School to School

Moving to a new school is a big event in any young person’s life. For autistic learners transferring to another school can cause fear or anxiety for the young person Working together, parents and staff can help make this move a successful one by keeping in mind that the autistic young person needs predictability.

Transition planning to support a school move 

It is important to share and discuss with an autistic learner in a way which is appropriate to their developmental level, why they are moving to a new school. The autistic learner may not understand or appreciate the reasons for a change of school but try and talk about the positive aspects of attending a different school. During the discussions with the parents/carers establish if these discussions have taken place prior to the move. School staff may need to be prepared to discuss feelings around the move with the learner and the learner’s perceptions of the move. 

Supporting predictability

Starting a new school is stressful for anyone, but careful preparation is the key to success.

Creating predictability about the school day will lessen anxiety and fear. There will be new challenges to face in a new school, but a solid support system and appropriate coping strategies will make the transition to a new school easier. Parents and children need to know what support system the new school has and know who the key people in the school who can help when needed such as the Head, Depute Head, Guidance Teacher, secretary, early years’ worker, support assistant.

Discuss with parents/carers if special materials / resources were created for their child  at the old school. It will be helpful to contact the previous school as new knowledge can be built upon previous knowledge and skills and familiarity will lessen anxiety for the learner. 

Predictability lessens anxiety. Familiarity with the new school environment and routines through visual supports can make a new school transition easier. Here are some ideas to create predictability:

  • Offer the family and the learner a tour of the building and classrooms
  • Provide a floor plan of the school and label relevant rooms
  • Provide photos of relevant areas. i.e. playground, classroom, cloakroom, hall etc.
  • Provide photos of teaching and office staff – these may be in the school handbook 
  • The family may assemble these photos into a scrapbook and label them. The book can be looked at a week or two before school starts. It can also be a reminder about the school day for the first few weeks until new routines become familiar
  • Provide the family with a copy of the school handbook link to web page, school app (as age appropriate) etc. 
  • Provide a checklist of school routines. The family may tape inside bag/folder/homeschool diary or have a copy at home somewhere easy to see
  • Let family know what the new school uniform/PE clothing requirements are
  • Ensure all staff who will be in contact with the autistic learner are aware of the strengths, development needs and interests of the child.

If the child is to have a support assistant, it is a good idea for parent to meet with this person before the move to new school to discuss learning styles, sensory issues and strategies to alleviate anxiety. A support assistant needs to know what motivates the child to learn and stay on task. For example, using a special interest can engage a child in the learning process.

New class teacher / support assistant should discuss with parents a list of key phrases or certain behaviours and what these mean. For example: 
‘My son says, “Do you want to play some more?”’ when he wants a task to end. He constantly repeats the question when he does not understand it’. 

There are often pre-warning signs that occur before a meltdown happens and these can be shared as well as successful/unsuccessful preventative strategies. It is also important to discuss sleep habits, medications, and special dietary needs. The support assistant is the person at the child’s side and can often be the first person to spot difficulties.

All About Me Profile

  • Strengths 
  • Favourite and least favourite subjects in school
  • Helpful accommodations (using a computer instead of writing, breaking down learning into smaller parts, visual schedules, extra time needed for projects, prompts)
  • Special interests (transportation, ceiling fans, trains, dinosaurs – whatever is motivating)
  • All about the family (siblings, parents, grandparents, important people in the child’s life)
  • Activities outside school
  • Anxieties/worries in the school day (PE, lunchroom, playtime, reading, writing, noisy hallways)
  • Favorite things to do at home (read books, play x-box games, spend time with siblings etc.).