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Please be aware that this section contains information prepared in 2009 and may now be out of date. Some links may no longer work. We are reviewing this section.



Case studies


Preparing for and managing change is important for all children, but this is particularly so for those on the autism spectrum who can find change extremely hard to deal with. The daily transitions from the home environment to school, from class to playground, from one classroom to another can be very challenging for someone on the autism spectrum.

The more significant key transitions such as from home to school or primary to secondary school can be completely overwhelming for someone on the autism spectrum without proper support and planning. In addition, such children may undergo more transitions than most during their school-age years because the same type of educational setting may not be appropriate throughout. It is therefore vital that schools and other agencies consult thoroughly with parents and work with children to ease transition difficulties.

The key transition phases in any child’s life are:

• Starting pre-school or playschool at 2.5 – 3 years

• Starting primary school at 4 years

• Moving from primary school to secondary school at 11 years

• Either leaving school at 16 years or moving to further education (College)

• Either leaving further education at 18/19 years or moving to higher education (University) or an adult service

• Leaving higher education

• Finding work

As a parent of a child on the autism spectrum you will know that given the problems that children on the autism spectrum have in communicating and also in understanding social routines, many are reluctant to change from the familiar people and places that they understand and have learned to function within. Introducing a change to an already established routine can cause huge anxiety and distress to the individual.

Knowledge of the individual and what they are likely to require before transition is essential, and it is parents who are generally the best experts on their children. Obviously children on the autism spectrum must be consulted appropriately about their preferences when it comes to transition, however, they can find it hard to make choices. Communication difficulties can also make it harder for such children to put their views across. It is important therefore that teachers, social services and other agencies also work closely with parents in any transition.

The National Autistic Society has a very helpful series of information sheets on its website looking at transition issues for children and young people on the autism spectrum. Understanding Difficulties At Break Time and Lunchtime examines the difficulties faced by children on the autism spectrum outside of structured lessons, and suggests practical solutions for parents and teachers.

Moving from Primary to Secondary School looks at strategies for helping children cope with what can be very daunting change of educational environments, and offer suggestions for managing timetables, books and equipment and other issues. It is written for teachers and other professionals working with children, but is also very helpful for parents.

Transition Plans

The move from school to adulthood - the transition stage between age 14 and 25 - can be a particularly difficult time for people on the autism spectrum. They may find it difficult to generalise the 'rules' they have learnt in one context to new relationships and situations. Transition planning should start when the child reaches year 9 (usually age 14 years) and should involve input from a range of agencies, such as social services, housing, employment and health, to plan for the young person's transition to adult life. Transition plans are detailed documents which should be produced with full consultation with parents and with the child concerned, and should then be reviewed on an annual basis.

However, the National Autistic Society (NAS) report Make School Make Sense (2006) reveals only 53% of young people were issued with transition plans during the course of their education, falling to just 34% of students in mainstream schools. The input of adult social services is crucial to the viability of the transition plan, and yet adult social services were only involved in planning in 17% of cases.

The NAS's information sheet Transition Planning at the Age of 14 offers comprehensive information on transition plans for parents, teaching staff and other agency professionals. Once equipped with information as to the best practice in multi-agency transition planning, parents are better able to fight to ensure that their children's needs are properly met. For more details on the different agencies involved in transition planning and their roles, see the Children’s Workforce section on transition. This section also outlines government requirements for these professionals.

Young people on the autism spectrum have, and should be encouraged to have aspirations for their future and with varying levels of support they can live full and independent lives. However, at present the reality faced by many on the autism spectrum is that only 6% of people with autism, and 12% of people with Asperger syndrome are in full-time paid employment. This failure in the system to support people with autism has repercussions for the individual, their families and for public expenditure.

Transition Support Programme

Aiming High for Disabled Children (AHDC), launched in May 2007, is the government’s transformation programme for disabled children's services in England. The programme identified that more work was needed to improve and co-ordinate services for disabled young people in transition to adult life. To address this, the government announced the Transition Support Programme, which would aim to raise the standards of transition in all local areas.

The Transition Support Programme consists of two main elements:
ß The national transition support team, which will coordinate the work with local authorities, PCTs and regional advisers and existing experts.

