High School Transition Tips for Students with Special Needs
We are finally nearing the end of our transition to high school process. After nearly two years of preparing, organising, liaising and managing, there are only two supported transition visits left and then the main orientation day to come.
High school is now a mere 3 months away for us and for Gilbert.
It’s been a long road, a journey that began nearly two years ago at the end of Year 4. That’s when we first looked at updating his diagnosis information and started considering his high school options.
Last year, in Year 5, we held meetings with his primary school to identify the best setting for him, researched our options and applied for selective placement to ensure we covered all bases.
This year, in Year 6, we hit the ground running in term 1 when we submitted our application for enrolment and then received confirmation that Gilbert had been accepted into the school’s gifted and talented program. We also re-engaged with our therapists and began working with new ones to help Gilbert come to terms with the transition process.
Throughout the last few years, we’ve encountered a number of challenges (no surprise there!). However, we’ve been able to meet them all by taking the time to build relationships, making sure we understood how the transition process works, being proactive ourselves and identifying who we needed to engage at the appropriate time.
You can find out more about our approach to our son’s current transition process in the video below (which includes more explanation of the 5 tips I discuss in this post):
If you prefer to read on, the 5 tips below are based on our own experience and have allowed us to enjoy a smooth transition process to date.
I hope they may be able to help you and your family too!
5 Tips to Help the Transition to High School
This is my biggest tip – start working with your child’s school in the year before you think you need to. As stated above, we started the ball rolling at the end of Year 4, so we had all the required paperwork in place for the primary school’s funding needs. However, as long as you’ve started to have discussions about potential class placement in Year 5, you will be okay. The reason for this timeframe is simple – high school enrolment happens in Term 1 in Year 6. So you need to have done all the legwork before that time so you can apply for enrolment in your chosen high school with confidence.
It can be a tricky balance (you don’t want to overstep the mark with either school) but it’s important you take some responsibility for the transition process and don’t just leave it up to the schools themselves. You will always be your child’s best advocate and you will always be the one to fight hardest for them. So, ensure you know what assistance, funding and support is being applied for on your child’s behalf. Ask the primary school if you can review this information before it’s submitted to the high school. This way, you can identify any gaps or discrepancies in the information being supplied before it’s submitted.
Find Opportunities to Familiarise Yourself With the School
It’s important to find ways to familiarise yourself and your child, with the prospective high school. If you are able to build a strong connection from the start, it will be so much easier to deal with any issues that may arise as part of the transition process. In Gilbert’s case, I asked his current principal if he could go up to the high school in June and deliver a presentation on World Albinism Awareness Day. This helped the school understand his condition better, allowed Gilbert to introduce himself to staff and students and gave us the opportunity to meet with senior staff in an informal way. My next challenge is to identify how I can engineer a similar opportunity for Matilda for next year!
Gilbert in action, delivering his presentation at his local high school
Ask for a Supported Transition Process
Most high schools will work with feeder primary schools to identify students who may need some extra help in the transition process. Ensure that your child is included in this program by requesting a supported transition process through your primary school. In Gilbert’s case, he has joined 30 other Year 6 students for 5 x 2-hour sessions aimed at familiarising the students with high school life, facilities, activities and staff. This has been such a valuable experience for him so far and I’m relieved that he will have 10 extra hours at his new school to feel more comfortable and (hopefully!) less anxious.
Introduce Yourself to the High School
This is a simple step that can be forgotten in the larger transition process. However, don’t forget to introduce yourself to the school and to make an appointment to meet the principal, deputy or head of student welfare. Making a personal connection as early as possible, allows you to create a relationship that is based on mutual understanding of your child. Having an existing relationship in place will help you better deal with any future issues that may arise. It also gives you the opportunity to share the personality, preference and strengths of your child with the school directly, something that is often forgotten in the process of highlighting their challenges in order to obtain funding and assistance.
Have you made the transition with your special needs student? I’d love to hear your suggestions!