Published on: May 29, 2015
TRANSITION. To parents who have children on the Autism spectrum, this word can bring about an abundance of feelings. From nervousness, to fear, to anger, parents dread the thought of having to encounter this change. When your child is in a placement where you know the teachers and the teachers know your child, the thought of having to readjust at a whole new school can seem very overwhelming. Here are some thoughts and ideas on how to set your next placement up for success.
TRANSITION? What exactly does this mean and where do you even start? As parents, we want what is best for our children and when it comes to new school placements, there are so many questions and concerns that need to be addressed.
Step 1: The first step would be to think about what’s important to you, your child and family and write those things down. Is it the class size, the types of professionals at the school, types of kids, or the curriculum? Once you have an understand of what you are looking for then you can then write down all the questions you have about those different areas. Here at The Shafer Center, we provide parents with an “Autism Program Checklist for Parents” which include questions about everything we think is important to ask and this checklist can be taken to any school or program. On this checklist, you will find questions regarding topics such as:
• General Questions
• Learning tools
• Parents and Communication
• Learning Environment & Facility
Having this guide, gives you the opportunity to compare different placements to make an informed decision.
Step 2: The second step is to understand where your child’s current teachers think would be the best next placement for your child. It’s always helpful to have another opinion and that could come from your teacher or SLP or any other person who could make recommendations. At The Shafer Center we use a form called “Transition Recommendations and Essential Components”. This is filled out by the child’s teacher along with input from the whole team, which is a compiled list of essential components for future schools. Meaning what are the top 3-5 things to look for in your next placement. Examples of some program components are:
• Additional adult support
• Academically rigorous
• Behavior component
• Small student to teacher ratio
• SLP integration into classroom
• Applied Behavior Analysis
• Opportunities for movement
These components are important because they are stepping stones to help your child be successful in their future placement. For the school recommendations, there are usually 2-3 and will be based on your child’s needs and keeping in mind the recommended program components. It is also helpful to ask when the last time anyone had visited that program. Schools are always changing and it’s important to have current information.
Another great resource is other parents. It’s always nice to speak with people who have been or are in your situation. Ask around and see if you can find some parents who have kids that go to the school in which you are looking. Parents will always be honest. But you also have to take into account that they have had specific experiences and yours may not be theirs. Talk to people you trust to give you an honest but fair recommendation and don’t feel bad for asking a lot of questions! Knowledge is power!
Step 3: The third step is to visit some potential schools. The only way you can really tell what is happening at a school is to see it for yourself. You can not only get a sense of the educational program and staff but also the feel of the school. Is it rigid or relaxed? Are the students and teachers smiling? What mood do you feel when you walk around? It’s also helpful to get a sense of the facility. Is the cafeteria large – do all the students have lunch at the same time? Is there a break room and what is it used for? All of these questions can be important but the other question to ask is about the administration. Are the supportive of kids with ASD? We have heard back from many Shafer Center families that the way the principal of a school leads the school regarding children with special needs is the best indicator of the school atmosphere as a whole.
Parent sets up tours by calling or emailing the schools administration or admissions director. You can go as a group or as individuals but always make sure to get all your questions answered before you leave!
Step 4: The forth step is a shadow day. Now keep in mind that not all schools require this. A shadow day is when your child goes for a half or full day to “visit” the school you are looking at. The school gets to see how your child will integrate in their classroom programs and you get to see if your child likes the school. Alternatively, sometimes the school you are looking at may send a member of their team to visit and observe your child in their current program. Both of these types of visits are important because you want to know that the next school placement really understands who your child is. The only way to do that is for them to meet or see your child in action.
Step 5: The last step of our recommended process is the team transition meeting or visit. Once your next placement has been decided it is very helpful to have a meeting with the current school and the new school. Both teams come together to discuss and relay important information about your child – strengths, needs, special interests, and any other important facts that will help your child be successful are discussed. We recommend that the parents do not attend this meeting and let it be a professional to professional meeting. However we have seen it done both ways. The most important part of this step is to be honest about expectations and what your child needs.
TRANSITION! It can be a frightening word but if you can follow a process it will be easier because you will have defined what your needs and wants are for your child. Transition doesn’t have to be scary and you as a parent will have the final say in where you child is best suited. And remember you are more nervous about this then your child. They will do well in their next placement because you will be there to watch and evaluate everything. Always remember that you are your child’s best advocate.
By Erin Richmond