Learn About Navigating Autism Back to School Transitions
by Jaime Friedman
September 03, 2022
Transitions in Education
At school, students are constantly making small transitions throughout the day and every year, into higher levels of education. Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder and related disorders often have a difficult time making the same transitions compared to their neurotypical peers due to several factors.
Transitions occur when someone makes cognitive adjustments to redirect their attention. Or it could be explained as stopping one activity/routine and starting another. Someone with Autism may struggle with leaving behind old routines, while others may be anxious by the possibility of new sensory experiences in an unfamiliar setting. Whatever the obstacle, parents of children with Autism can implement strategies to prepare their children for upcoming school transition.
Educational transitions come in many forms; there are transitions between lessons, class subjects, grade levels, and between kindergarten, elementary, middle and high school. Our children become ready for these transitions in school by practicing the same skills used to switch activities and refocus their attention.
With the new schoolyear approaching, parents should start the planning process to help their child prepare and to inform any new teachers of their child’s strengths, weaknesses and abilities. This year might be your child’s first time in kindergarten, first time receiving special education services or their first time back to in-person learning since the start of the pandemic. In any circumstance, teachers and behavioral health specialists must learn about the child before they can effectively offer support. Even though students may have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) in place, speaking with the teacher directly can help support the information in the document and to understand the student on a more personal level.
Strategies to Ease School Transitions
There are several tips and strategies that can be used for smoother school transitions for children with Autism and other related disorders. Implementation of these strategies is recommended before the schoolyear begins, as they usually involve planning and practice.
An easy first-step parents can take could be to discuss any upcoming changes with their child directly. If the child is non-vocal, pictures could be used to visualize the change in schedule. To ease the adjustment to new teachers, a child can meet with their new teacher(s) and educational support team before school begins. This will aide in the pairing process that is so important to supporting children with special needs.
Visual schedules and calendars can be utilized to help ease the anxiety commonly associated with unknown changes in schedule or with a new daily routine in general. The use of a timer, whether an actual electronic device or a sand timer may be useful to cue the end of an activity.
Perhaps the best way to prepare a child for a transition in school is to practice like they are already in school. Parents can begin to normalize daily school routines by implementing the desired morning and nighttime routines before the schoolyear starts. In this scenario, parents are able to start the transition process as early as possible and offer as much support as they see fit.