Moving school at any stage is never easy.
The move to secondary school can be especially difficult – going from being the oldest to the youngest, from one teacher to many and from small amounts of work to large amounts of work! However for autistic people it can mean many additional challenges including:
New Environment: Moving to a much larger school building, with more people and a busier environment. It might also mean moving around the building more.
New Teachers: New teachers are always a challenge for autistic people but having to get to know maybe 9 teachers suddenly (and for each of them to understand the autistic student), can seem daunting.
Organisation: Students at second-level are expected to be more organised and to take greater responsibility in terms of remembering equipment, timetables, deadlines etc.
Socialising: Moving to secondary school means a larger, maybe less familiar, peer group at a time when people often become more friend dependent.
Workload: The pace, variety and structure of the curriculum at second level can be a challenge for autistic people.
Here are some tips we would give to help make transition easier:
Get to know the school: When selecting the school learn about its culture, get a “feel” for its policy towards students with special educational needs and also make sure to meet the resource teacher and principal. Talk to other parents of autistic children about their experiences of schools and the transition process.
Communicate: In advance of the school year be sure there is a general awareness of your child’s needs among the academic staff. Consider a journal or maybe do a little guide for each teacher on the challenges your child may face in general/in that subject and what has worked well to date.
Look for a buddy system: Ask the school if they will implement a buddy system – either with 6th years or within your child’s own year to ensure an understanding fellow student can be there when teachers can’t.
Look for social outlets: Are their societies or clubs in the school which are of interest to your child and may provide a social outlet?
Organisation: Colour code resources for different subjects so they are easy to find, make a checklist for deadlines, things to remember etc. Consider providing back up supplies to the school to avoid high stress levels if something is forgotten! Ask that a visit to the school take place before the first day to give an opportunity for your child to familiarise themselves with the layout, structure etc.
Anxiety: Why not try and establish the “What if” worries of your child before they start in secondary school so there is an understanding as to what can be done in the likely or unlikely event these worries happen.
Workload: Get a workspace that is quiet up and running quickly at home and consider a study system which will work for them. Ask teachers to ensure homework is written down and work with your son/daughter in terms of meeting deadlines. Also ask teachers about flexibility on “bad nights”.