Top 7 Tips for supporting children with special needs in transitioning to school

May 25, 2015 Student Well Being


By Sharon Grocott and Karen Hickmott, NSW Parents’ Council’s SWD Project Team

Transitioning to school is such a critical time in the lives of students with special needs, their families and the teaching staff. It is important that careful planning be undertaken at least a few months prior to the transition to a new school or class taking place.

School brings new challenges including new people, a change in environment, sensory issues, expectations, rules, etc.

Careful transition planning can achieve the following:

  • A reduction in stress and anxiety
  • An increase in self-esteem and self respect
  • Better participation in the class room.

Many students transitioning to school will have an existing Individual Education Plan (IEP). The IEP can help in identifying existing strategies which have been utilised effectively in the past. Other documentation which can help the school includes any assessments, previous school reports, work samples, programs, visual support systems, behaviour plans etc.

This help sheet provides a starting point for the consideration of practical support strategies. The information is a guide only to assist families and teaching staff.

Some examples of key support strategies are provided below.

TIP 1: Plan and consider transportation early.

  • Assessing whether an application for special school transport is required as the school will need to provide the paperwork to the family, and forward the application to the department.
  • Providing a peer buddy to assist the student with the bus travel if the student will need to get to school independently.
  • Determining who will meet the student at the bus when he or she arrives.
  • Helping the student with travel training at least a couple of months before school starts.
  • Providing adult supervision at the bus stop.
  • Car pooling with other families to assist if special transport is unavailable.

TIP 2: Start to look at the impact of a change to routine.

  • Ensuring routines are structured and preparing the student for any changes.
  • Determining whether the student needs to be informed if there are changes in the classroom procedures.
  • Determining whether additional supports are needed when change occurs.
  • Providing the student with additional time for class changes (e.g. moving to different room and location).
  • Maintaining a communication book with the carer/parent to discuss changes at home and at school.
  • Using a social story (picture book with photos) to help the student adjust to changes.

Parents and schools can use social stories by making a book to introduce changes at school. Social stories were developed by Carol Gray. Click here to visit her website. Social Stories include photos of the school entrance, the classroom, the teacher, uniform etc. Some considerations include;

  • Determining whether social stories will be suitable.
  • Identifying who will create the social narrative.
  • Deciding on who will communicate the social story whether this is the parent or teacher.
  • Monitoring the effectiveness of the social story.

TIP 3: Discuss curriculum modification with your Teacher. Teachers can consider curriculum modification.

  • Assessing whether the student needs ‘note taking’ support.
  • Allowing the student access to a computer to complete work.
  • Shortening the length of assignments.
  • Breaking work into smaller segments.
  • Providing alternative means for the student to demonstrate their ability.
  • Identifying a home strategy for completing homework.
  • Providing a skeletal outline for essays etc.

TIP 4: Assist the student to adjust to the school environment.

  • Monitoring the student’s interactions on the school playground.
  • Intervening when problems arise such as when the student has sensory overload or is overwhelmed.
  • Having school staff available to assist the student in navigating around the school and appointing a buddy.
  • Incorporating structured activities at lunch time to encourage inclusion (e.g. chess, book club, music, art program etc).

TIP 5: Co-operate with your teacher to implement organisational strategies in the class room. Teachers can implement organisational strategies within classroom.

  • Utilising visual supports such as words, pictures, drawings, photos, objects etc. Examples include visual timetables and choice boards. Software is available such as Boardmaker (Picture Communication Symbols) Click here to visit Spectronics
  • Using a reward system (e.g. stickers, merit cards, computer time etc).
  • Teaching the student to use timelines and a ‘to do’ list (such as using task analysis where tasks are broken into small steps).
  • Helping the student to organise their desk, bag, homework etc.
  • Using a home school diary to inform the parent/s/carers of any school information (e.g. school mufti day, etc)

TIP 6: Create a circle of social support.

  • Providing awareness to other students in order to gain acceptance and understanding.
  • Building a circle of friends around the student by encouraging group activity opportunities in the class.
  • Assigning a mentor or buddy to the student.
  • Identifying other peers who can support the student.
  • Monitoring bullying and any issues around inclusion.
  • Explaining the school code to the student (hidden social expectations and school rules).

TIP 7: Good communication is important.

  • Ensure good communication between the school and home in making the transition period successful.
  • A consistent approach at home and school is very important and will greatly benefit a child with special needs.
  • Regular meetings are needed to discuss development, implementation and monitoring of the child’s program. (Life Skills, IEP etc).
  • Honesty is important in terms of discussing the child’s needs, strengths, etc.
  • It is important to review the transition process and also consider future transition to new classes.

Below are some examples of a Boardmaker and Routine Board


A sample of what to include in a Routine Board Top7Tips2

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