• Support for change at local level through a combination of direct grants and regional adviser activity. In December 2008 the Government announced that every local authority area is receiving £10,000 to assess their current support for transition including drawing in the views of young people and families and completing a self assessment questionnaire; and 13 LAs are receiving an additional £37,500 to extend their practice in the following areas:

• engagement with disabled young people and also their families

• personalisation

• joint assessment processes in children’s and adult services

• education, employment and training options at 16+

• strategic partnership working

The 13 areas are Birmingham, Cornwall, Coventry, Devon, London Borough of Redbridge, London Borough of Richmond, Leicester City, Medway, North East Lincolnshire, North Tyneside, Nottinghamshire, Oldham, & Suffolk.

APPGA Inquiry into Transition

On 9th December 2008, the (All Party Parliamentary Group on Autism) APPGA launched its first ever inquiry. The inquiry is looking at the transition stage of young people on the autism spectrum from the age of 14 to 25. The inquiry will report in June 2009 and will result in a short, concise report of six chapters covering six core issues, with action recommendations to ministers. The APPGA selected transition as the topic for its inquiry because this is an area that is often over-looked.

The APPGA Manifesto progress report 'Half way there?' highlights transition as a key area for focus for policy makers. The report reveals that although there has been progress in specific areas, it is often the link between services that fails individuals on the ground. A transition from children's services can often involve a range of different agencies. Problems often occur when these agencies fail to link up. The key players in ensuring effective transition to adult life include the school, local authority, local Connexions service and social services.


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Transition Support Programme The website for the national transition support team including a link to Trans Map: from theory into practice, published in May 2009 by the Council for Disabled Children.

Transition Information Network website for parents, carers and people who work with and for disabled young people in transition to adulthood

APPGA inquiry into Transition Will take written evidence up until Friday 6th February. Anyone can submit written evidence to the inquiry. Reporting in June 2009.

Autism Good Practice Guidance This guidance developed by the Autism Working Group gives practical advice to providers for children on the autism spectrum, based on existing good practice, and helps them to reflect on their own practice and examples of good practice

Information for parents and professionals:
Strengthening the social network of students with autism/communication difficulties with the help of their peers through the participation in a Social Art Group during the transition from Primary to Secondary School
Author: Eleni G Konstantinidou
Published by: Department of Education, University of Strathclyde
Date: 2006

Breaking Down Barriers to Learning Practical strategies for achieving successful transition for students with autism and Asperger syndrome
Author: Diana Ennis and Cath Manns
Published by: The National Autistic Society, Surrey County Council’s Children’s Service, Partnership with Parents, South East Region SEN Partnership
Date: 2004

NAS Information Sheet Education: moving from primary to secondary school
NAS Information Sheet Education: understanding difficulties at
NAS Information Sheet Transition: planning at the age of 14 (England and Wales)

Using social stories to ease children's transitions
Author: Jennifer Briody and Kathleen McGarry
Published by: The National Association for the Education of Young Children
Date: 2005

Music improves morning transitions for children with autism
Extract from: Use of songs to promote independence in morning greeting routines for young children with autism, Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders
Author: Kern P., Wolery M., & Aldridge D. (in press)
Published by: The University of North Carolina
Date: 2006

Transition from Primary to Secondary Schools Information from Stroud Autistic Support Group


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Case studies


Birmingham has created the post of Transition Manager. This manager isresponsible for the transition of all vulnerable young people, including looked after children, disabled children, young people leaving care, young people with special educational needs, young people involved in substance misuse, young offenders and asylum seekers. The Transition Manager has developed a multi-agency transition policy document that has recently been agreed by city councillors as the framework for transition. The key policy principles are to improve the identification of those needing support, to create an integrated pathway and process, to provide young people with more choice and opportunities, to ensure that the infrastructure is able to meet the needsof young people, and to ensure a coordinated multi-agency approach, that leads to better outcomes for young people. 

A pilot also looked at self-directed support and personalised budgets for young people in transition in Birmingham, around the In Control agenda. The project lead was involved in the development of the Transition Pathway and was the lead implementer for Birmingham. The initial project is aimed at young people who have already been through the Transition Pathway process, and therefore already have a person-centred plan. Issues have arisen, particularly around families not realising that their young person has already got a person-centred plan, and it is therefore apparent that the link between different processes and approaches needs to be made clear. (source: Transition Support Programme Website)

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