Transitions are on my mind at the moment as I’m busy training for my first triathlon. I’m anxious about how I’m going to manage the transition between swim, bike and run but I know that the secret is in being prepared and making sure I’ve got everything I need in the right place at the right time.
One of life’s major transitions – the move from primary to secondary school – is about to be faced by thousands of children around the country. It’s natural that they will all experience some level of worry and apprehension about this but for many children on the autistic spectrum this transition can be particularly difficult.
Change in itself is a problem because many children with ASD find it difficult to think flexibly and so become anxious about the unknown. They will prefer to stick with the familiar routines established in primary school as they will have difficulty predicting what might happen in the new setting.
A lack of social understanding and the ability to read and understand social cues accurately mean that children with autism may not know how to behave or respond in the many new social situations they will encounter in secondary school.
Add sensory processing difficulties to this mix and it’s easy to see why children on the spectrum can quickly become overwhelmed by the sensory stimulii of this new environment.
Preparation is key
When my own autistic son faced the transition from his small and familiar primary school to a large comprehensive I tried to prepare him as much as possible beforehand. By investing time in preparation now using some of the tips and tricks we’ve listed below, we hope you’ll be able to make those first days and weeks in the new school a lot less worrying for you and your child.
The Autism Education Trust website has a fantastic Transition Toolkit booklet you can download. Although primarily aimed at schools, I found the School Provision and Transition Checklists at the back of the booklet a very useful resource to ensure the right systems and supports were in place.
Top 10 transition tips
1. Make a map of the layout of the school with photographs of important places e.g. school canteen, main hall, classrooms
2. Try to obtain photographs of key staff particularly the teaching assistants that are going to support during lessons
3. Establish a link with a member of staff who can act as a mentor and home-school liaison. Set up a home-school book to pass on information about any worries/concerns or any relevant developments at home.
4. Get used to a homework routine in advance of the new start. Start simply with a 10-15 minute task at a regular time each evening in a quiet environment.
5. Make a visual timetable showing the school day to make lesson order & break times more predictable.
6. Practice the journey to and from school, making sure the child knows the location of bus stops, road-crossings, meeting points or anything else significant on their journey.
7. Familiarise your child with the new uniform and deal with any irritating seams or labels.
8. Practice packing the correct items for school (TomTag is perfect for this!)
9. Use a calendar to count down the days to starting the new school
10. Create a personal profile written with help of your child to include all the information new staff should know about them