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Supporting children and students with eating disorders

This page outlines how education staff, care services, parents, guardians, and health professionals work together to manage a child or student with eating disorders in education and care settings.

About eating disorders

An eating disorder is a serious mental illness, characterised by eating, exercise and body weight or shape becoming an unhealthy preoccupation of someone’s life. Eating disorders are a serious mental condition that affects around 9% of the Australian population. Many people experiencing an eating disorder suffer from depression or anxiety. 

Learn more about eating disorders including:

  • warning signs
  • risk factors
  • types.

Health support plans and agreements

If the child or student has an eating disorder, the education or care service should refer to health support planning for children and students in education and care settings to ensure that the appropriate plans and agreements are in place. This is in addition to the eating disorder-specific plans and agreements listed on this page. 

Care plan 

Parent or caregivers should complete an oral eating and drinking care plan – HSP210 (DOC 254KB) with their child’s health professional and return it to their school, preschool or care provider.

Education and care staff who regularly engage with the child or student will need to know what is in each plan.

Support plan

The sensory overview support plan – HSP431 (DOC 389KB) should be completed by the education and care service in consultation with the parents and child or young person. The sensory overview provides a detailed understanding of the individual sensory issues and assists in developing strategies to minimise sensory overload during mealtimes.

Educational adjustments

Educational adjustments support children and students on an individual basis. Adjustments should be determined by the parents and education and care service and documented in the health support agreement. 

Examples of adjustments may include:

  • identifying cues and triggers for anxiety implementing key school-based issues and development of appropriate strategies 
  • assigning a school mentor with regular contact 
  • recognising small achievements using positive reinforcement, communication strategies and feedback 
  • providing a special area at school to eat lunch.

Regulation scale to identify behaviour

The regulation scale – HSP431 (DOC 182KB) is a tool that education care staff can use to help children to identify: 

  • what is happening around them that is impacting on their mood change
  • what signals their body is giving them
  • ways to respond to their body’s signals that will help them manage the change in mood. 

The regulation scale guide – HSP432a (PDF 500KB) supports the development of the regulation scale. It can be used with interoception activities to help the child develop meaningful interoception skills. 

Some examples of completed regulation scales include:

Understanding student behaviour

The understanding behaviour template – HSP433 (DOC 456KB) helps to identify why behaviours are occurring how to change it. 

The template can be used to:

  • identify possible triggers for the concerning behaviour
  • document what is happening when the behaviour is most likely to occur  
  • compare when the behaviour is least or most likely to occur 
  • help you identify the purpose of the behaviour 
  • identify teaching environments best suited to the young person.

Training for education and care staff 

Interoception is a sense that helps you understand and feel what is going on inside your body. Children and young people who struggle with interoception may have trouble knowing when they feel hungry, full, hot, cold or thirsty. Poor interoception awareness is often a key feature of eating disorders.  

Learn more about interoception and how it can be applied in the classroom including:

  • benefits of teaching interoception 
  • tools and resources
  • models of interoception in the classroom.

How parents and caregivers can help

Parents or guardians must:

  • notify the school, preschool or care service if their child has an eating disorder
  • complete health care plans and agreements with their health care professionals and provide them to the school, preschool or care service
  • provide required medication to the school, preschool or care service.

If a medication agreement is in place, parents and caregivers must fulfil the roles and responsibilities outlined on the medication management and care page.

How health professionals can help

Health professionals support schools, preschools, care services and families by helping to develop the care plan and any supporting medication and care agreements.
 

Disability and Complex Needs Team

Phone: 8226 0515
Email: education.health [at] sa.gov.au