Empowering People, Launching lives

Starting school transition – a guide for parents and teachers

Author: David Anthony, Head of Research and Learning



13th June 2022 | 3 mins read

Starting the school year can be a difficult time for all pupils, especially those with autism and special educational needs.

There are some transitions that are trickier than others. For example, the transition from nursery to reception, from primary school to secondary school or changing school mid-way through the term. For some autistic children the start of any school year will present many challenges regardless of the size of change. Autistic children typically struggle with changes to routines, unpredictable situations, social interactions with new people and communicating their thoughts and feelings.

We’ve created some top tips and downloadable resources for teachers and parents to use when planning the new school year.

Whether you’re a teacher or parent remember:

  • It is vital to ‘do’ and not just ‘say’ when supporting children with autism and SEN. For example, show them how and where to line up for lunch, don’t just tell them and hope that they do it.
  • Start as early as possible in the summer term (schools) or towards the end of the summer holidays (parents).

Top tips for teaching staff

  1. Start the preparation for transition as early as possible with your pupil.

    • If a child with autism is in your class already, plan to prepare them for the next school year in the summer term.
    • If a child with autism is joining your class, find out if they are being prepared in their current class. Offer support when you have prepared your class by showing the pupil the new space.
  2. Make the classroom environment inclusive.

    • Break areas – a quiet place in the classroom or out of the class.
    • Workstation – if needed, but not isolated completely. Can fade the use of the workstation out over time.
    • Additional resources (see download at bottom of page).
  3. Plan the daily / weekly schedule to be inclusive.

    • Does the child with autism need additional break times in their timetable?
    • Where will extra sessions such as speech therapy fit in?
    • Identify space in the timetable for working on social skills for the young person and their peers, including typically developing peers.
  4. What preparation will the rest of the class need? Extra carpet sessions / assemblies to share information about autism for example.

  5. Communicating the young person’s needs across the school – how will this be done to support lunch time supervisors for example.

  6. An understanding of basic behavioural principles can help to support a child with autism.

    • Pairing – spend time getting to know the child and what they enjoy doing. Join in with play and pair yourself and the environment with fun activities, even if there is a 1:1 TA.
    • Motivation – when someone is motivated, they will engage in behaviour to access what they want. By understanding this you can support your pupil to be successful. For example, helping them to request a break when they find work too hard.
    • Reinforcement – everyone is different, what works as motivation for one child may not work as well for another. Understanding this can help you utilise the individuals’ reinforcers to help them stay motivated to learn.
  7. Seek additional support.


Top tips for parents

  1. Start the preparation for the transition as early as possible with your child (in June or July).

    • Ask your school to tell you what class they will go into and what teacher they will have next year.
    • Ask for pictures of the classroom/staff to help prepare your child over the holidays.
    • The school may even have a video tour on their website or would allow you to film the transition into school to use for preparing your child for the changes.
  2. Creating an extended planner that covers the summer and start of the new school term could help your child to understand when school is coming back.

    • You know your child best. If seeing the plan too early would make them more anxious about the change you can delay the preparation.
  3. Talk to them about the new school year and use the visuals to help make things more tangible.

    • You can still talk to your child about the changes even if they are unable to have a conversation about it themselves.
    • Frequent exposure to pictures of the classroom and staff or even watching a video of the new environment will help prepare your child.
  4. Share with the new class teacher the things you and your family did over the summer holidays.

    • What trips did you go on?
    • What skills has your daughter or son been working on?
    • Have any skills or behaviour regressed over the holidays?
    • What did your child enjoy doing over the holidays?
  5. If you need support or have concerns, you could seek help from:


Every child is different and will require varying levels of support. The above is merely a guideline of how you can approach things. To get this information in a downloadable format and to access a range of free resources, such as pupil profiles, person-centred planning tools and visual timetables, download our starting school resource pack today.

School starter resource pack

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