The transition to secondary school causes stress and anxiety for children with special needs and their families. Here are some last-minute tips to make the transition easier.
1. Familiarise your child with their new school
Before the end of your child’s primary school year, make sure they are familiar with the school they will attend in the autumn. Visit their secondary school and make sure they know:
If possible, arrange for your child to sit in on some classes, and meet some student and teachers. Get a sample schedule of what a typical school day will be like for a first-year student starting in the autumn.
2. Get to know key personnel
Both you and your child should meet the person who coordinates special needs issues for the secondary school. If possible, arrange to meet the special needs assistants who will work with your child when they start secondary school.
Arrange to meet the school principal and the teacher who will act as your child’s year head. These meetings are an opportunity to build relationships with two people who will play a key role in your child’s education. The principal and year head can be of great assistance to you when issues arise in the future. Therefore, it’s important to develop a positive relationship with them.
3. Ensure relevant information is transferred between schools
If your child’s primary school is in possession of reports or other information that would be helpful to the secondary school, make sure copies are provided to the principal and special needs coordinator. For example, if an occupational therapist gave recommendations to their primary school, make sure a copy is with key personnel at the secondary school.
Individual education plans (IEPs) from your child’s primary school may also be helpful to her secondary school. Review their most recent IEPs and decide whether it would benefit your child to forward the IEP’s to their new school. The IEP’s may explain your child’s difficulties and what was done in the past to assist them. Also, if there are goals that were not met in their recent IEP’s, you may want the secondary school to be aware of this.
4. Network with other parents
Maintain connections with any parents you know from your child’s current school whose children will be going to the same secondary school, particularly if they have a child with special needs. Make an effort to get to know other parents of children with special needs whose children already attend the secondary school.
Other parents are an invaluable source of information and support. Sometimes, your best source of information for what is going on in the school is other parents. You can find out the reputations of teachers and how accommodating they are for children with special needs. Parents may also have information about key personnel including the Special Educational Needs Organiser (SENO), the NEPS psychologist, and staff at the school. If you don’t know other parents, find them at local support groups or through online support groups.
Maintaining relationships with other parents throughout your child’s education will benefit both you and your child.
5. Prepare for next year
Over the summer holidays, think about how to educate your child’s new teachers about their needs. This preparation is particularly important if your child will be in mainstream classes and have several different teachers. Think about the problems they faced in primary school, and what solutions worked for your child.
Consider preparing a one-page information sheet to give to your child’s teachers. At the top of the sheet, put some general information about your child. You could include their diagnosis, likes and dislikes, and strengths and weaknesses. Also, include your direct contact information.
Use the rest of the sheet to list possible problems and solutions. For example, make two columns and label the first 'issues', and the second 'solutions'. Put issues in the first column and suggested solutions in the second. For example, if your child does not understand sarcasm or irony, include that as a problem. For the solution, include avoiding using sarcasm or irony, or explain any sarcasm or irony used.
Plan to give each teacher a copy of this information sheet at the start of the school year. I suggest doing this in person, so you meet the teacher and begin to build a relationship with him or her. You may need to update this sheet as your child needs change.
I hope you find these tips helpful and wish you and your child the best of luck with this transition.