Part one

Georgina is a nine-year-old girl from Syria who arrived in Australia with her parents and brother. She grew up in a village near the border with Iraq and speaks Assyrian and Arabic. In Syria she lived with her parents, brother and maternal grandparents. She attended school in Syria for six months, but from the age of six her parents decided to keep her at home because the area had become too unsafe.

A bomb went off near her school and a number of children in the local area were kidnapped. Following this, her parents fled to Lebanon with Georgina and her brother. Her grandparents decided to stay behind when Georgina left, but when things got really difficult they fled to Turkey.

In Lebanon, Georgina attended school for three months, but it was in French, so she didn’t understand the teacher. She was bullied by other students and threatened, so her parents again decided to keep her at home.

Georgina arrived in Australia seven months ago and has been at school for the last six months. Her Grade 3 teacher has reported that Georgina is finding it difficult to concentrate in class, can’t sit still and is not learning to read or write at the same rate as her peers (including the other students of refugee backgrounds in her class). She is struggling to make friends, appears not to understand social cues and is often alone at lunchtime or recess.

Her teacher said that she often seems like she is daydreaming in class, at times staring out of the window and not focusing on the task. She often gets up out of her chair and wanders around the classroom.

Georgina has been frequently unwell with headaches and stomach aches, and away from school a lot. She gets angry at times and argues with other students, particularly during recess and lunchtime. She has a particular strength in art and her teacher thinks she has a great natural talent. Her classroom teacher is concerned about her lack of progress with reading and writing and is considering referring her for a cognitive assessment.

Part two

Georgina was tested using the test–teach–retest dynamic assessment approach before referring her for a full cognitive assessment. This approach found that she could learn with one-to-one support, so she was not referred for a cognitive assessment.

Her counsellor did a psychological assessment of her mental health and found that she was dissociating, and that this was a large contributing factor to her difficulties learning. In therapy she was able to process traumatic memories from her time in Syria and her periods of dissociation became less frequent.

Georgina’s classroom teacher spent time building a relationship with her, checking in with her each day. When Georgina was asked about what helped her feel safe in Australia, she identified her relationship with her teacher as one of the key factors that helped her. She said that her teacher was kind to her and always explained things if she didn’t understand them.

Georgina still finds reading a bit difficult but is progressing well. Her art teacher encouraged her to enter a competition and she won – a source of pride for her. Her grandparents recently arrived in Australia, which has been great for the whole family. They still have concerns about other family members overseas.