Monday, 20 June 2011

Moving on.

Is your Autistic Child going to High School? Mine is. 

For many parents out there this is a transition that can bring a fair bit of stress with it. Many of us remember our own experiences at high school and it can fill you with dread. I remember that the place was huge in comparison to my primary school, it was very busy and even after my transition visits I still wasn't sure of how the whole thing worked. It was full of giant children, all very cool and independent. While I remember this experience clearly it wasn't long before I settled into the routine and those first day jitters dissipated. I also recall that the prospect of going into the unknown was vaguely exciting, that a new phase in my life was about to begin, that I was growing up. I can imagine that reading this quite a few of you out there can relate to this adventure. This transition, however, can be incredibly daunting for a child with ASD in ways that we cannot comprehend. A pretty comprehensive article on transitions by the Scottish Government can be found HERE

Many parents will notice a change in behaviour around periods of transition in their childs' life, whether it is moving house, changing schools or going to a new residential home. The difficulty with imagination that people with an ASD have will make it difficult for them to imagine what a new situation or environment is going to be like and so that much scarier. Many people will try and reduce their anxieties about a new place by trying to imagine it as much as possible, something that my son finds very difficult to do. He has reverted to organising toys on his bedroom floor. Something he used to do in his previous school when the day became too stressful. 

To counteract this we have had more visits to the high school that the other kids. We have had tours after school hours to investigate all of the different departments. It is important that we provide him with a realistic picture of what his new school is going to be like. 

If you are finding yourself in a similar situation or are thinking about this for the years ahead, I have a few tips to share. 

Start by asking the new school if you can do a visit, either before the school year ends, or over the summer holidays. See if they can provide your child with a map of the school, with the classrooms that they will need, toilets, dinner hall, etc all clearly marked. Ask if they can have a timetable as soon as possible so that they can plan their routes between rooms for each day.
Over the summer holidays you may like to make a scrapbook of his new school with photographs of his school, classroom and the key staff that he will come into contact with such as his class teacher or teaching assistant.
It is also important to run through their new route to school. If it is a walk, go through the route a couple of times over the holidays; do the same if you will be going in the car. However, if it is possible that you might need to take a different route to school, because of traffic, etc it is important to build some variation into the route so they do not become upset if there is a change in route. If they need to get the bus, you might want to take the bus route with them a few times, making sure they knows where to wait for the bus, the timetable, where to get off, how much it will cost and so on.
Many children with an ASD can benefit from having a buddy, especially in the first couple of days. This can help with tricky social situations such as noisy buses, teasing, etc. It is also important that the new school is aware of any successful strategies that were in place at their old school that they should implement. This will help to keep the transition as smooth as possible. 
If you have already been through this transition and have any words of wisdom to share then please do. Similarly the Centre of High Functioning Autism at GOSH is asking for parents to share their experiences for a collective study. This can be found HERE


  1. It's incredibly important for our children to have an understanding of their new environment but in many cases it brings such a lot of stress with it. I knew Amy would never cope with high school and that's one reason why I pushed for special school. We have been very fortunate, I know.

    CJ xx

  2. Good luck!

    I hope that your fantastic support means the transition is not too bumpy.

  3. Thanks CJ and Pooky. I know that I'm more stressed about it than he is but then that's way it should be.



Thanks for taking the time to comment!