Making Transitions Easier for Autistic Learners

05 Jul 24
Photo of Julie Gibson, Head of Content and Product Development.

Making Transitions Easier for Autistic Learners

Julie Gibson, Head of Content and Product Development discusses Transitions. Preparing for transitions and management of them is key to minimising their anxiety and stress. 

We are coming up to that time of year again when transitions are on everyone’s minds. Whether you are a child or young person, parent or teacher, summer is often a time of endings, reflection and looking forward to new beginnings.  

For autistic children and young people, change can be particularly difficult. Transitions can be defined as changes and many autistic and neurodivergent individuals have differences in this area, preferring predictability and routine. Preparing for transitions and management of them is key to minimising their anxiety and stress.  

Involving the child or young person in the planning process is vital. There may be transitions strategies that are generally useful, but it is important to understand individual strengths, differences and support needs. This necessitates positive relationships and communication.  

Also, whether a child or young person is about to change class, school, go to university or join the workplace, there are several strategies that may also be helpful.  

  1. Transition Plans These ensure the child or young person is central to any support  that is put in place. Transitions Plans should be coproduced with children and young people, their parents / carers, education professionals and other external professionals. This is in accordance with the Code of Practice (2015) and evidence around the efficacy of Person-Centred Practice.  
  2. Provide Relevant Information Make sure autistic children and young people have all the information they might need to help them prepare. Relevant information might include providing advance details about a new setting, key adults and expectations. 
  3. Familiarisation Children and young people should visit a new classroom, setting or work placement before the transition occurs. This will reduce anxiety as they will know what to expect when the moment of change comes. They will get to know their new environments and new people. In addition – or instead – photos or videos of a new setting, new members of staff or new colleagues can also be useful. 
  4. Use Visual Supports Visuals of a new environment and people, visual timetables,  visual communication cards, maps and the use of symbols to demarcate areas in unfamiliar places can also support transition. Visuals may be easier to understand, may reduce cognitive load and support executive function. This will all help to reduce anxiety and stress during times of change.  
  5. Buddy Systems Allocating autistic children and young people, or anyone who is neurodivergent, with a buddy can provide support and reduce anxiety. Buddies can help support children to find a new classroom, help students with study requirements and help new employees to settle into new systems and processes. They can also support the development of positive relations between peers.
  6. Guidance For autistic young people post 16, who are going onto college or university or employment, careers guidance is vital and must be part of the EHCP planning process from – at the latest – year 9. They should be supported to consider which courses, providers and jobs or careers they aspire to. Some schools also provide life skills lessons which focus on developing independent living skills. This can also be helpful in supporting autistic young people to transition to the next stage. Workshops in college and university for academic skills, time management or managing public transport can also be helpful to some individuals. 
  7. Accommodation and Support Services Ensuring appropriate living arrangements, whether on-campus or off-campus and providing regular check-ins with support staff can also help to support Transitions for autistic young people moving on to college or university.  

There are lots of strategies that can be supportive and enabling for autistic children and young people around transitions. It is important to remember that transitions are not, however, a one-off event – they are a process where planning and management are important but just as important is ongoing support and regular follow-ups to address emerging challenges. 

It is essential that there is flexibility to adjust plans as needed based on the individual’s progress and feedback. 

And remember – transitions and change can be generally stressful for children and young people, so any strategies you use to support those who are autistic will support everyone.  

What Next? 

If you would like to know more about transitions in educational settings, then do check out our Transitions Training Modules for both the Early Years and Schools.

You may also be interested in our Transitions Tool to help you, as an education professional, put successful planning and approaches in place to support autistic children and young people. These and other resources are available in our AET Shop.