Early Learning and Childcare (ELC) to Primary 1

Transition from the early learning setting to primary school can be both exciting and daunting for any learner and their family. A change in environment, the geography of the school and volume of people each bring their own challenges. This can sometimes lead to a period of distress as the autistic learner tries to adjust to their new environment and routines.

Early transition planning is essential to support autistic learners and help them prepare and settle in to their new primary 1 class. This will require effective collaborative partnership working and opportunities provided in the pre-school year for meetings, visits and the sharing of information. 

Supporting transitions for autistic children into Primary 1 

  • Talk to parents as early as possible. They will have knowledge about their child’s likes and dislikes and may be able to provide some useful strategies
  • Familiarise yourself with the child’s early years’ file as this contains important information that will help develop understand of the child’s needs
  • Build in time for liaison with all of the staff and agencies involved with the learner
  • Set up a way to communicate with parents and other agencies that is easy for all to use and not too time consuming for anyone
  • Consult with staff who previously worked with the child
  • Find out what the child really likes e.g. trains, cars, computer and use that as a way to increase the desirability of the setting for the child
  • Provide copies of the school visual timetable for home
  • Remember you and other staff in the primary school may be strangers to the child and relationships of trust, respect and security needs to be built
  • Within the transition planning, establish if the child need assistance with toileting, which toilet the child should use, how will they ask to go to the toilet, who will take them
  • Within the transition planning explore how to support the child with the new routines which occur in primary school for example:
    • Cloakroom routines 
    • Following instructions such as where to sit on the carpet 
    • Lunch arrangements
    • End of the day. 

This approach can provide an opportunity to help the child develop routines and support planning. It may seem trivial but habits are hard to break with an autistic child once routines have been established.

All support should be anticipatory.

Examples: What can happen after the child has joined Primary 1

The child does not respond when I am talking to him/her

  • The child may not know you are talking to them:
    • Use their name at the beginning of each instruction 
    • Ensure you get a response before continuing with the instruction e.g. a glance or a verbal word. Remember lack of eye contact from an autistic   learner does not mean they are not listening or processing information. 
  • Allow plenty of time for the child to process what has been said. Try not to rephrase immediately as this may add confusion. 

At the end of the school day the child just stands by the door without packing anything up

  • Ensure the child knows the routine 
  • Check the child has the skills to do these tasks 
  • Prepare a visual schedule which details all the things that have to be done i.e. get bag from cloakroom, put reading book in bag etc. 

The child starts off tasks well in class but loses motivation very quickly and refuses to finish them

  • Use incentives to motivate the child. This should be something that the child really enjoys. Perhaps have a choice of various incentives during the day e.g. at the 3 definite intervals in the school day. 

The child is settled into the routine within the class but becomes stressed/distressed when visiting staff or supply teachers are in the class

  • Have photographs up in the classroom or/and the child could have his/ her own copy of all the teachers that will be involved with the class
  • If a supply teacher is needed without any notice, then perhaps a member of staff that the child knows well and trusts could introduce the teacher
  • Make sure there is key information about the child available to all members of staff working with the child
  • Build in regular consultation times with support staff to discuss any problems that are occurring in the first few days Work together on these problems so that the child can clearly see continuity and consistency of approach
  • If a member of support staff is timetabled to be with a child during a lesson then it is important that consultation is done to ensure everyone involved is clear about their roles. 

The child seems to be distracted by the labels on his/ her uniform

  • Discuss this issue with parents and possibly cut off the labels or stitch them flat on to the clothing. 

The child is finding it difficult to make friends

  • Talk to all of the children about friendships and the fact that everyone is unique and special
  • Talk to the parents and discuss the language that they will consent to you using with the class regarding the child. Some parents may be open with the idea of using the term autistic and so this could be explained to the children. 

Behaviours that other children notice as different such as hand flapping, noises, playing with toys in repetitive ways, appearing to ignore others communication

  • Talk to the children in the class either to reassure or know how to help
  • There are many books available for use in classes to help promote discussion and understanding about difference or autism
  • Discuss with speech and language therapist or outreach teachers about the possibility of making a Peer Passport
  • Always check with the parents and child (if appropriate) beforehand. 

