towards the goal. Examples included observing positive changes in the child’s routines and increased independence.

Sharing and learning

The workshop concluded with attendees sharing their goal. One parent would like her 19 year-old daughter to prepare bacon and eggs. A helpful strategy with long or complex tasks is to set up the activity and have the child complete the last part by herself first; in this case making toast. They will then work backwards through the various steps.

One parent’s goal was for her six year-old son to pack his school bag. They will use visuals to help guide him and make a list of the bag’s contents. Another parent would like her older son to be able to go shopping, as he was uncomfortable with retail lighting and noise made by trolleys. The strategy was to take him out into the community and initially walk around the block, going for a drive and then visiting the supermarket.

Feedback from attendees on the workshop was very positive. Besides goal setting activities, many remarked that being able to talk with and learn from other parents was a highlight. It reflects what experience has taught us at Plumtree: families learn best from each other.

Children have a right to grow and need opportunities to achieve. While skills that we want them to learn can sometimes seem overwhelmingly complex, they can be broken down into smaller achievable steps that can be celebrated.

Applying for the NDIS?  Come along to one of our Six Steps to NDIS First Plan Ready workshops. For dates and more info see here:

Diversity Diversity

Welcoming Indigenous families

Artwork foyer Amos front view

Plumtree has long valued cultural diversity. We set out to engage with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities a decade ago. Currently, 7% of the families we work with are from an Indigenous background and our projects with the Aboriginal community aim to further increase participation.

In acknowledging and respecting Indigenous culture, we wanted a welcoming environment for the families. Since 2009, a beautiful mural created by local Aboriginal artist Adam Hill graced the outside of our centre until its redevelopment. After the new building was completed in 2015, the mural was moved to the playground and plans began to find an artist for a new work in the reception area.

When Plumtree’s CEO Sylvana Mahmic saw a painting by Jordan Ardler on a community bus at La Perouse, she was instantly attracted by its child and family-friendly style. The young Aboriginal artist was awarded a scholarship at the College of Fine Art (now UNSW Art & Design) in 2013 and received the Nura Gili Indigenous Spirit Award at the school two years later. Sylvana contacted Jordan through Instagram about creating a work for Plumtree; she responded enthusiastically and met with Sylvana and other staff in June 2015.

Ideas discussed for the work included elements such as circles, waves and a totem or animal-based design that children can relate to. Totems are an important element in Aboriginal art that connects people to the land and to the past. Jordan also consulted with local Aboriginal elders to discuss ideas and ensure that the artwork was appropriate. A concept centred on a whale totem eventually led to a broader ocean theme; the artist also wrote a story that reflects Plumtree and the warmth it provides.

Titled Build a Ripple Effect, the painting expresses the importance of forging relationships to create a better world and taking guidance from past generations to transcend barriers. The three-panel work was installed in April 2016.

Our work with Indigenous communities attracted a ten thousand dollar grant from the Maybanke Fund through the Sydney Community Foundation in 2015. The successful project resulted in a further donation of the same amount from anonymous philanthropists via Ngroo Education Inc., an organisation that promotes Indigenous participation in Early Childhood Education and Care and other services.

Plumtree’s Indigenous projects include the Walking Together: Connecting with Aboriginal Elders program, which educates staff about working with Aboriginal families and building stronger links with local Aboriginal communities. The project aims to improve the opportunity for Aboriginal children to achieve their potential by promoting Access, Attendance and Achievement.


Ready, Set, NDIS: A parent’s perspective

sun painting

The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) will roll out across Sydney from July 2017. We invited Kerrie Turner, a mother of three accessing the scheme in the Hunter Region NDIS trial site, to talk about her experience at Plumtree’s Ready, Set, NDIS workshop in January 2016.

Kerrie’s five year-old son Joshua, who has a global developmental delay, did not have access to funding before the NDIS as he did not have a diagnosis. Eligibility into the scheme was determined with documentation from his GP, occupational and speech therapists. Funding is available depending on each child’s individual needs.

While still being developed before its nation-wide implementation, the NDIS focuses on positive outcomes for people with a disability. Vision, planning and goal setting are key to getting the most out of it. Kerrie realised she needed to change her approach. “Originally we were still in the mindset of therapy and how far Joshua was behind,” she says.

Planning and goal setting

Therapies are not goals. Rather than thinking ‘he needs physio!’ Kerrie began to consider what other children of Joshua’s age were doing. This enabled her to identify and prioritise goals, then consider the resources needed to achieve them. “It got us into thinking about daily, weekly and monthly routines, and how he participates at preschool, school and playgroups.” She wanted Joshua to be independent, to communicate, build friendships, play with peers at the park and be toilet trained. These goals were used to create a plan of the supports required.

Being in control of the funding gave Kerrie the flexibility to choose support providers that best suited the family’s needs. They can be from different organisations, but she preferred to use just one. “I like the idea that they are together and have the same philosophy.” NDIS participants can choose to handle all the finances and invoicing by themselves (self-manage), let the NDIA manage it, or employ a third-party Plan Manager.

Funding enabled a team of professionals led by a Key Worker to visit the family’s environment. They help Joshua achieve goals during daily activities, such as going shopping or attending his sisters’ soccer training. Kerrie pointed out, however, that therapies are not the only answer and encouraged brainstorming other ways to accomplish goals. To teach him animal safety on their country property, for example, she suggested buying a toy snake and practicing what to do when you see one.

