Top Tips for successful transitions with children who have special educational needs
It is likely that transition-related anxiety stems from difficulties with core, executive functioning skills required to adapt from one context into another. These difficulties are not only highly prevalent but are also easily missed. E.g., switching attention, organising, planning, and regulation of emotions, sensory information, and their behaviour.
Autistic children are often thought of when considering transitions however, it is true that many children and young people with a wide range of other diagnoses can also struggle; as it is for those without any diagnosis at all. Therefore, the following inclusive tips and strategies might be appropriate to support smoother, easier transitions for any child or young person.
Try using ChatterPack's transition passport alongside the following top tips
Tip 1: Adapt to individual needs by using visuals, drawings, mind maps, etc., to aid explanations.
Tip 2: Start your planning by gaining the views of the child.
Whether they are transitioning between schools or classes, it’s important to understand what they like, don’t like, want, don’t want in order to plan carefully and appropriately.
Tip 3: Consider the language you use when seeking views of the child.
It can be tricky to ask questions without leading especially if the child struggles with language, but it’s important that the child’s views are authentic and accurate.
- This ChatterPack resource might be useful to use and/or adapt
Tip 4: Try to listen to responses without adding meaning, especially if the child is a literal thinker.
- Seeking clarification of what the child or young person has said is important however, it should be sought using non-leading strategies. E.g. try using sentence starters and/or expectant pauses, ‘you said you like x, you like x because…..?’
Tip 5: Consider ALL transitions throughout the day, including the small ones!
- This might include transitioning from break times back into the classroom; transitioning from one classroom to another; from an area within a classroom to another area in the same classroom; or even from one task to another task within the same lesson.
Tip 6: Work with parents and seek their knowledge of what does and doesn’t work at home.
Analysing information gathered collaboratively could really help to plan strategies used at home and in school.
It also ensures that everyone informed and encourages continuity of support.
Tip 7: What has been tried already? What worked and what didn't work?
Analysing times when the child succeeds alongside times when they struggled could provide helpful clues that could aid your planning.
Ensure the information includes what happened before/after, what the environment was like/time of day, etc.
Tip 8: Many anxious children seek to control situations and can do so in various ways.
- On the surface, this might present as manipulation or stubbornness however, it’s often an unconscious reaction to fear or other strong emotions.
- Understanding if, how, and why they might seek control could help you to better empathise with the core difficulties and individualise your approach.
- It can really help when adults acknowledge children's emotions and this is most effectively done when adults make suggestions rather than offer direct labels.
- For example, rather than using affirmations (‘I know you are worried’ or 'I know this will be scary') try making suggestions and perhaps use a 1-5 or 1-10 scale to aid their understanding ('if 5 is the worst it could possibly feel, and 1 is no problem at all, can you tell me how you are feeling about this?')
- Or, you could try offering choices of potential solutions which would allow them an element of control via an adult-led, structured approach.
Tip 9: Give the child as much information as they need
- Keep in mind that sometimes too much information, or information given too far in advance can heighten anxiety.
- Do they need to visit when no one else is there? Or do they need to see the environment as it will be when they have transitioned?
- Might it help to look at photographs of the new environment first?If so, which areas, or people do they feel are most important to see/meet first?
- Might it help to have practical information which they can keep and refer back to? E.g.,
- A basic map showing where toilets and classrooms are.
- A list of staff photos, job titles, and names.
- A detailed timetable, or a reduced one with/without visuals or symbols.
- A list of school and class rules including things that might be important to individual children (are there rules relating to when they can/can't use the toilet? Are there specific times when they can access SEN equipment such as sensory toys?)
- It can be common for adults to adopt a ‘wait and see’ approach, but using a proactive approach might avoid unnecessary struggling, encourage a much smoother transition and potentially mean that support can be reduced faster.