The child has completed a task in their early learning setting but is not managing any class tasks in primary one class: 

  • Ensure that the curriculum is accessible and appropriately differentiated for the child
  • Be flexible and make the child feel comfortable.
  • The new environment or the break over the holiday may make the child feel anxious 
  • Ensure there are lots of opportunities for over learning and generalisation.

Parents/ carers are saying the child is upset when they get home from school:

  • Create planned breaks to the child’s schedule that allow an opportunity to de-stress
  • Appreciate that the child may have worked hard in school so behaviours at home can deteriorate because of this – they may be very tired when they get home and find it very hard to regulate their emotions
  • Keep communication open, consider the use of an agreed method of communication between home and school which is quick and easy to engage with, e.g. a home school diary, short email etc
  • Sending home a weekly timetable at the start of each term can be helpful to parents/carers to enable them to structure their questions to their child about their day at school. Ensure that parents/carers know who to contact in the school and that there are effective communication methods to support this.
Situations which may require some additional planning

At lunch time

  • The lunch hall may be alarming for an autistic learner, with its busy atmosphere and higher noise level than a classroom
  • Prepare the child with a visual timetable or having a buddy system for the child so that security is given
  • Try to find a quieter area of the hall or begin lunch earlier/ later to miss most of the noise.


  • Playgrounds can appear a little overwhelming.  A buddy system can be a very positive support
  • Ensure the child knows what to do in the playground – perhaps a member of support staff could teach them some simple games at a different time and take the time to transfer this to playtime. 

Wet playtimes and lunch times

These can obviously happen at very short notice. 

  • A list of activities to choose from may be helpful which could include ‘eat snack’ and ‘go to the toilet’
  • Also a visual may be made up to show what the child should do when the bell rings at the end of playtime
  • Using a different room to the base classroom for wet playtimes can also be helpful if available. 


The gym hall can be very daunting for any child and particularly an autistic learner. The child may see the empty space and want to run around or spin. 

  • Prepare the child for going to the gym hall beforehand with short visits with an adult or parent and have a visual timetable for what is going to happen in the gym hall
  • PE sessions may need to be built up to increase tolerance
  • The child may need to be taught that the hall can be used for different purposes. 


Many children autistic learners enjoy music and have skills for rhythm, however sensory issues could be an issue with noise and the variety of textures of instruments.

  • Perhaps allow the autistic child to touch/ explore the instruments in his/her own time before the lesson
  • A visual for the lesson would be helpful if the child is anxious
  • Tolerance may need to be built up gradually. 


Try to include the child as much as possible in assemblies. 

  • If the child is distressed or anxious then perhaps try for the beginning and/or end
  • However short the experience, it should be positive and meaningful
  • If sitting in assemblies is not working, have a short break from it and go back to it at another time. 

School fancy dress days

Attending parties in school especially with fancy dress costumes can be quite frightening for autistic learners.

  • Discuss this beforehand with school staff and parents to explore the potential levels of stress this may cause the autistic learner and plan appropriately
  • Have a clear visual plan for the party. No uniform days can also provoke anxiety: preparation is key.

Visitors to the school can make a child with autism anxious

  • Beforehand speak to the visitor or company that are coming to the school and find out about noise levels, props or surprises they may have planned. This knowledge can be used to prepare the child in advance for what will happen
  • Again, discuss the appropriateness of the visit and potential stress levels of the child beforehand with parents and members of staff. 


  • The anticipatory planning duties should always be followed when arranging trips to ensure the autistic learner (and all learners who require additional support) are not discriminated against). These should be prepared in advance with the child in consultation with parents and staff, particularly if there are potential difficulties with phobias etc…
  • Liaise with staff at the place you are going to visit. Consider if the venue is appropriately accessible and if a risk assessment is required for the travel and or the venue. Establishments which have frequent school visits may have their own risk assessment protocol which they may be happy to share. 

Sports Day

Autistic learners may feel anxious and unsure of what is expected of them. 

  • Prepare the child beforehand and perhaps allocate them a task on the day
  • Also discuss with parents so that everyone can work together to relieve any worries.