Solutions: Supporting autistic students through transition

Paul Scales sets out the key considerations to ensure a safe and comfortable move to secondary for pupils with autism

Paul Scales sets out the key considerations to ensure a safe and comfortable move to secondary for pupils with autism

17 Jul 2023, 17:00

Supporting an autistic student transition from primary to secondary school can be a crucial time for their academic and social development. Here are a few strategies that may help facilitate a successful transition:

Early preparation

Begin preparing the student for the transition well in advance and arrange for them to visit more than once before they start. Discuss with the new school whether a phased entry, for a few hours a day or a few days a week, will help and be possible at the start. Meet and take photos of any key people who will be involved in the student’s transition, and create a book they can refer to, to help relieve anxiety. Share social stories about what they will do and who they will meet. 

Visual supports 

Alongside photos, visual supports, such as coded timetables and site maps, will also help them understand what to expect and can reinforce verbal communication. Use clear language and show outcomes as well as the stages of a process. For example, if you are using a visual support to explain a bus journey to school, make sure you use pictures of the whole process, including arriving at school. Mark the day of the change on a calendar and encourage your student to count down to that day too.  

Individualised transition plans

Ask the student what matters to them, and collaborate with their parents or carers, teachers and support staff to develop an individualised transition plan. This plan should address the student’s unique needs, including any necessary accommodations, modifications, and supports. It should cover information about the student’s preferences, capabilities, difficulties and what causes them anxiety, as well as any strategies and behavioural approaches that have been successful in the past. 

Transition support team

Work with the new school to establish a team to support transition that includes relevant professionals, such as SENDCO, teachers, counsellors and therapists. This team can provide ongoing support, monitor progress, and make necessary adjustments to the student’s plan. Having a key worker or transition coordinator at the new school can help make this process more effective and ensure continuity of support.

What the new school can do 

  • Re-assess levels of attainment. Even though this may have been provided, things can change over time and further adaptations and support may be required in the new setting.  
  • If the student uses a communication system, then it’s important this is made available. Some autistic students find it difficult to transfer skills to new situations, so having a familiar means of communication in place is important.  
  • Consider the student’s sensory sensitivities and identify strategies to minimise sensory overload in the new environment. This may include providing a quiet space, allowing sensory breaks, or using sensory tools like headphones or fidget toys.
  • Identify opportunities for the student to engage with their peers. Social skills training, such as role-playing and explicit instruction, can help them develop strategies for making friends and navigating social situations.
  • Involve parents or carers, who should always be consulted and kept informed of actions taken to help the student, as well as any outcome.  
  • Keep in touch with the feeder school, who may have additional insights and experiences to share.

Remember, every autistic student is unique, so individualise the support based on their specific needs and strengths. Regular evaluation and adjustments will help ensure a smooth and successful transition. And it goes without saying: patience and belief will be critical.

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One comment

  1. Patrick Derwin

    Following the criteria highlighted in this post, might I suggest that the monitoring of the individuals progress be carefully evaluated, with notes being made as to what sort of responses where are being given to the various stimuli the student is experiencing,
    Quite often the little tells, go unnoticed yet can be the, grit in the eye, that sets off a negative reaction and rejection, which for some ìs difficult to handle.
    Over all be honest.