Transition Strategies for Children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder

Transitions Can be Traumatic

Sue Larkey is a highly respected educator and workshop facilitator who inspires parents and educators to “make a difference” for children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

Her strategies and tips are invaluable for teachers, parents, carers and professionals and many can be adapted for any educational setting – whether early childhood, primary, high school or college. Here she offers tips for easing the transition for students with ASD.

“To know someone with autism is not to know autism”

— Sue Larkey

What is a ‘Transition’?

Transition includes change in teacher, change in room, change in students in the class not just starting preschool, school, high school and beyond. The nature of ASD is such that transition can be extremely stressful, no matter what age or how BIG or SMALL the change maybe.

Changing Teacher is like…. Moving to a Foreign Country

For the child with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) moving to a new teacher, classroom or campus is like moving to foreign country. There is a different language (eg one teacher says ‘pack away’, new teacher says ‘clean up’). Teachers and other students have different facial expressions and body language to interpret, new rules, new schedules, new smells, different pencils just to mention a few changes. This new ‘foreign country’ causes the child to feel enormous anxiety and stress, which in turn can lead to behaviour. This anxiety and behaviour can be managed by effective planning and transition strategies.

This article aims to give you ideas, strategies and solutions to managing transition and have in place strategies ready to make 2017 a Success!

The key issue in transition is managing anxiety, put simply:


Managing Change = Managing Anxiety

There is so much information to pass on for the Transition to be successful, I have listed some checklists and ideas to make this easier:

  • List the Top 10 things you know that you wish you knew at the start of the year.
  • Complete the Student Summary Proforma available from my website – Click Here for Student Profile Sheet
  • Handover resources such as Time Timer, Schedule, Sensory Toys, Visuals.
  • Consider the Transition Strategies  (see below)
  • Parents create a card with a photo of your child and inside some important information about your child: Things they love, special interests, sensory notes and diagnosis. This is a wonderful way to introduce your child and then can be used for relief teachers in the future. (PS: keep it brief!).

Ensure children are aware of the changes they might expect during a transition.

Ensure children are aware of the changes they might expect during a transition.


12 Transition Strategies

We need to consider all the changes and pre-warn the child.  Many children with an ASD have a script in their minds for everything that happens in their day so it is very important with any change we offer a script to explain any changes in advance. This may include:

  1. Sensory/Environment: New sounds, movements, uniforms etc. For example with secondary students it is important they get to experience a busy locker area as part of transition. Too many people take them on a tour when no one is in the school.
  2. People: Who will be their teacher, assistant, which students will they know, who to go to for help, getting to know office staff, etc.
  3. Visuals: Map of the school with toilets, classroom, bags, office, library, etc.
  4. Video /Film on Ipad: Video of the new school, environment, and teachers is wonderful as they can play over and over. Make sure you show the environment HOW it actually looks; for example video of busy locker area, playground full of students rather than empty.
  5. Social Scripts/Photo Books: Create social scripts or photo books that show the child information. Many Asperger’s children need “reasons”: Why do I have to change teacher?, Why do we have to move classrooms? Why can’t I stay with my friends? You can create social scripts that explain this and they can refer back to.
  6. Photos: Class teacher, important staff, toilets, bubblers, etc.
  7. Playground: Routines and activities, equipment, games in playground.
  8. Do they want friends? Who do they know already? Clubs they can join.
  9. Lunch routine: Practice using lunch box, container, drink bottle, etc.
  10. Calendar: Use a calendar to show when their visits will be and they will start in the new class.
  11. Getting to school: Bus, walk, car. Practice the routine, discuss what to do if late or raining. (Some students are best dropped off right on bell others love morning activities in playground).
  12. Calming Strategies: Ensure the child knows where in the new environment they can go to calm or access their sensory tools

Organise a tour of the playground with no one around to help the child know where to play


Arrange a tour of the playground with no one around to help the child know where to play

Information about the student: Download the “Student Profile” and other helpful Tip Sheets from

Don’t forget just moving rooms can be a HUGE change for a child with an ASD!

For more information, resources, courses and to sign up for her free enewsletter visit Sue’s website

Article republished with author’s permission.

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