“Think about goals you might reach in 12 months,” Kerrie said. They don’t have to be achieved by then, but progress should be made. Plans can also change along the way as you learn more or find that other supports are required.

Learning new skills

Kerrie encouraged parents to take advantage of workshops about planning and goal setting to get the most from the new system. “Think big and think creatively,” she enthused. Becoming a good advocate for your child and family will also be important. Connecting with user-led organisations for networking and support from peers is essential: “You learn the best and the most from each other.”

Kerrie also learned something from parents attending the workshop. When she mentioned that looking after Samuel didn’t allow time to watch her daughter play team sports, a mother in the audience offered a solution: Kerrie could arrange to have a support worker look after Samuel while they are all at the sportsground.

Kerrie was touched and inspired. “I just want to be a soccer mum too.”

A new way to plan and set goals for children with a disability A new way to plan and set goals for children with a disability


A new way to plan and set goals for children with a disability

With the National Disability Insurance Scheme’s Inner West and South East Sydney rollout approaching next year, having a vision for your child instead of a checklist of therapies is essential. Setting goals enables you to get the most out of the new system, receive a suitable funding package and achieve positive outcomes for your child and family. Coming up with a vision and setting goals requires good planning.

At Plumtree, we are developing new planning methods so families can more effectively transition to the NDIS. We also want improve the experience, as we are involved in a lot of planning meetings either for our work, or as parents of children with disabilities.

You know what they’re like: usually quite formal, with professionals asking a series of set questions that include identifying our strengths and needs. The information is later typed up, and the plan is presented as a document.

And here’s the problem—the plan is usually read once and then put away, never to be seen again.

So we set out to transform and innovate the experience by creating a new planning tool. Unlike traditional methods typically led by professionals, it involves the family as an active part of the process.

Setting a vision and telling your family’s story

For some parents, being asked on the spot to come up with a vision for their child can be very daunting. It sounds so ambiguous at first, even writing something down is difficult.

Our planning tool, Pictability, is visually based. It involves selecting a toy character to represent your child and picture cards that identify things that are most important for your family. The cards are designed to stimulate new ideas and consider the bigger picture in the future; by sorting through these cards, goals become clearer and are written on blank cards. The process is like a game and takes an hour or two to complete.

Photos from this session are incorporated into an e-book on an iPad: this becomes your child’s plan. But unlike other plans, it is a living document that grows with you. As well as containing the vision and strategies developed together, you and your Plumtree key worker can record your child’s progress or suggest strategies in the e-book. Audio, video, photos (think of all of those great family pics that can be used!) or text are inserted into pre-set page layouts and embellished with “well done!” stickers and doodles.

Rather than being filed away, the e-book is easy and fun to use, so you can continue to document and celebrate achievements big and small. It is an inspiring storybook of your family that you will love returning to. Parents have responded very positively—some have even customised sections to look like a comic book. Children have also enthusiastically contributed to the e-book’s content. It can also be shared to engage other family members or used as a vital tool for carers and teachers at school.

Learning into the future

The planning tool and e-book are a part of Plumtree’s Now and Next program, which aims to give parents and carers the skills and resources that we use to provide care for their children in the future. We want families to take the lead when the NDIS rolls out and ensure they continue to learn beyond the time boundaries of our programs and services. More information on the e-book can be found here. If you are with Plumtree and would like to book a planning session with Pictability contact or speak with your Key Worker.

AAC: Strategies to support children with communication difficulties AAC: Strategies to support children with communication difficulties


Imagine if you couldn’t speak. How would you share your ideas, socialise with friends, buy things? Some things can’t be communicated easily through gestures and facial expressions.

Communication can be hard for some children; they have difficulties understanding speech or speaking clearly. A range of augmentative and alternative communication methods (also known as AAC) have been developed to help these children communicate at home, in school, or out in their community. They enhance speech and provide an alternative when a child hasn’t started talking yet, or when speech is not developing.

A child doesn’t have to be completely nonverbal to benefit from AAC. In fact, many children with some speech will communicate better when given these supports. They include things such as pointing to pictures in a communication book to tell a story at school or using a voice output communication aid to order something to eat at lunch.

There are two kinds of AAC:

Unaided AAC systems. These may include gestures, sign systems such as Key Word Sign, facial expressions, and vocalisations. They do not require additional equipment.

Aided AAC systems. These use some sort of low or high-tech tool or equipment. Low-tech  aids include communication charts or books and alphabet displays for pointing to letters to spell words. High-tech aids use computer software to generate speech.


People who need AAC tend to use a range of methods that should be personalised to meet individual needs. If your child isn’t able to communicate verbally, he or she will benefit from the introduction of AAC strategies to assist understanding, develop language skills, and support participation in daily activities. They also help reduce frustration that results from not being able to get a message across.

AAC helps a wide range of children, from a beginning communicator to the more advanced.

As well as fostering better understanding in the family, the strategies ultimately give children more opportunities to become confident communicators.

Some parents might worry that AAC will discourage their child from attempting to talk if other forms of communication are used beforehand. They may also be concerned that AAC will replace any natural speech ability. But research has found that AAC assists the development of communication—many children actually improve in their speech skills once they start using AAC.

Ultimately, our goal is to enrich the communication and social interaction of children with communication difficulties. AAC methods can help achieve this.

Thanks to Dr Liora Ballin for her assistance with this article. October is Augmentative and Alternative Communication Awareness Month. More info here: