Transition from any structure and stability can be very stressful for so many, just imagine how you feel about changing your hairdresser/barber or Doctor and Dentist, the emotions that come with starting a new job… multiply this and that is how a child with additional learning needs feels every time he or she has to face change.
The stress and anxiety doesn’t just stop with the student… the parents will worry for the child and themselves about the early days in the new environment, knowing full well this has already been a problem with changing desks, teachers and classes in the past and now we are talking a whole new school.
All change is risky and comes at a price, so transition needs to be gentle… why schools don’t allow new student intakes to go to the next level for tasters is beyond me… this is achieved in many third level colleges.
Flexibility is king in accommodating the transition process when a child presents with SPLD. There are guidelines for schools to follow, but many parents will be unaware of this at the point it’s required and lack of communication should be avoided at all times, prior and after transition to make sure we are all aware of the individual’s needs. Senior schools should communicate with both parent and Junior School to find out and be able to accommodate the child’s needs (IEP).
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Discuss the history of your child with the school to make sure you are all singing off the same hymn sheet… reasonable accommodation should be afforded in certain instances (Students with dyslexia, dysgraphia and dyscalculia), such as :
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Writer present - to be able to sit their exam away from the main exam room.
Exemption from spelling and grammatical components in language subjects (waiver).
The key to reduced stress lies in preparation… I will always remember the old saying “fail to prepare, prepare to fail”. Be pro-active and less problems will occur… transition is, as it says, a period of smoothness from one thing to another. This should happen very early on in the final year/sixth class and below I have made some suggestions that can be used by both parent/child and school.
Transition without the Stress – Hints to help inform First and Second Level Schools
Get the school to demonstrate an understanding of your child’s condition.
Talk with the students on a one to one basis about the different structure and the increased formality they might face at second level.
Introduce a mentor from the present first year to ease in the new student… this will grow the network for the incoming students. Avoid older students as they could draw the incoming students out of their comfort zone.
Try to get the school to give lockers that are easy accessible and away from the hustle as children with learning needs can become nervous in crowds and all fingers and thumbs.
Inform them that they will have a variety of teachers, possibly one per subject… it’s important that their year tutor informs the others of your child’s needs.
Work with your child in the summer recess with new subject areas such as business studies, Science/Biology, CSPE and Home Economics, this will help reduce anxiety.
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Parents/carers should teach their children/students how to write out and also read prepared timetables and it helps to colour code and replicate with school books…e.g. maths on Monday is yellow so put a yellow sticker on the maths book and the timetable.
Start in junior school to write more complex and varied timetables… identify presentation of projects and variations like school trips, etc… get the SNA to help take down homework.
Students need to know about acronyms…subjects like CSPE shortened from Civic, Social and Political Education.
Make sure you avail of every opportunity to visit the new school… it’s worth driving past there occasionally, especially at busy time. Let them know about shortened lesson times and moving to different classrooms for each lesson (orientation is so important), school meals…is there a café or will they take food?… homework clubs… maybe show them the school website and they can check out the gallery of photos.
Make sure your child decides on whether they want their new class friends to know they have learning needs… not all children are comfortable with this and the school cannot tell others as you are protected under data protection.
You should be in possession of a valid statement in order to show the new school for the provision of resource hours, laptops, etc.
Make sure they are aware of toileting, etc… I recently spoke to my son’s teacher about his transition from primary school last year and asked if they understood about his dyspraxia and the answer was ‘yes’. However, in the next sentence they mentioned that he was spotted going to the toilet less than 20 mins after the start of the first class of the day and surely he knew he wanted to go (inferring he should have gone before lessons started)… so did they fully understand dyspraxia?... no is the answer.
Parents need to be prepared for schools to call them if meltdowns happen… it might be wise for you to take time off work during the first week at least so you can meet them from school and also in case you are called by the school.
Keep an eye out for bullying (change of mood, disturbed sleep, return to bed wetting are all indicators)… find out who they spend breaks with… listen out for names and check to see that they are in the same year as quite often older boys will use them to do things they shouldn’t be doing, like leaving the school to go to the shop or hit a child on their behalf.
Try to be all positive and avoid pressure in relation to performance until they are settled.
Invite their new friends around as soon as you can and let them join a few of the school extra curriculum activities… this will keep them in the loop with others in their class (prevent isolation).
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