Supporting transition for children with autistic spectrum conditions
For the majority of children, the transition from primary to secondary school is a time of anticipation and excitement and, even though this will be mixed with a level of anxiety, it is a manageable experience. For children with autistic spectrum conditions (ASC), however, the anxieties may be elevated and their existing coping mechanisms break down, causing a detrimental effect on their academic performance and social-emotional skills.
What are the differences between primary and secondary schools that make transition difficult for students with ASC?
|Primary school||Secondary school|
What difficulties arise from these differences?
- New teachers may be unaware of the difficulties. Expectations will differ from subject to subject, and the child with ASC could experience difficulties understanding and accepting sanctions. The rules of the school, both implicit and explicit, will also be different from those at primary school.
- Less supervision at break times means the child is able to wander around alone without having to seek interaction with others. Making new friends might be problematic as the child will work with different peers throughout the day and the existing support network of adults and children is no longer available.
- Learning the timetable and using the appropriate books and tools requires an increased level of organisation. Some subjects could be new to the child and homework routines may be different in each subject. Many schools operate a two-week timetable cycle, which adds to the confusion.
- There will be a risk of sensory overload from the new environment, for example dinner-hall noise and smells, noise and close proximity to others in corridors, and stair crowds.
- A personal space such as a locker may not be available to store belongings again increasing the demand on personal organisation and ensuring they have the correct equipment each day.
- New students they meet will be unaware of their difficulties, leaving them more open to bullying from others.
- There will be a greater volume and higher expectations of homework, which conflicts with the need of the ASC child to relax and unwind after school.
Strategies that can help a child with ASC
Planning should begin early, and certainly no later than the first term in Year 6
Planning should begin early, and certainly no later than the first term in Year 6. It would be helpful to provide parents with a pack to support the transition process, and offer advice on how they may help their child. A child with ASC will need more visits to the school than the usual one-off transition day.
Information sharing is essential. ASC varies widely from person to person, so information particular to the individual and about the strategies that have proved effective in their current setting is essential. Any staff training needs should be addressed before the transition takes place.
A key worker should be identified to support the child, both in the primary and secondary school, to help re-establish support networks. The key worker can offer both emotional and practical support such as helping if the child gets lost, ensuring the child has the correct equipment each day and has written down any homework tasks, helping to identify clubs and other opportunities for social activities, and being a listening ear for problems such as bullying.
The child will need help in getting around the school. In addition to a map, opportunities should be provided to take photos of the buildings, rooms and teachers to aid memory.
Set up a three-way communication book to share information between home, teachers and the child.
Timetables should be provided as early as possible, preferably before the summer break.
It is good practice to establish a buddy system using older students for all those in Year 7, but this is particularly important for those with ASC.
The increased use of ICT in schools provides many more opportunities to support the transition process, such as the following ideas.
- Safe social networking opportunities can be set up using existing learning platforms.
- Blog diaries can be kept by Year 7 students throughout the year for Year 6 to read.
- Films can be made about the school and local area, and shared through the learning platform.
- Year 6 children can create e-portfolios, which could include work and photo diaries that can be transferred to their new school.
- Activities and challenges may be set by Year 7 students, which require those in Year 6 to find information and respond.
References and useful websites
- Rae T., Smith E. (2011) The SEN Training Portfolio for Teaching Assistants – A Toolkit for Promoting Best Practice and Reflective Learning. Optimus Education
- Steady A., Roberts, R. Moving On Up, Resource Pack for Parents and Carers. Leicestershire Autism Outreach Service
- Stobart, A. Transition toolkit – Helping you support a child through change. Autism Education Trust
- Evangelou M., Taggart B., Sylva K., Melhuish E., Sammons P., Siraj-Blatchford I. (2007) What Makes a Successful Transition From Primary To Secondary School? DCSF