Emerging Minds

Understanding child mental health and disability

About the course

This course explores mental health for children aged 0-12 years who are living with disability. It will help you to identify the factors that support a child’s social and emotional wellbeing and introduce you to key concepts in disability-aware practice. It will also describe the importance of considering the mental health of children living with disability, and why these children may be more vulnerable to developing mental health concerns.

Throughout this course, you will be invited to consider the important role relationships – with parents or caregiver(s), friends, and within the community – play in a child’s life. You will explore the important aspects of a child’s world, and how these aspects interact to influence a child’s social and emotional wellbeing.

You will be invited to consider how the children you work with may communicate their needs and emotions through their behaviour; and how you can strengthen the mental health and wellbeing of these children through your relationships with them and their family.

Who is this course for?

This course supports all practitioners to better understand the factors that influence the mental health and wellbeing of children living with disability.

While this course briefly outlines the key aspects to consider within a disability-aware approach, it does not explore disability-specific practice skills or interventions. Direct therapeutic work requires specialised skills that are not addressed in this foundation course.

However, any adult who supports a child with disability can contribute to their positive mental health and wellbeing by adopting a disability-aware approach.

Learning aims

This course will help you to:

  • understand the difference between the ‘medical’ and ‘social’ models of disability
  • understand the prevalence of mental health difficulties among children with disability, and the different ways these difficulties may present
  • recognise the importance of seeing the ‘whole child’, not just their disability
  • identify the ways in which disability may influence children’s mental health and wellbeing (both positive and negative)
  • understand what is meant by ‘diagnostic overshadowing’ and how this can make it more difficult to understand a child’s needs
  • describe the main approaches for supporting the mental health of children with disability and their families.


It is estimated that this course will take you one hour to complete, including reading material and watching videos.

You can undertake the course across multiple sessions at your own pace. The last screen you visit before logging off will be bookmarked, and you will have the option of returning to that screen when you next log in.


As you work through the course, it is important to be aware of your own emotional responses. Exploring children’s experiences of disability can be difficult. Please follow the self-care tips below and seek help if needed:

  • We do not recommend undertaking the entire course in one go. Even if you don’t feel like you need a break, it’s a good idea to take one anyway and come back later.
  • Be aware of your emotions as you progress through the course, and take action if you start to feel stressed or upset.
  • Be aware of your emotional responses after you complete the course.

If at any point you find you are struggling, please talk with your supervisor, seek help, or call Lifeline on 13 11 14, Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636, or SANE Australia on 1800 18 7263. You may also wish to speak to your GP about accessing mental health care support. 


For the purpose of this course, the term parent encompasses the biological and adoptive parents of a child, as well as individuals who have chosen to take up a primary or shared responsibility in raising that child.

Social and emotional wellbeing refers to the way a person thinks and feels about themselves and others. It incorporates behavioural and emotional strengths and is a facet of child development.1

In broad terms, social and emotional wellbeing is the foundation for physical and mental health for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. It is a holistic concept which results from a network of relationships between individuals, family, kin and Community. It also recognises the importance of connection to Land, culture, spirituality and ancestry, and how these affect the individual.2

Social and emotional development involves the development of skills required to:

  • identify and understand one’s feelings
  • read and understand the emotional states of other people
  • manage strong emotions and how they are expressed
  • regulate behaviour
  • develop empathy
  • establish and maintain relationships.3

A child’s family plays an important role in supporting their opportunities for social and emotional development.


This course draws on the latest research, clinical insights, and the lived experience of our child and family partners. We’d like to thank the professionals and families who played an integral role in shaping this course, generously offering their time, wisdom and unique perspectives.

A quick guide to Emerging Minds Learning

Watch the following video for a quick guide on how to navigate Emerging Minds Learning courses.


  1. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2012). Social and emotional wellbeing: Development of a Children’s Headline Indicator. Cat. no. PHE 158. Canberra: AIHW.
  2. Commonwealth of Australia. (2017). National strategic framework for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ mental health and social and emotional wellbeing. Canberra: Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, p.6.
  3. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2009). A picture of Australia’s children. Cat. no. PHE 112. Canberra: AIHW.

Ready to start learning?

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