Adelaide West Special Education Centre

Touch Policy


Touch policy

Touch is essential in order to provide sensitive and good quality education and care for the students whom we support.  Used in context, and with empathy, touch supports the development of our natural interactions with the students we educate and care for.

It is also important to remember that students at Adelaide West Special Education Centre belong to a sector of society who are at higher than usual risk of abuse.

Staff need to be vigilant for physical or sexual abuse as communication difficulties, greater dependency and the larger number of carers make our students vulnerable to such exploitation.

Staff often have concerns and fears about the use of touch for various reasons.  This policy clarifies the reasons and conditions for touch. 

This school based policy is consistent with the Key Duty of Care Requirements as outlined in the DECD Guidelines ‘Protective Practices for Staff in their Interactions with Students.’  This document identifies professional boundaries for all who work with students at Adelaide West Special Education Centre and how they are to be maintained and documented.


Touch is important and may be used routinely for any of the following reasons:


To reinforce other communication (e.g. hand on shoulder when speaking) or to function as the main form of communication in itself.  In addition, to respond non-verbally or, to another person’s own use of physical contact for communication and to make social connections.  This is particularly likely to occur during Intensive Interaction* or day to day greetings (hand shakes, hugs etc.).

 Educational reasons

  • As part of the process of establishing the fundamentals of communication* for students at early communication levels, and to direct children in educational tasks and essential skills.
  • As support or guidance, for example, during transitions between activities and during swimming or P.E. sessions.
Emotional reasons
  • To communicate affection and warmth, to give reassurance and to communicate security and comfort.
  • To enable the person to develop understanding of these positive emotions and the ability to communicate them.

Medical care

Personal care support

Touch policy

Touch is necessary in order to provide personal care to students e.g. toileting, dressing/undressing.

 Physical support

To provide physical support to students who have physical disabilities (e.g. transfers in and out of wheelchairs) and in order to guide people between places, rooms or activities.


Play activities naturally include touch.  People of any age who are at early levels of development are likely to be quite tactile and physical.


  • To protect students and staff from danger by physically intervening and managing challenging behaviours including the use of restraint, while following the recognised guidelines and policies of the school.  These stipulate that restraint only be used to ensure the safety of the student or others or to assist the student to focus in learning situations. 
  • Restraint is not to be used routinely/for convenience as it limits exploratory learning.

Securing students for safe transportation

 Therapy and to maintain and extend physical health

(e.g. massage, sensory stimulation, physiotherapy, Mobility Opportunities Via Education (MOVE)** etc.) provided either by the therapist or by another member of staff carrying out a therapy or MOVE programme or following therapy advice.


Staff need to be clear and open about why they are using touch and be able to explain their practice. 

The needs of the student are paramount when determining the use of touch in their learning and care programmes. Where possible, students need to be aware of the difference between professional and personal touch.  Staff must model and, if possible, teach protective practices in their use of touch.  Where a student cannot be taught, protective practices strategies can be shared with students’ families and advocates. Staff must respond to inappropriate touch of staff and others towards students as identified in the DECD Guidelines ‘Protective Practices for Staff in their Interactions with Students’.  Appropriate responses include discussing what the implications of professional guidelines around touch are for staff working with students, to making mandated reports.

There must be clarity and transparency in issues of touch.  Wherever possible, a description and rationale for physical contact and the details of it should be documented in the student’s care plan following discussion with parents and other relevant people.

The use of touch should be discussed openly and regularly between staff as well the student’s family, and any other advocates.

Students of any age can want and need physical support/touch. When considering the issue of age-appropriateness; it is important to remember that the developmental age, emotional and communication needs of the individual are far more relevant than actual age.

The learning needs of the student are the primary considerations when determining appropriate touch 

As far as possible, the student involved should consent to any touch given and staff should be sensitive to any verbal and non-verbal communication that might indicate that they don’t want to be touched.  It should always be considered by staff that for touch to provide positive experiences it should be consensual.

Staff should be sensitive to any changes in the student’s behaviour (e.g. over-excitement or negative reactions) that might indicate the need to reduce or withdraw touch; particularly during play or Intensive Interaction.  Significant changes in behaviour should be clearly recorded.

The students whom we support should be given opportunities to touch each other while interacting and playing as would happen naturally for any child or young person.  Attention should always be given to ensure that both parties are happy with this.

Staff must be aware of potential hazards in respect of students emerging sexuality.  Staff are expected to exercise sensitivity and professionalism in their response to student sexualised behaviour.

If staff are in any doubt about issues concerning appropriate touch or observe any practice that causes concerns they should follow DECD guidelines as described in ‘Protective Practices for Staff’ in their Interactions with Students’.  As mandated reporters all SSOs and teachers are required to report abuse or suspected abuse to the Child Abuse Hotline (phone: 131478).

The best method of prevention of abuse is transparency, dialogue, openness and teamwork.  Staff should monitor and assist each other in carrying out their work.


Touch is necessary and desirable as part of the development, emotional wellbeing, care, education and quality of life of the students we support.

 This policy outlines when this may be needed and gives staff the direction and security for this to occur positively and productively, while still protecting the students in our care.

 Policy ratified on:        13th March 2012 by Governing Council

Review:                       13th March 2014


*Intensive Interaction:

Intensive Interaction is an approach to teaching the pre-speech fundamentals of communication to people who are pre-intentional communicators; students who are difficult to reach (that is, seeming to prefer to be away from human contact); people with severe and multiple learning difficulties; students with Autism Spectrum Disorders, particularly those with developmental delay in levels of ability and performance.  It is based on the model of caregiver-infant interaction and is characterised by regular, frequent interactions between the teacher and the person with severe learning difficulties.  It develops the ‘fundamentals of communication’ which include:

  • enjoying being with another person
  • being able to attend to that person
  • concentration and attention span
  • carrying out sequences of activity with the other person
  • taking turns in exchanges of behaviour
  • sharing personal space
  • using and understanding eye contacts
  • using and understanding facial expressions
  • using and understanding physical contacts
  • using and understanding non-verbal communication
  • using vocalisations with meaning
  • learning to regulate and control arousal levels

  **MOVE - Mobility Opportunities Via Education (MOVE).  MOVE is a top down activity based curriculum designed to teach the basic functional motor skills for adult life in home and in community environments.  It combines natural body mechanics with an instructional process designed to help students acquire increased amounts of independence necessary to sit, stand and walk.

 Report any abuse or suspected abuse to the Child Abuse Report Line on 131478