Primary 7 to Secondary School

The transition from primary to secondary school is a major change in a young person’s life but can be even more challenging for autistic learners. It involves a large number of changes which may include:

  • Dealing with a much larger number of pupils
  • Dealing with an increase in the number of classes and subjects
  • Different travel arrangement to get to and from school
  • Being the youngest at the new school
  • More teachers and their different approaches
  • A new and often much larger building
  • New timetables
  • New and different routines
  • Coping with subjects they have not encountered before
  • A longer working day, taking into account travel time. 

Supporting transitions for autistic children into secondary school 

  • Families and autistic learners should play a key role in this transition. They should be part of the planning process and transition meetings and may participate in an enhanced transition programme with the secondary school
  • Enhanced transition might involve extra visits to the secondary school. It can help some learners to have a task/project to do during the visit e.g. checking the temperature in key places
  • In line with legislation, transitions should be planned well in advance: this may mean the first formal planning meeting with the secondary school could take place in Primary 6
  • It is crucial that all agencies work together to ensure a smooth transition for the autistic learner
  • It is important that staff in secondary schools are made aware of autistic learners and access their learner profiles
  • The lead professional in the transition process should draw up a transition plan detailing learner strengths and areas where additional support may be required. This should also include any sensory issues experienced by the learner
  • Ensure that the transition plan is appropriately broken down into small, manageable steps if needed
  • Write a social story about transitioning from school to school. Highlight the big changes that may cause anxiety such as waking up earlier, taking the bus, or eating lunch at school rather than at home.
Some aspects for consideration


  • Ensure the learner has a clear, colour coded timetable. Give a copy to the family so they have the opportunity to discuss daily activities (they may need more). This can help decrease anxiety about ‘what happens next’ and reduce questions  
  • Provide the learner with an additional hard copy of their timetable to stick in their diary
  • Print off spare copies of their timetables. 

Navigating the school

Provide a map of the school layout. Use highlighters to colour code areas and routes between classrooms on a map of the school and colour code textbooks and resources for curricular areas to match timetable/map. This promotes personal organisation, independence and reduces anxiety about what resources are relevant for subjects/for each day. An example of a map has been developed by the Welsh NHS. Click the link ‘here‘ to access the website.   

Sharing the learning outcomes 

Practitioners should consider having lesson aims or tasks on the whiteboard as this makes the student aware of the structure of the lesson and what and how much they have to do.

Transitioning between classes

Information on class to class transitions can be found here. 

  • Give a 5 minute warning prior to the end of class to prepare for the transition.
    This might be a verbal signal, a visual signal or both. Giving time to pack up and transition from one class to another a few minutes earlier than others benefits some learners. This can avoid many issues related to busy, noisy corridors and allow time to organise themselves for next lesson. Entering an area earlier before noise builds up (e.g. lunch hall, assembly) as some learners might find it hard to cope with loud noise. Gradually build up time in the noisier area.

Coping with the unexpected 

Use prompt cards to support independence in unexpected situations. They could answer: 
‘What if….?’  e.g. I lose my dinner money / I forget my PE kit, no one turns up to run me home. 

  • The instructions remind the learner what to do in a particular situation and should help reduce anxiety. The prompt cards should be specific to the individual
  • Review the use of the cards regularly and add if other situations have arisen. Explain to learners what will happen in clear, precise language if an unexpected event occurs. Many are reassured by knowing what will happen after the unexpected event, e.g. “After the fire drill, we will return to the classroom”
  • Using a ‘surprise’ or ‘change’ card, with previously chosen symbol, at times within the class timetable to support the young person cope with changes.