Help me have a Happy New School Year!


The New Year, with all it entails for life at school, is likely to be a time of mixed emotions for families with a child with Autism. Some parents will already have gained information from our recent publication Stepping Up: Parent Transition Handbook which provides lots of handy tips about the move from pre-kindy to early primary years. Whether your child is moving into pre-primary or secondary school there could be anxiety along with some measure of excitement. Parents will be well aware of the need to prepare their child in advance for moves such as these, aware also of the support needs for their child as they are introduced to the new environment.  

Familiarity—the key

Moving to a new school—or the movement from year to year within the school—is likely to be much easier for all concerned if the student has visited and met their teachers at the new environment prior to the beginning of the new school year. Familiarity is the key to a smooth transition. A new situation in a different environment could mean the loss of some well-established routines. The importance of routines for people with Autism is now well understood by many teachers and certainly by parents. A routine provides predictability and control—the person knows what to do and how to do it. While new routines are being established in the new environment, the exchange of information between family and teaching staff will be important to make the child’s transition as smooth as possible.

A Transition Passport helps you to help me

A Transition Passport is a great way of providing relevant information for the new environment. The Transition Passport is created specifically for the individual child to provide information on their strengths and support needs, including their communication skills, sensory needs, social skills, calming strategies, likes and dislikes etc. Include the child, as much as possible, in creating the Passport. It will help new people in the child’s life to gain an overview of the way that Autism impacts upon the child—enabling them to see how support can be targeted. With the information provided the teacher may feel confident they are providing the best possible support for the child. Transition Passport Example

The value of visuals

The teacher who has worked with children with Autism before will be well aware of the value of visual supports. Regardless of the general ability of the student, visuals—to meet their level of understanding—may serve as key communicators. Some visual supports e.g., a calendar or timetable, can help them understand the sequence of events over the day or week and help them to predict what will happen next. This could certainly help to reduce anxiety. In times of student stress, a visual can provide a circuit breaker. Words may not be needed, just one reassuring written word (or symbol) on a cue card e.g., Break, Drink, and the invitation/message is conveyed.

If the teacher is new to Autism and not familiar with the use of visual supports it would be helpful for them if the parent passes on information about what has worked well for the child in the past.

Social Stories

A social story can be written to help a person understand a social situation that might be difficult for them. The Social Story™ concept and format introduced by Carol Gray in the early 1990s, now widely used—or with some variation—aims to provide reassurance to the reader and also show the perspective of another person. The concept has proved to be helpful for children with Autism when the story is read—a number of times—with another person, typically a teacher or family member.

If permission is granted, photos of the various areas of school could be taken to add meaning to the following story.

My New School

My name is ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­_________________________________ .   This is a story about my new school.

This is the school office. Messages are brought here.

This is the staffroom. This is where the teachers have their morning tea and lunch.

Here is our library. I can read books in the library.

This is the school canteen. Sometimes I can buy my food at the canteen for recess or lunch.

I can play with my friends at recess and lunchtime.

When the bell rings I will line up with my class. I will try to wait quietly for my teacher to tell me to go into class.

My teacher will be happy if we all wait quietly.

For further information on social stories and to download (free) story samples, go to:  

Carol Gray has very recently launched Carol’s Club where, for a monthly membership fee, readers are able to gather more information and stories.

Communication with school

If an agreement has not already been reached about home/school communication this will be a priority. A book that passes between home and school can be helpful to pinpoint any difficulties and to highlight the child’s strengths. It is recommended that families discuss with the teacher the method that would best suit them to maintain a point of contact. Teachers might be in contact with a number of families in this way so it’s understood they’re not able to provide a lengthy account of a child’s day. A few pertinent points back and forth should be helpful to both parties.

Stepping up to secondary school

For the student moving into the more dynamic environment of secondary school, communication between the family and teaching staff will obviously be important. They need to know as much as possible about their new student—the student’s support needs, strengths and potential difficulties and any well-known effective strategies to minimise the potential for stress.  A point that could be passed on to the teacher who may not be familiar with Autism is how the student’s organisational skills, typically not strong for people with Autism, could be bolstered in a very practical way. Some visual support, by way of colour coding, could enable them to collect—independently— the required material to take to the next lesson. A different colour could be assigned to each of the main class subjects with the timetable similarly identifying subjects with the colour coding.

An example of a written timetable with colour coded subjects and folders to match timetable

The student may require help to organise their desk space. A specific time could be set aside each day or each week for tidying and the student might need to be taught specific routines for dealing with the build-up of clutter. Managing break times, the use of visual supports, homework management and spaces to ‘chill out’ are a few considerations with related strategies to be included in the Individual Education Plan. The IEP is usually developed in first term of the school year in consultation with the family, teachers and relevant education specialists and other professionals involved. Click here for an example IEP.

See our transition publication Thinking Ahead

Making a positive experience of school

Positive outcomes in educating the student with Autism depend upon a firm understanding of the nature of Autism and also getting to know the child, as an individual. When family and school personnel keep lines of communication open to this end, the student is much more likely to make steady progress and have a positive experience of life at school.

For a comprehensive overview of the ‘nature of Autism’ along with related strategies, go to our Resources & Fact Sheets page and look for Keeping Autism in Mind.

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