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Impact of Autism on Transitions
IMPACT Responding to the needs of pupils 

Resistance to change with a preference for the familiar, is a key feature of individuals on the spectrum. Transition of any kind is likely to involve elements that are new whether that be people, expectations or contexts. 


Assessment to work towards an individualised transition plan should take place. This should take account of:

The pupil's capacity to cope with change.

Key people or agencies who may be contributing to the transitions process;

Preparation visits.

Communication of information in a form that is accessible to the pupil;

Parental concerns.

CPD for staff.

Time (staff) - for planning, familiarisation and a reasonable timescale for the transition to take place.

Time (pupils) - to raise awareness of new processes vocabulary and get to know key staff. To explore new environments. To have an opportunity to share any concerns.

If appropriate formal and informal risk assessments may need to be incorporated in keeping with local policy guidance.

Sensory processing difficulties may be heightened in new environments. Filtering of sensory information may be problematic and may result in stress reactions or increased anxiety leading to challenging or bizarre/inappropriate behaviours.

During familiarisation visits staff should observe and take account of any adverse responses to environmental stimuli such as sounds, crowded areas, lighting, temperature or the proximity of others.

Measures may need to be taken to make reasonable adaptations to the environment. Expectations of what will be required of the pupil in particular settings may also need review and adjustment according to needs.

The anticipation of transitions can be anxiety provoking. Events/transitions that are often welcomed and hoped for in typically developing pupils may be a source of fear and anxiety to pupils on the spectrum as they are unlikely to be able to assimilate an internal image of what the process may involve or what may occur in a new situation. They may also be unable to draw on similar, previous experiences in order to anticipate what may be involved or what may be required of them.

It will also be important to identify areas where the pupil is comfortable as this may be a location they may use if they are stressed and need to take some time out.

These aspects should be considered as part of the initial assessment of the pupil. Additionally the views of the pupil and their parents/carers and previous teachers will be informative in developing approaches.

Adjusting to the expectations of new sets of people in a new context is likely to be challenging and altering social behaviour in keeping with a changing context can be difficult for pupils with autism.

Connections between past and current experiences may not be immediately obvious to the pupil. Staff can draw on previous information to support the pupil to make connections and to offer reassurance.

The social rules and expectations of any situation need to be made explicit to pupils with autism. Information needs to be presented in a way that meets their needs and may need to be continually accessible so that pupils can have a point of reference if they are unsure about expectations. Similarly such a point of reference will aid teachers in reminding pupils of behavioural expectations.

Visual information ( e.g. photographs) or school websites will provide pupils with a concrete point of reference regarding new adults or the roles of adults in a new context.

Given the complex and diverse nature of the needs of some individuals on the spectrum there are likely to be a variety of professionals involved. The pupil or parents may not fully understand their role or their involvement and may have only occasional contact with some of the involved professionals.

The validity of time for involved professionals to communicate needs to be recognised.

Effective communication and shared perspectives between schools regarding supporting the transition of pupils with autism is likely to lead to more proactive planning and supportive practice.

There is likely to be a role for senior management within schools to take responsibility for co-ordinating professional involvement when a range of agencies are represented.

Systems and approaches may need to be adapted so that pupils can engage in review processes. This may include the use of visual communication materials e.g. talking mats or time with a familiar supportive adult to prepare for review or other meetings. Visual rating scales may also be helpful.


The potentially complex nature of autism may give rise to concerns among staff. Such concerns may be due to incomplete records or misinformation about the nature of autism in general and how it is impacting on the individual pupil in particular.

Recording systems may need to be adapted to take account of the specific aspects that will be relevant for pupils with autism.

Opportunities should be sought for formal and informal CPD to support staff who may feel anxious about their level of expertise in autism. e.g. attendance at training courses, visiting autism bases, networking with other agencies and schools, sharing good practice and building relationships with parents. Time to collate reading and other resources that will increase understanding and confidence.

On-going support from senior management.

Assessment of the individual pupil and circumstances as well as liaison between existing and future staff will be needed to ascertain the most appropriate time line.

The lead in time for transitions to occur will be predicated by the individual impact of autism on the pupil. Key elements are the capacity to appreciate the concept of the passage of time and their ability to cope with future, stressful events.

The adults can begin the process well ahead of time even if the pupil will not be directly involved till a later stage. It is more effective to begin early and have time for a full analysis of the situation than to cause stress and risk failure by delaying.

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