Transitioning to a new school for a child with SEN

We all know that transitioning from one situation to another can often be difficult. For neurodiverse individuals, any transition – no matter how small – can present challenges and cause distress. So, a move to a new school or primary to secondary should be considered as a significant event.

Pupils can, understandably, be resistant to change, preferring to follow a known routine. A difficult transition means they can feel ‘stuck,’ and unable to move any further, while others can present with behavioural distress such as kicking, hitting, or spitting.

Neurodiverse individuals tend to struggle more with situations that involve uncertainty. Transitioning between places involves a large degree of uncertainty and any lack of understanding about the transition can feel scary and increase an individual’s level of anxiety.  This can result in the individual becoming emotionally dysregulated.

With a little thought and planning, there are a number of simple steps that can be taken to equip neurodiverse pupils for transitions:

  • Plan the transition well. Involve the pupils and people who know them well in the planning. Consider the social and physical environment, the pace of the transition and how the routine of their day should go.
  • Consider appropriate communication strategies. It is important that what is happening with regards to the transition is communicated clearly using the pupil’s preferred method of communication. Access to their preferred communication method and people who understand it should be available to the pupil at all times throughout the transition.
  • Be prepared to pivot! Even with the most thought-through plan things can change. People supporting the pupil should be aware of the pupil’s needs so that they can adapt the plan to incorporate any necessary changes.  Listen to the needs of the pupil and be led by them.

Supporting autistic individuals during transitions:

  • Let the individual transition at their own pace; individuals may be experiencing anxiety to the uncertainty created by the process of the transition. It is important not to put pressure on individuals during transitions as this may increase their anxiety levels further, possibly overwhelming the individual with information and emotions to process.
  • Reduce language; it is important to reduce language and keep language simple when individuals are transitioning. This limits the amount of information the individual must process and limits the chance of them being overwhelmed. If the individual responds to Makaton signs, use key signs along with single words to improve understanding, for example, ‘car’ or ‘school’.
  • Praise and positive support; when individuals make progress during transitions and after completing their transitions, staff should genuinely praise them to encourage this positive behaviour.
  • Consistency: routine and predictability are integral to creating an environment that is supportive for autistic individuals. Not only do they respond well to structure and predictability, but as the individual becomes more familiar with the transition, they learn to understand what to expect during it. It is also important that the visual tools used to communicate a transition between home and school are consistently used in future transitions.

Our multi-disciplinary clinical team work together with the education team to support all individuals. If an individual has difficulty during transitions, the team will ensure supporting staff have all the tools necessary to support a successful transition; for example, visual aids recommended by the Speech and Language Therapist and the individual’s Communication Profile. It is also important that the environment is suited to the individual’s transition needs. Occupational Therapists can explore the environment and help identify if any sensory or environmental changes could be adapted to make the transition smoother. The transition strategies when relevant to an individual will be included in their Positive Behaviour Support Plan