Planning for Transitions
Transitions are constant and inescapable. It is essential that children and youth who are living with FASD are supported in times of transition, so they are able to develop skills and learn strategies for coping. Planning for transitions should be grounded in the understanding that FASD is a lifelong brain-based disability. Strategies for support during transitions are mindful of the brain-based vulnerabilities that a children and youth experience during their day, school career, and as they transition into adulthood. It is crucial that transition supports are in place when children and youth, because there during transition times there is typically less structure, supervision, and routine.
SUPPORTING SUCCESSFUL TRANSITIONS
Throughout a student’s school career, they are asked to transition between math and reading, art and gym class, new grades and new teachers, new schools and new expectations, and adjust to possible disruptions to their daily schedules. Helping children and youth with FASD understand, plan, and prepare for transitions enhances their opportunities to experience success during transitions. For many children and youth living with FASD, unstructured times and movement from one task to another can be extremely challenging, both at school and at home. This trouble with transitioning can be related to perseveration, unpredictability of the unknown, confusion about the next task, and maintaining focus and attention during the transition. Due to the numerous transitions a child or youth will experience, it is important to infuse as much predictability and opportunities for preparation as possible.
Foster a sense of predictability… One way we can support struggles with transitions is to foster a sense of predictability. The use of visual schedules in their home, a pictorial schedule for younger students and a simple written schedule for older students, is often effective for providing some predictability for what their day will look like and also support step by step support for chores, homework, activities, and hygiene routines. Consistent and easily understood expectations and consequences also make for a more predictable and structured environment. Predictable environments reduce stress and enable a calmer child or youth who is ready and able to learn.
Help the student prepare for change… Children and youth living with FASD can also benefit from verbal and visual prompts or cues to help prepare for an upcoming transition. It is important to be clear and concrete in the language used for prompts or reminders, using specific time measurements (such as a timer) or a reference point for time (such as the length of a particular song), and provide written reminders when appropriate.
Reminders of changes to a schedule or routine can also help prepare the child or youth for the adjustment to their routine. For example, children and youth with FASD may benefit from being informed about a visitor coming to the home, a substitute teacher at school, or an upcoming trip so they have the opportunity to process and prepare for the change or what to expect, and you have the opportunity to support and coach them during this change. Connecting with school staff as your child or youth transitions from one grade to the next, meeting the new teach, and beginning to build a relationship before the next school year begins can also help with school transitions
SUPPORTING KEY TRANSITIONS
Transition planning is also vital to help children and youth with FASD prepare for big life transitions. Transitions from Primary to Elementary, Elementary to Junior High, Junior High to High School can be intimidating for many children and youth. Students with FASD often experience more difficulties with these transitions as there are an increase in disruptions to their routines and predictable environments.
Transition meetings… When your child or youth transitions between grades in the same school, it is beneficial for caregivers/guardians to participate in a transition planning meeting prior to the start of the next school year. Ideally, caregivers/guardians are able to meet with “last year’s teacher” and “this year’s teacher” as a group. It can be a great opportunity to discuss what worked well and what didn’t work so well, in addition to ideal communication strategies between you and the teacher. This can also be a meaningful time to reflect on the successes and growth of your child or youth. Transition meetings are even more important when your child or youth is transitioning to a different school. Setting up visits with the new school can also help to ease stress and foster familiarity with the new school environment.
If teachers are able, sharing a brief transition report including a summary of the student’s strengths and struggles along with helpful strategies and relational supports, can be an effective tool to ease the transition between grades and ensure all upcoming teachers are able to get a strengths-based snapshot of the student. Transition meetings are even more important when the student is transitioning to a different school. Setting up visits with the new school can also help to ease stress and foster familiarity with the new school environment.
Understanding and supporting developmental age… Key transitions also seem to come with increased expectations which typically match a student’s chronological age. For example, we might say “act your age” when a child or youth appears to be behaving in an immature manner. However, individuals with FASD often experience a mismatch between aspects of their developmental age and chronological age.
Setting up children and youth for success involves understanding the complex relationship between chronological and developmental age, which can make it difficult for the student to understand abstract language and concepts, in addition to “acting their age” when they are a teenager. Children and youth might very well be acting their developmental age, so it is important to gently support them during these times. When a mismatch between developmental and chronological age is noticed, it can be a great time to teach, role model and mentor the child or youth so they are able to experience success and support positive mental health.
Transition to adulthood… As high school graduation approaches, youth often transition out of the supportive school environments they have been part of for over 12 years, and in many cases, they also transition out of their home environments. Individuals living with FASD tend to need more supports during these major life transition times, and depending on their level of ability, will benefit from continued support and interdependence, rather than independence. Due to the fact that FASD is a lifelong disability, individuals with FASD will experience the most success if they continue to receive support into adulthood.
Individuals with FASD may also not be able to successfully live on their own. They are often vulnerable to being taken advantage of and also experience difficulty with the complexity of living independently. Depending on their level of functioning, it may be helpful to connect with the school or support services in your community to transition plan. Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH) and Persons with Developmental Disabilities (PDD) are examples of supports that may be applicable and helpful to explore while transition planning.