September is a time for transitions for school children and many can find this time very stressful. This is especially true for pupils with special educational needs, and in particular – autism. This is because of an impairment in flexibility of thought, and anxiety linked to the unknown, common in many people with autism. So, what can YOU do to ease September transitions for children you live/work with? We’ve put together some top tips, as well as links to useful resources so you can be as prepared as possible for the new term.
Top 10 Transition Tips
Educational transitions can be from an early years setting to a primary school, primary to secondary or secondary school to college or work setting. However, it should be remembered that smaller transitions are also taking place. These might include moving to a new year group or Key Stage, or working with a new member of staff, or even having a classroom redecorated. Individuals who struggle to cope with change will therefore find this to be a stressful time of year. Here are some top tips for managing transitions:
1 – Attend a transition day
One of the most useful things you can do is attend a transition day with your child so that they can experience their new environment, and meet teachers, support staff and other class members before the new term officially starts. Some of the ideas below could be done on a transition day – such as getting a map or taking photos. Do not underestimate the usefulness of a transition day – especially for children with special needs – it can be of huge value. If the school or college your child is moving to is not offering any, ask if you can come in for a visit – and don’t be afraid to ask for a second or third one if you feel it is necessary.
2 – Get a map
Before starting a new school, see if you can obtain a copy of a map. Spend some time looking at it and discussing what each room is for and which ones your child is likely to use. An idea for an activity over summer might be to build a model of the school from cardboard, or to use chalk to draw a map out on the patio, but bigger so that you can have a “virtual tour” of the new environment and start to get used to where things are. This could easily be turned into a game by asking your child to show you where to get an apple (the canteen) or where you can find books (the library) etc. A prize/reward for each question answered correctly would help to start building confidence in using the new environment.
3 – Practice getting ready
By doing some “dry runs” of the new routine in the morning, you can help your child to prepare for the term ahead. So, if you are stressed about how you will fit in breakfast, packing the school bag and getting dressed and ready for school, or potential meltdowns taking place – practice! On the first try, allow as much time as needed, and then on subsequent attempts, turn it into a game by running a timer and seeing how close you and your child can get to being ready “on time”. Rewarding each faster run with a small prize, leading to an ultimate “treat” such as a day trip or time doing something desirable when you are ready on time (or independently), can mean that by the time September comes around, the morning routine is a breeze for everyone.
4 – Keep in touch with friends
If there are friends going through the same transition, it can be useful to keep in touch with them during the summer holidays and talk about what September has in store. Arranging to go into school with these friends on the first day, or to meet up with them during the day can help bring some familiarity to a day which will be full of new (and potentially stressful) situations.
5 – Know the rules
When starting a new school, see if you can have a copy of the rules ahead of time so that you and your child can start to get used to them. Understanding expectations can really help to minimise the stress of potentially “getting in trouble for doing something wrong” for many young people. This could be turned into a game by putting scenarios on flash cards and asking your child to tell you if they are against the rules or not. You can use your imagination and make some of these silly and fun ideas in order to keep your child engaged in the game
6 – Take photos
Some schools will allow you to take photos of the new classroom, or key sites around the school. By putting these up on the wall at home, your child can see them every day and start to recognise each part of the school. In this way, when they start in September, they will be reassured when they see things they recognise in their new surroundings. You can also use the photos as a game, giving quiz questions in much the same way as you might when using your map (see above).
7 – Practice the journey
Depending on where you live and how you travel, practicing the journey to a new school might be worth doing – especially if you want your child to be able to do it independently at some point. Remember that doing this in the school holidays might sometimes give a false impression of what the trip might be like though – as trains and buses will get much busier once term goes back!
8 – Join a club or do a new activity
Not only would this be a useful idea for staying busy over the holidays anyway, but it can also serve the purpose of getting your child used to meeting new people. This could prove to be of value to all children, but particularly those with autism or special needs where meeting new teachers or support staff is likely to prove to be challenging.
9 – Make sure staff understand your child’s needs
Effective transition planning isn’t just about making sure that pupils are ready for the new term – staff need to be prepared too! So, if you have not already had a meeting with your child’s new teacher or support workers then it’s time to make sure that they have copies of Statement/EHP paperwork and understand how best to work with your child. Although this is number nine on the list, do not underestimate the importance of this step!
10 – Use the holidays to de-stress
Having given the ideas listed above, it’s important to keep it all in perspective. Although planning for the new term is important, taking time out during the holidays to de-stress is also crucial. Take time to do activities that will help your child to relax, and they are more likely to start the new term in a relaxed state of mind. Find a balance between preparation activities and relaxing activities and with any luck – September will be a breeze!
There are plenty of excellent resources on the net which support transition planning. Two which I found particularly useful when writing this article are:
1 – Transition Toolkit – provided by the Autism Education Trust
2 – Moving On – provided by the Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities
Are you looking for help to find special needs staff or a new job? Talk to Axcis, the SEND recruitment specialists.