Planning school transitions
Diane Adreon, M.A.
Everyone must adjust to new environments at various points of their lives. Adjustments may involve adapting to a new school, a new teacher, or other things that are different than what we are used to. Transitions can be particularly challenging for individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), as they often experience considerable anxiety when faced with new situations. Moreover, many ASD have difficulty understanding the expectations and routines in new environments. School brings many transitions, but the transition from high school to postsecondary education or work is one of the most significant changes that students face. It requires considerable planning over a long period of time, typically several years. In the following we will be discussing the steps required to make school transitions.
In planning transitions it is helpful to assess the similarities and differences between the current and the new environment. All such assessments should include a careful analysis of the expectations in the current environment, as well as the supports and accommodations that are being provided in the current environment. This information should be compared to the expectations and available supports and accommodations in the environment(s) that are being considered for the following year(s).
For younger children, considerations might include safety issues. For example, some children are runners. If the child is a runner, what has been necessary to keep the student safe? In addition, be sure to take into consideration the environmental expectations for maintaining behavior, paying attention, understanding directions, and independence (putting on shoes/socks/zipping coat).
In third to fourth grade, careful attention should be given to the organizational skills, work skills, academic skills, and social/emotional skills necessary to succeed. Organizational skills might include keeping track of homework assignments, gathering materials for assignments, and keeping track of papers (including communication going from school to home and home to school).
The following are some of the work skills to consider: (a) Does the student need minimal or repeated prompting to begin working on an assignment? (b) Once started, will the student continue working independently? (c) How much clarification of instructions or other types of individual assistance does the student require during various activities? Academic skills to consider include the students’ reading comprehension, handwriting, and written composition skills. Considerations in the social/emotional arena include (a) how will this student perform socially with less direct supervision during unstructured times? (b) Is the student a natural “target” for other students? (c) Can this student work successfully in a group?
(d) How much does group work need to be structured in order for this student to be successful? (e) How well does the student handle changes? (f) What types of changes have been difficult for the student to handle? (g) How many changes will the student have to deal with in the current environment? (h) What specific supports have been necessary to help the student handle changes appropriately? (i) What tends to upset the student? (j) Does the student recognize when he/she is upset? (k) Does the student follow an adult’s instructions to remove him/herself from a situation? (l) What behaviors has the student typically demonstrated when frustrated or overwhelmed? (m) What has been necessary in order for the student to calm down?
It is also important to identify and assess problem situations that may arise during unstructured or less structured times of the day. Unstructured or less structured times include the bus, before and after school, field trips, assemblies, and transitions times between classes, lunch, physical education, and recess. Consider the predictability of these environments, as well as the social demands, sensory issues, and motor expectations.
Organizational, work, social/emotional, and academic demands continue to increase as students move on to middle and high school. When going from elementary to middle school, the environment changes significantly. However, the process of evaluating the necessary
• Identify a primary school contact with whom the parent can bring up problems or issues that might arise.
• Schedule dates and content of trainings for school personnel prior to the first day of school when possible.
• Plan orientation activities for the student.
Suggested Orientation Activities
Familiarize the student with schedule in accommodations and identification of the similarities and differences between the current environment and potential next environment(s).
Strategies for School Transitions
The following is a list of proactive strategies that can set the stage for a successful transition.
• Begin transition planning early in the year. Have current school personnel assess current environment, student’s strengths and challenges, as well as necessary supports and accommodations.
• Involve personnel/representation from the next grade or new school in the transitional planning meetings.
• If applicable, visit different programs/schools to determine appropriate placement options. Include school personnel who are currently working with the child when possible.
• Compare similarities and differences in school environments and needed supports and accommodations for these environments.
• Decide on the next environment. Modify the IEP/504 Plan to address necessary supports and accommodations in advance.
• Provide the student with pictures and names of all teachers in advance. School yearbooks can be a helpful resource.
• Arrange for the student to meet teacher(s) & other school personnel prior to first day of school.
• If the student will be attending a new school, visit the school several times over the summer.
• Familiarize the student with school routines such as going through the cafeteria line, waiting for the school bus, and following rules when walking in the hallways.
Diane Adreon, M.A. is Associate Director University of Miami/Nova Southeastern University Center for Autism & Related Disabilities and co-author of Asperger Syndrome and Adolescence: Practical Solutions for School Success