Preparing for secondary school is daunting for any child. But for a child with autism or indeed any form of special eduational need, their transition from the security of a small primary school to a large mainstream secondary needs to be handled with particular care.
Here we set out some top tips.
Two years in advance
• Start gradually introducing the idea to your child that they will be moving to another school.
• Talk to the primary school’s SENCO (Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator) or teacher to determine which schools in the local area would be best to support your child.
• Get your paperwork organised and in date order. Collate relevant school reports to show new settings.
• Visit as many suitable settings as possible.
• Decide what’s important to you and your child beforehand so that you have the same questions to ask of different settings and can compare them.
• Show your child pictures and videos of the school and attend any open days and school events which are held with them.
• Decide both a first and second choice of schools along with the reasons you feel these are best suited to your child. It’s best to make notes straight after looking at a school so that you’re able to justify your decision on paper with clear recollections.
• Ask the school about how they adjust for specific needs, e.g. sensory difficulties
• Think about how your child will get to the new school – will they require travel arranging by the local authority? If yes, have this discussion with them early on.
• Keep track of dates. Make sure you are aware of when you need to finalise your school choice.
• When pointing out your first choice of school, make clear points: what your child’s needs are and how you feel the school you have chosen meets those needs.
• Keep looking after you’ve found your first choice. Don’t let a second choice be an afterthought.
With six months to go…
• Some areas hold transition training sessions for groups of autistic pupils during the holidays. It’s worth looking at your local authority’s Local Offer website to check, or asking the new school.
• Arrange regular taster visits with the new school’s SENCO and/or class teacher for different times of the day.
• Ask the child if they would like to take a friend, teaching assistant or familiar person along with them.
• Watch out for open mornings designed especially for special needs parents and children.
• Allow the child to take photographs at the new setting (or ask for them) and use whatever works well from them as visual supports.
• Arrange for someone from the new school to visit your child in their current setting (preferably form tutor).
• Encourage your child to discuss any anxieties they may have.
• Share information with the secondary school, particularly classroom tips on triggers and how to keep anxiety and distress to a minimum. We advise keeping a classroom tips record for the final few years of primary school, noting difficulties as they happen, how they are managed in the short term and what you’re working towards in the long-term. You can request this to be an Appendix to the EHC plan.
• If the child has an EHC plan, ensure the new school is provided with a copy well in advance of them starting at the new setting.
• Ask the new school to nominate a buddy to help the child settle in.
• It’s worth asking whether the school carries out any peer group training in autism – many don’t but if they do it’s the mark of a good school.
• Practise the journey to the new setting.
• Agree a settling in plan for the first day/week/month with school.
THINGS YOUR CHILD SHOULD KNOW ON THE FIRST WEEK:
It will feel very different – and that’s okay!
We might not get it perfect all at once but we can adjust things with school as we go so don’t worry if everything’s not right straight away.
You don’t have to make friends straight away. In fact when people do, they often end up changing them!
Have extra chill out time at home! (They will need it to self-regulate after the extra demands on them).
ASK MAINSTREAM SECONDARY SCHOOLS:
How many autistic children do you have at this school? Can I speak to a parent like me?
Where can children go if they need some time and space away from noise?
What happens during unscheduled times e.g. Break and lunchtime? (For SEN students, there should be somewhere supervised they can go away from the chaos of huge playgrounds).
Are teachers trained in autism?
What happens at lunchtime? (Is it just one large hall or are there smaller, quieter ones they can go to?)
Are children allowed to type instead of writing lengthy pieces of work in school if they struggle with writing? (This is not an horrific request, it’s a reasonable one).
What adjustments can be made if my child can’t cope with a full timetable?
Will they have one T.A. throughout the day, or several? (They are advantages to both methods but your child should know in advance what the situation is and preferably have photographs of anyone working with them).
N.B. It’s not just the responses to these answers you’re listening for, it’s the way that they are given to you. Trust your instinct. Do they sound flexible? Are they willing to make adaptations? Are they used to what you’re asking?
Wraparound Partnership is a team of six IPSEA trained advisors, most of them parent carers (IPSEA – Independent Parental Special Education Advice). The organization offers independent, private support to families in the North West with Education Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) up to and including tribunal stages. To find out more go to http://wraparoundpartnership.org, call 0161 872 6879 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
IPSEA offers free advice at http://www.ipsea.org.uk/
Book: Successful School Change and Transition for the Child with Asperger Syndrome – A Guide for Parents by Clare Lawrence, published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
Autism Spectrum Disorder and Transition into Secondary School by Marianna Murin, Josselyn Hellriegel and Will Mandy, published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers.