Transition to Secondary School
“How can I help my child cope with the transition to high school?”
Transition to secondary school can be a very anxious and stressful time. With good preparation and information, this time of great change and growth can be made a little easier.
Choosing A School
A majority of young people with high functioning autism now attend their local secondary school as their IQ’s preclude them from going to specialist disability schools.
Children with autism will benefit from the mental stimulation provided at a mainstream school but can find the social demands very challenging. As with primary school, the choice of secondary school is very important to ensure the young person is as settled as possible.
A school that is progressive, welcoming and flexible that can meet your child’s needs is crucial. The school with the best academic reputation or highest fees may not necessarily be the most welcoming or best for your child.
Visit a few schools yourself, meet with key staff and ask questions. Once you have decided on an appropriate school then take your child for a visit at a quiet time to meet the integration coordinator and or principal.
Questions To Ask
Speak to your child’s primary school and find out which local secondary schools have a good integration program for students with disabilities.
Approach the school early on – the earlier you can do your research and prepare the better, as the transition process can be a long and complex one and you may have to approach more than one school.
Be upfront with the school – phone or email, state your child has ASD and you are interested in them attending the school. You will probably be able to immediately tell if they are interested in accepting your child by their reaction.
- Ask if there is a specific integration program
- Ask to speak with the integration coordinator, discuss your child’s needs and find out what kind of support is available.
- Ask if the school has a specific transition and orientation program for students with disabilities.
- Ask how many ASD children attend the school or if they have experience with young people with autism.
- Ask if there is a special room or space the students with disabilities can use at recess/lunch times or other times when they need downtime.
- Discuss flexibility of the school around classes that may or may not be suitable for the child with ASD to attend, and the alternatives- i.e. extra time for homework or reading instead of going to PE, part time school options if the child needs some downtime.
If your child has some friends at their primary school, find out which schools they are going to. It is usually appropriate that the child with autism attend the same school as their friends. Having familiar people around can help the transition and settling in process and hopefully their friends can be helpful to them at lunchtimes etc.
If a school is being difficult or unreceptive to your requests, remember that your child has the right to attend their local school and you may have to strongly advocate for the rights of your child. Contact your local autism service provider, Gateways, Autism Victoria, The Association for Children with a Disability and or the Department of Education and Early Childhood for support.
In the early part of grade 6 parents will be asked to fill in a form listing your preferences for a school. Once the allocations for the area have taken place you will be sent an enrolment pack from your chosen school. Some schools have particular catchment areas and will only take students from the local area. Others will give preference to those who have siblings already enrolled in the school.
Schools all have information sessions which parents should attend prior to enrolment, and then once enrolled schools often have specific information sessions for parents and students. This process may vary by location.
As with primary school, for enrolment at secondary school you may need
- your child’s name, age and birth date, including a copy of the birth certificate
- your child’s address and phone number
- parent contact details
- proof of up-to-date immunisation
- any other medical or personal information that will help the school meet your child’s individual needs.
- copies of any court orders affecting the child’s care and parenting arrangements
- copies of any asthma, epilepsy, diabetes or anaphylaxis management plans signed by a doctor.
You may also need
- Proof of diagnosis of your child’s disability
- Copies of any reports from paediatricians, psychologists, occupational and speech therapists.
If your child has not been assessed recently, the school will help arrange assessment as part of the application for funding.
Some schools will ask you to pay some, or all of the school’s fees when you enrol your child; others have a specific day for paying fees and picking up school supplies.
Assessments and Funding
Children already receiving funding under the Program for Students with Disabilities in Victoria will have a review in grade 6 prior to going to secondary school. The child will need to undergo new assessments by speech therapists, psychologists and possibly an occupational therapist, depending on the child’s needs.
It is important to provide as much additional information and examples of the child’s skill deficits as possible, with reports from professionals as evidence to ensure the best chance at gaining the maximum amount of funding.
It is the responsibility of the primary school to work with you through the process. Discuss this with your primary school principal early in grade 6 to ensure all the necessary paperwork, assessments and information is complete prior to the due date for applications.
For more information see:
Program for Students with Disabilities http://www.education.vic.gov.au/healthwellbeing/wellbeing/disability/handbook/default.htm
Preparing the Child
There are many ways to help prepare a child with autism for secondary school.
Transition visits: Start early and often – visits can be short at first and then build up. Each school will have a different transition program for students with disabilities. If you feel your child will need a longer transition program speak to the school early on.
The young person with autism will need a number of practical skills when at secondary school. Parents and schools can work on these skills to help the child be better prepared for secondary school.
Children attending mainstream secondary schools require the following basic skills- (most skills will need to be specifically taught, people with autism do not naturally acquire these skills.)
- Self care skills- toileting, eating, changing for PE or swimming
- Ability to organise and manage own belongings
- Ability to ask for help
- Ability to listen to others
- Orienting to time and place –i.e. moving to the right classroom at the right time
- Use a lock either key or combination – lockers, bike locks.
- Ability to sit still and listen for longer periods of time- i.e. assembly
Handwriting can be very challenging for students with autism and the frustration of needing to write in every subject can be overwhelming.
You may need to advocate for your child and negotiate for them to use a laptop or computer to complete class work. The child will often have the intellectual capability to complete the work but illegible handwriting can be of great concern. The child may also need special consideration to use a laptop in exams and may need extra time or modified exam questions.
Keep a record of modifications and supports needed throughout the child’s schooling life in case modifications are required in the later years of high school.
Social skills for a child entering secondary school are of the utmost importance, but often this is the age when students with autism are most awkward and vulnerable to bullying.
Specific social skills can be taught with modified social stories, discussion or role-play if needed. Invite some of the child’s friends over for visits in the holidays to help build social skills and ensure the child doesn’t lose contact with peers.
Working with the School
It is essential that parents and schools work together to ensure successful outcomes for the child with autism and their family.
Considering the amount of time the child attends school, it is crucial that the family and school have a productive working relationship. Parents need to be involved in what is happening with their child at school. Schools need to be willing to work with parents in creative and flexible ways.
Full time school may not be appropriate for a teen with autism, and not all classes on the curriculum are appropriate for children with autism. You may need to negotiate with the school for alternate arrangements if some classes are going to be problematic for your child.
- P.E/ Sport – PE and team sports can be a nightmare for people with autism- poor coordination and inability to understand the rules of games leave the child with autism subject to ridicule and noisy busy spaces are often a cause of sensory overload and meltdown.
- Language classes- the child may not be able to engage in or follow what is happening in a LOTE class, they may become easily distracted and disruptive. However there are many linguistically gifted people with autism, interested in other languages and culture, each child is different.
- Music in a class setting can be too noisy. If the child is musically gifted a 1:1 lesson should be considered.
- Art can be challenging for some people with autism. Art can be too abstract and the child may not know where to start when being creative. They may need lots of guidance. For others the sensory dimensions of paint, clay and colour may be too much. This can vary from person to person. There are some people with autism who are gifted creative artists.
- Assembly – too long, boring and irrelevant to the child with autism. Auditoriums full of other people, loud echoing spaces and droning voices are too much to process.
- Hands on subjects such as cooking, photography, metal or wood work may be more interesting and meaningful to the person with autism and have scope to include the favourite interest.
- Science and maths will be more structured and often come naturally to a person with autism.
- Computers and technology related subjects are also often a favourite of people with autism.
- English and humanities subjects can be difficult for the child with autism; the child may be a fluent reader but not understand subtle nuances and motivations of characters in a novel. The person with autism may not be able to synthesize what they have read and draw their own conclusions.
- If you are unsure about which classes do not suit your child perhaps ask the school to keep a behaviour diary or record sheet and chart the child’s behaviour in various classes. You will be clearly able to see which classes provoke unwanted behaviour, or on which days your child seems more stressed.
Educating the School
Teachers may need a brief profile of your child to help them understand the best way to communicate and work with your child. On the profile include:
- Triggers for behaviour
- What to do if there is a meltdown and any other crucial information regarding your child.
The school community as a whole may need education about autism, however most mainstream schools have experience with students with autism/Aspergers and other disabilities.
An information pack, tip sheet or presentation may be needed, speak with your school as to what will work for them.
Student Support Groups
The school is required to hold a student support group meeting each term to discuss strategies and set goals for the student as per the Victorian Department of Education and Training Program for Students with Disabilities Guidelines.
These meetings are very important to help build the relationship between parents and the school, and to discuss strategies and address issues.
Parents can take and advocate or support person to the meeting and other professionals such as speech therapists or psychologists can also attend.
Prior to attending the meeting, ensure you make a list of questions you would like to ask or issue you would like to discuss. Make a list of any things the school needs to know about and any upcoming changes or special events that will need preparation and planning.
Ensure someone takes and distributes minutes or make your own notes as a record of what occurred and any strategies that were agreed on.
Good communication between school and home can help ensure that small problems are dealt with before they turn into big ones and that everyone is working with the child consistently.
Speak with the teacher/school/aide about their preferred method of communication. Email, communication book or a phone call all work, but some schools have a preference.
A communication book or diary can be used daily by you and the teacher/aide. A quick note in the morning to indicate the child’s general state of mind and behaviour can help the staff prepare for any impending difficulties, and any issues from the day can be indicated in the diary to you.
Just because a child can speak does not mean they will tell you what has happened at school or indicate if there is a problem. Keep the communication book or any other correspondence as they can be useful references in the future.
Prior to the First Day of School
- Familiarise the child with the layout of the school
- Get a map of the school grounds (likely to be given to the child during transition visits)
- Take photos of key teachers, aides and key areas of the school- office, sick bay, library etc.
- Ensure the child knows where to go if they need a safe space for down time during the day. Reinforce that the child can go there when they feel overloaded. Teachers will need to know to direct the child to the safe space if they see the child becoming distressed.
- Let the child set up their locker prior to the first day, minimise the amount of books and folders used if possible and clearly label or colour code folders.
- Get the child to practice their combination lock if using one. Write down the combination or if the child has a key lock ensure you have a spare/ integration aide or year level coordinator has a spare.
- Outline a safe place where they can sit and eat lunch – the yard at lunch time is a big place with an invisible social pecking order. The child may not know where to go to eat, or may inadvertently sit at ‘the wrong table’ for lunch and end up in a social situation they can’t handle.
- Check out the toilets and other areas such as PE change rooms on orientation visits, as these can be places of that cause sensory overload and social awkwardness for a person with autism.
- Practice the route to school if the child is walking or catching a bus. Reinforce road rules and safe places to cross the road.
- Go over bus timetables and discuss what to do if there is a problem with the bus coming late/not coming at all. Discuss bus etiquette and work through a social story about appropriate bus behaviour if needed. Ensure the child knows what to do if someone is bothering them on the bus or if they are feeling threatened.
- Over the holidays orient the child to the school yard if you can.
- If the child is riding to school, practice riding to and from school and practice using a bike lock. Show the child where to put their bike during the day and how to lock it up securely.
- Develop a simplified school timetable with pictures and or photos if needed.
- A visual reminder of what to take to class may be needed and can be taped to the inside of the locker door.
- Provide a communication diary to ensure the communication process continues with new aides and class teachers. This communication diary should be separate to the child’s homework diary to ensure that any behavioural or other issues are kept separate and private from general homework and other notes.
- Utilise social stories in the holidays to brush up on any behaviour issues or skills deficits that the child may have. Social stories can also alleviate anxiety regarding how things will work at secondary school.
- Remember that the child/ teen with autism will not naturally acquire skills that normal developing children will automatically develop. They will need to be shown or told.
- Ensure the child has plenty of healthy snacks and plenty of water available.
- Boys in particular at this age may be undergoing a growth spurt and require extra snacks. If a child with autism is hungry they will be more easily distracted and grumpy. When a child with autism gets dehydrated they are more easily stressed.
- Provide the school with a list of your child’s friends so that they can be placed in the same class. Ensure the school is aware of any other students that your child may clash with so they can keep an eye out for potential behaviour or bullying issues.
- Be prepared for behavioural changes- the change in routine, long days, social pressure and any other myriad of things can spark changes in behaviour and intense emotional outbursts, particularly after school – the child may hang on to the frustration/anger all day in a bid to ‘be good” and let it go in a safe place – at home.
- The child may want to get changed immediately out of their school uniform into their own familiar comfortable clothes. This can be an important part of switching off from school.
- The child’s behaviour may regress and self stimulatory or other behaviours seen in times of stress may re emerge.
- The child may need lots of down time alone. Don’t schedule after school activities until you can see the child is coping with secondary school.
- Be on the look out for depression or anxiety which can often develop when the child is at secondary school.
- If the child has a mobile phone and or computer, ensure they are not becoming the victim of cyber bullying from others sending problematic texts or messages.
Experience of someone with ASD at secondary school – Wendy Lawson
Association for Children with a Disability
Students with autism may need to undertake distance education from home if placement at a mainstream school is not working. This can be due to behavioural concerns, bullying, anxiety, depression or stress or just not coping with school.
- Distance education provides course work and study materials for students aged prep to 12 in Victoria.
- Students can access the materials online or via print/audio.
- Students have access to tutors via email or phone if needed.
- Distance Education provides the young person with autism a way to keep up their studies at home when things at school just aren’t working.
- Distance Education is different to homeschooling as the coursework and teaching materials are supplied and the work is assessed by teachers at the distance education centre.
- When a person is homeschooled their parent is completely responsible for the child’s entire education including assessment and curriculum. (for more information on homeschooling see homeschooling)
To be eligible to study through Distance Education Victoria the student must meet one of the eligibility criteria-
- Distance- the student is physically distant from local school
- Medical – the student has a chronic health, social/emotional issues that precluded them from being able to attend school
- School referral – the student is referred via their school for distance education
- Traveller- the student is unable to access regular school because they are travelling
For further information on enrolment visit http://www.distance.vic.edu.au/enrolment-information/
There is an enrolment fee for distance education and parents /carers are expected to cover the postage costs of learning materials.
If additional support for student wellbeing is required, support is available through Student Support Teachers at the Distance Education Centre.
Distance Education Centre Victoria
315 Clarendon Street Thornbury
Ph: 61 3 8480 0000
toll free: 1800 133 511
fax: 61 3 9416 8493
Why home schooling?
There are a number of reasons why a child with autism may need to be home schooled.
The child or adolescent may not be able to cope with the social and sensory demands of school. They may have been subject to a considerable amount of teasing or bullying or may suffer depression or other mental health or behavioural concerns that make attending school difficult.
Some children are never enrolled in mainstream school, they are homeschooled by their parents from the start.
What is homeschooling?
- A person is considered to be homeschooled when they are withdrawn from or never enrolled in the mainstream education system and their parents/carer/grandparent or significant person takes total responsibility for that child’s education at home. The child is registered with the Victorian Registrations Qualifications Authority as being home schooled. Home schooling is different to distance education.
- Homeschooling requires a significant commitment and an investment of time and effort to educate the child. The parent is completely responsible for the entire education of the child.
- The homeschooling parent will be with the child for the majority of time during the day, which can lead to a great deal of stress. Access to respite and other services to support the family will be critical.
- When homeschooling, a set curriculum is not followed or submitted but records of the work completed should be kept. Parents set the curriculum and source the learning materials.
Parents take responsibility for the delivery of their child’s education including curriculum and assessment and must cover the 8 key learning areas
- The Arts
- Health and Physical Education
- Languages other than English
- Studies of Society and Environment
In Victorian schools the curriculum and 8 learning areas are covered by the Victorian Essential Learning Standards (VELS) The VELS describe what every child from grade prep to 10 needs to learn about.
To get more information on the VELS visit http://www.education.vic.gov.au/school/teachers/support/Pages/ausvels.aspx
Parents responsible for home schooling must abide by the principles consistent with Australian democracy including:
- Elected government
- Rule of law
- Equal rights for all before the law
- Freedom of religion
- Freedom of speech and association
- The values of openness and tolerance
In Victoria all children age 6-17 years must be enrolled in school or if home schooling be registered with the VRQA Contact the VRQA on 9032 1538 or
How does it work?
- Before removing your child from, school you must register with the VRQA which can take up 14 days.
- You can then withdraw your child from school.
- It may take the child some time to adjust to not being at school, however for some children with autism it will be a relief to not have to deal with the extra social and sensory pressures of school.
- Some children with autism may need a more structured routine with home education so careful planning of the structure of the day will be needed.
- Some families run structured lessons with time devoted to each subject area, other have a more natural learning approach where parent support learning in the areas that the child is most interested in.
- Home schooling families can meet with others for socialisation, outings and camps to supplement learning activities.
- Visits to libraries, museums, zoos and other community facilities and attractions are also recommended to supplement learning.
Home schooled children are eligible for a partial enrolment in their local school for specific activities or classes if the principal and parents can come to an agreement.
Fees can be charged for the particular activities and classes the child attends.
Making it work
To ensure the success of a home schooling program the following components are important-
- Socialisation and other educational opportunities for the home schooled child are important. Making links with other home schoolers and home schooling support groups will be critical to the success of a homeschooling program, see links at the bottom of this page for further information.
- Appropriate learning environment-the advantage of home schooling a child with autism is that the environment can be tailored to support the child’s particular learning, sensory and therapy needs.
- An environment which is well organised, free of clutter, distractions and things that cause sensory issues is important. A space where the child can engage on appropriate sensory play, downtime and physical exercise is also important.
- Having access to appropriate resources is also key to a successful program. Resources that are educational, interactive and fun help support learning at home. Home schooling support groups will have many ideas on appropriate resources and support materials, or you can access more formal resources through the education department.
Distance education provides set coursework and online learning opportunities to students from the DECV. It is the same as regular school but not conducted in a physical classroom. Set work and resources are provided and instruction is provided by teachers on line or over the phone.
The distance education centre provides a curriculum for all ages Prep to 12.
Homeschooling parents may purchase learning packages from the DECV to assist them in the education of their child.
For more information on distance education see Distance Education http://www.distance.vic.edu.au
Before you consider home schooling:
- Contact the Education Department, home schooling support groups and do some research.
- Consider the substantial commitment and amount of time required.
• Consider the impact on you, your family and your relationships.
- Do you have the space, time and resources required?
- Are you willing to be responsible and accountable for the entire education of your child?
- Are there any other alternatives to withdrawing your child from school- i.e. part time school, other community based programs?
- Will this enhance the relationship between you and your child or is it likely to cause major tension or disruption?
- Is this something your family can afford?
Information and resources
Victorian school of languages – Home schooling students can access programs and resources www.vsl.vic.edu.au or telephone (03) 9474 0500.