Inclusion of young people with disadvantage and disability

Three school children sitting outside

Three school children sitting outsideYoung people who experience disadvantage or disability are often excluded from learning opportunities because they are unable to benefit from mainstream teaching practices or are segregated into alternative educational settings. As a result, they stand to miss out on the same quality learning opportunities afforded other children and are deprived of peer interactions that are essential for societal inclusion during and beyond their school years.

This research area comprises two main streams, each with a cross-sectoral focus.

Research Team

Team Member

Area of research expertise

Professor Pamela Snow

Psychology and speech pathology

Professor Teresa Iacono

Speech pathology and disability

Dr Carol McKinstry

Occupational therapy

Associate Professor Mary Keeffe

Inclusive education

Dr Nerida Hyett

Occupational therapy

Professor Amanda Kenny

Rural health services

Dr Tanya Serry

Speech pathology

Key collaborators

Area of research expertise and affiliation

Professor Margarita Frederico

Social Work, La Trobe University

Professor Linda Graham

Education, Queensland University of Technology

Ms Emina McLean

Speech pathology, La Trobe Rural Health School

Dr Kerryn Bagley

Social Work, La Trobe Rural Health School

Dr Oriane Landry

Autism spectrum disorders and disability supports, La Trobe University.

Higher Degree by Research students

Student name



Project title

Kristy Logan


Professor Teresa Iacono

Aided enhanced milieu teaching to develop communication functions in minimally verbal children with autism spectrum disorder.

Research Partners

Research streams

Supporting mainstream school inclusion of students with disability

This stream is part of the La Trobe University Living with Disability Research Centre, within the theme of Enabling mainstream services to be more inclusive.

Despite international and national commitment to inclusive education, and the Disability Discrimination Act (1996) that makes denial of opportunity to mainstream education illegal in Australia, many children with disabilities continue to experience educational exclusion. This exclusion takes many forms, such as discouraging enrolment of a child in a local mainstream school, and failing to make the reasonable adjustments needed to ensure a student in a mainstream classroom can participate in the school curricular and extra-curricular activities.

This research brings together allied health and education researchers and practitioners to address this problem by building on the combined expertise across mainstream and special education, and allied health to support the inclusion of children with various disabilities in school education. Underpinning this work are a deep commitment to the human rights of all children with disability to education alongside their peers without disability and a belief in the power of sharing expertise through collaboration involving families and professionals. A recently completed and a current project have a focus on inclusive education in mainstream schools through expert and child-focused supports.

The projects have a Victorian focus, drawing on local partnerships. The view is to extend this reach through the creation of open access online resources that can be accessed nationally and internationally to provide expanded research opportunities.

Language and literacy needs of vulnerable children and adolescents

Projects align with La Trobe’s Social Change and Equity research theme, by providing detailed language and literacy profiles of adolescents in youth justice (custodial and community-based), alternative/flexible education systems
and those in state out-of-home care.

These populations are of particular interest, because:

Students in alternative education settings are vulnerable to long-term educational and vocational marginalisation. Many students with emotional and behavioural difficulties have significant, yet unidentified language problems and subsequent difficulty with literacy and overall academic performance.
In this sense, they suffer from what are often invisible disabilities, which are prone to be either missed, or misinterpreted.

Children and adolescents in out-of-home care who have experienced trauma from maltreatment (abuse and/or neglect) have poor outcomes in all life domains in adulthood. Previous studies suggest that language and literacy difficulties may be over-represented in this population, though data are scarce.

In many cases young people are part of both groups, and some are in what has been termed the “school-to-prison pipeline”, meaning that they also are in contact with Youth Justice services. Professor Snow has led two decades of research on the language and literacy skills of young people
on both community and custodial Youth Justice orders.

Current projects

Co-designing supports for educational inclusion

This project has been funded by an NDIS Information, Linkages and Capacity Readiness Grant. It is led by a team of allied health and education academics from La Trobe and Federation Universities, providing combined expertise in disability, inclusive education, and online curriculum design.  Partners in the project are Kalianna Specialist School, Bendigo Special Developmental School, Camp Hill Primary School, and Everyday Independence.

The aim of this project is to develop an online education module co-designed by stakeholder representatives of the target audience: allied health professionals from within and outside the education sector, teachers and other education staff, and families of school-age children with disability. Through a co-design process facilitated by the allied health and education academics, and using a case-based learning approach, they will develop and trial the content for online modules. The intended learning outcomes of the modules will be to increase knowledge of disability and education policy, obligations and funding criteria; apply this knowledge to case scenarios to develop streamlined allied health and educational supports; and demonstrate key features of collaboration to address the support needs of the children in the two cases. On completion, the modules will be freely accessible via an open-access internet site.

Options for specialist schools as 'Centres of Expertise' to support mainstream inclusion

This project was funded by the Principals’ Association for Specialist Schools, Inc. It was led by a team of allied health and education academics from La Trobe University.

The aim of this project was to develop options for how specialist schools in Victoria could become Centres of Expertise to support inclusive education in mainstream schools. Mixed methods were used across five project activities: review of the grey and published research evidence, interviews of key stakeholders, co-design forum, and acceptability and feasibility survey.

These activities resulted in eight options based on 22 options that had been co-designed by stakeholders from specialist and mainstream school communities. These options were submitted in a report to the Department of Education and Training, completing the implementation of a recommendation from the state government’s review of the Program for Students with Disabilities.

Language, literacy, and marginalisation in adolescence

This research project currently consists of two separate studies that seek to provide profiles of the language and literacy skills of vulnerable adolescents in alternative/flexible education settings and the state out-of-home care system.

Project Aims:

  • To document the extent of receptive and expressive oral language disorders in representative samples of adolescents (aged 13-19 years) who are (i) attending an alternative educational setting or (ii) in the state care system.
  • To determine the extent to which adolescents in these settings have reading comprehension skills that are commensurate with their chronological age.
  • To examine links between oral language skills and reading ability.
  • To determine the experiences of the young people with language disorders concerning everyday spoken and written language challenges, particularly in the school context.

The results from these two studies will form the basis of subsequent feasibility studies to determine the extent to which intensive (Tier 3) speech-language pathology interventions in alternative education settings and/or the state care system can improve the language and literacy skills of socially and educationally at-risk adolescents.

The findings from this program will also be broadly disseminated and may encourage greater attention to oral language and literacy in both settings, at policy and practice levels.