Transition to New School

Even if youngsters with autism get along pretty well in school, the transition to a new school can be challenging. For example, when moving from elementary to middle school, students are expected to listen to and remember about various procedures and rules given to an assembly of the whole student body on the first day of school. They will hear dozens of rules about recess, procedures for dressing out in gym class, expected behavior in the hallways, tips for organizing their schedule and locker and backpack, steps to follow in an emergency drill, and on and on. Yikes! How can we help with transition to a new school?

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At least a week before school starts, parents of a youngster with autism who is attending a different school this fall might want to ask a counselor or other staff member to give their child an informal, low-key, personalized “welcome tour” helping them learn the location of their book locker and gym locker and classes. It would be good to help them pre-plan their daily route so they can get from class to class on time with all the necessary supplies and books.

Purposeful, casual, one-to-one instruction about some of the school traditions, procedures, and expected behaviors would certainly make transition MUCH smoother for individuals with autism, many of whom are visual learners and simply may not process all the verbal instructions given during orientation in a large all-school assembly.

So, before the first day of school, make arrangements for a “welcome tour” to help students with autism learn about (1) emergency drills and procedures, (2) expected behavior during morning announcements, (3) location of restrooms, (4) expected behavior in the hallways between classes and during classes (5) procedure for riding the school bus, (6) lunchroom procedures, (7) expected behavior during pep rally and other group gatherings, (8) procedures for dressing out in gym class, and (9) who to contact with questions or problems. I encourage parents to tag along if appropriate so they can help remind their youngster of the new routines if needed.

We welcome your input. Share challenges and ideas based on your experiences or intuition. Just click on the comments button or send an e-mail to

NOTE TO READERS AND LISTENERS: I am Cathy Knoll, a board certified music therapist and long-time friend of many folks with autism. At we are committed to providing free, practical, everyday tips for making life better for people with autism. Feel free to send me an email with your thoughts or challenging situations or innovative solution. Send email to And don’t forget to check out our website for a wealth of ideas and a glimpse into the world of autism.

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