Starting secondary school can be both an exciting and challenging time for you and your child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Planning, preparation and good communication between you and the school can help make the transition into and out of secondary school successful.
Your child’s school transition needs
Transitions of any kind can be difficult for children and teenagers with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
Starting at secondary school is a big change for any child, and particularly for children with ASD. To make things easier for your child, the transition will need careful planning and might need to happen in stages. The way you get your child ready for school transition will depend on her particular needs.
One way to help prepare your child for change is with a transition plan.
Transition plans outline:
- what change is about to occur (starting secondary school), where (what school) and when (Term 1, 2013)
- what needs to be done, who will do it and when
- how your child has coped with other transitions in his life
- what things have helped your child cope with other transitions – for example, visual sequences, Social Stories™, transition stories, sensory supports, short movies and so on
- how your child will be supported during the school day once he has made the transition.
A good transition plan will help your child move successfully to the new school environment, accept new teachers and staff and cope with change throughout the day.
Developing your child’s transition plan
You’ll need to work with school staff, teachers and other support workers or aides to develop your child’s transition plan.
It’s important to start making the plan early, so that you can be sure there’s enough time for your child and the school to do the things in the plan.
Things for your child to do before starting school
Here are some things to put in your child’s transition plan, as part of her preparation before starting at the new secondary school.
- Visit the new school several times over a couple of terms or even longer until your child feels ready to go regularly.
- Mark down important dates on a calendar or diary and use the calendar to show your child how many days until the next visit. Count down the days.
- Plan activities or areas of the school to focus on at each school visit.
- Plan who your child will meet at each visit, and where.
- Take photos of the new classrooms, library, canteen, school fences and gates, school signs and so on.
- Make a map of the school and use colours to highlight important areas of the school – for example, the classroom, quiet room, photography club room and so on.
- Talk to the school about setting up a mentor or buddy system.
- Talk to the school about setting up a student support group for your child.
- Hand over existing supports (such as visuals or other information used to support your child in different activities or situations) to school staff, including the supports you use at home.
- Talk with school staff about how you and the school will communicate.
Things for the school to do before your child starts
The school might need to make some changes to help your child adjust to the new learning environment. These should be included in the transition plan.
These might be changes to the classroom environment (physical set-up, lighting, noise levels), the subjects your child can study, or the extracurricular activities the school offers. The school might also need to organise support services for your child.
The plan might also include the school’s strategies to help your child with break times and free time. For example, your child could be excused from class five minutes early to avoid the lunch time rush at the lockers, or spend time in the library or computer room at lunch time. You can discuss these strategies with the school ahead of time.
After your child starts school
Your child’s transition plan will also need to include how your child will be supported during the school day.
Part of this will be plans for helping your child with daily structure and routine, including:
- moving classrooms
- managing books, folders and equipment
- using specialised rooms like the music room and gym
- working with unfamiliar or substitute teachers
- going to school using a different route
- going to school events.
Video Transition to high school
Parents of children with ASD and some education specialists talk about the challenges of moving from primary school to high school. They say it’s good to prepare as much as possible beforehand so there are no surprises. Schools will often have a transition day before the holidays to get children familiar with their new school.
The transition plan might also be useful for planning your child’s next big transition – that is, from secondary school to another educational setting or workplace.
Transition out of school
The transition out of secondary school into volunteer work, employment or other educational settings also needs planning and preparation.
While your child is still at secondary school, you can plan for this transition by using social activities and volunteer and paid work opportunities to help your child build new skills and make contacts.
If your child doesn’t finish school
Some teenagers with ASD might leave school before finishing their studies because they can’t cope with the curriculum, academic expectations or the sensory environment.
Secondary school isn’t the only educational setting your child can attend.
Other places include:
- Technical and Further Education (TAFE) – for example, through a certificate in work education
- Vocational education and training (VET)
- supported services such as disabilities employment agencies.
Your child might find that options such as TAFE or VET are very flexible and accessible. These settings can also give older teenagers hands-on experience working in an area of interest. Some can help your child transition back into secondary school or higher education settings, if that’s what your child wants.