Using research to support transitions
Gareth Morewood draws on his experience to identify 2 research studies that have helped him develop how transitions are managed in his school.
I have always thought that supporting transitions is vital. Having the opportunity to recently work with almost 200 SENCos in Somerset on this topic enabled me to think in more depth about the importance of transitions for the young people in our schools. This SENCology post helps highlight some of my initial thinking that has developed from various research studies.
What is a transition?
Firstly, however, it is useful to consider how we define ‘transition’.
The movement, passage, or change from one position, state, stage, subject, concept, etc., to another; change: the transition from adolescence to adulthood
Transitions are vital for many people, but particularly so for those with whom SENCo colleagues are most involved with. But we shouldn’t forget that how we move from one thing to another can be a significant challenge for many of our young people. I believe transitions can be categorised into three areas:
- Big Transitions – school phase; into adulthood; moving house etc.
- Medium Transitions – from school to home; changing for PE; lesson to lunch etc.
- Small Transitions – from one activity to another; brushing teeth; dressing etc.
It is important to be as pro-active as possible in order to reduce anxiety and uncertainty around these changes and to try to minimise the risks associated with unprepared transitions and unexpected changes in routine.
The following two studies highlight important points for us to consider and mirror my personal experiences over almost 20 years to date.
Sterling-Turner, H. E. & Jordan, S. S. (2007). Interventions addressing transition difficulties for individuals with autism. Psychology in the Schools, 44(7), p. 681-690.
This study finds that learning to transition between activities is a skill that must be learned in the same way as any other new skill, and that teachers should first consider the amount of time a transition should take as well as any additional demands (e.g. hand washing) that may be associated with the transition. Ideally there should be an adult at each activity so that when children arrive at the new activity they can begin immediately, rather than having to wait for the entire group to be ready – this reinforces the need for early planning and support.
Teachers should systematically teach children desired transitioning behaviours through modelling, rehearsal and feedback, so each pupil understands the expected behaviours.
If activity schedules are used they should include a visual representation of times and activities involved in the transition.
The study notes that as children become more efficient and fluent in each transition, the individual steps can be faded to promote independent functioning. However, education staff should aim to make transition as predictable as possible for the child.
Once this has been achieved staff should consider other issues surrounding the transition, e.g. the number of steps involved in a task, the length of a task and the reinforcing value of the activity they are finishing and the one they are about to start.
Any technique used to promote smooth transition should have a high probability of maintenance and generalisation – this again supports my view that any such transitional arrangements should minimise risks as much as possible.
Jindal-Snape, D., Douglas, W., Topping, K. J., Kerr C. & Smith E. F. (2006). Autistic spectrum disorders and primary secondary transition. International Journal of Special Educations, 21(2), p. 18-32. This study succinctly highlights the need for:
- the elimination of delay in placement decisions
- the elimination of exclusions from school
- timely, planned, long-term strategic decision making
- better, faster, less formal, more realistic, reciprocal communication between all stakeholders
- a full range of provision, with available vacancies, explained/understood by all stakeholders, catering for combinations of need rather than singular need
- professional resource/time available to supporting transition effectively, without a change in the key worker at times of transition.
This may be what we would all call common sense, however, often rushed or last-minute transitions mean timely, planned routes are not provided, which can therefore increase the stress of an already complex situation.
Further reading and information
- These studies were highlighted in the excellent Middletown Autism Research Bulletin
- NAS transition page
- AET Transition Toolkit
- Some thoughts by Temple Grandin