Planning for Transitions
Transitions are constant and inescapable. It is essential that students 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 student experiences during their school career and as they transition into adulthood. It is crucial that transition supports are in place when students leave school, because there is less structure, supervision, and understanding outside of school.
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 students with FASD understand, plan, and prepare for transitions enhances their opportunities to experience success during transitions. For many students living with FASD, unstructured times and movement from one task to another can be extremely challenging. 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 student will experience, it is important to infuse as much predictability and opportunities for preparation as possible.
STRATEGIES FOR SUPPORT
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 the classroom, 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. Consistent and easily understood classroom expectations and consequences also make for a more predictable and structured environment. Predictable environments reduce stress for students and enable a calmer student who is ready and able to learn.
Help the student prepare for change… Students 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 the student prepare for the adjustment to their routine. For example, students with FASD may benefit from being informed about a fire alarm drill, a substitute teacher, or an upcoming fieldtrip so they have the opportunity to process and prepare for the change or what to expect. Facilitating transition meetings can also help students transition from one grade to the next, meeting the new teacher and beginning to build a relationship before the next school year begins.
SUPPORTING KEY TRANSITIONS
Transition planning is also vital to help students 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 students. 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 a student transitions between grades in the same school, it is beneficial to hold 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. If that is not possible, it is essential that the two teachers are able to connect to share “what worked” and “what didn’t work” for strategies, in addition to their insight on the student’s strengths and brain-based vulnerabilities.
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 like a grade 5 student” or even “act your age” when a student 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 the student up 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” in junior high. Student’s might very well be acting their developmental age, so it is important to gently support the student during these times. When a mismatch between developmental and chronological age is noticed, it can be a great time to teach the student and ensure the correct supports are in place for the student to be successful.
Transition to adulthood… As high school graduation approaches, many students will be transitioning out of the supportive school environments they have been part of for over 12 years. Individuals living with FASD tend to need more supports during these major life transition times. Supporting students with FASD with these transitions enhances opportunities for success, safety and well-being. Due to the fact that FASD is a lifelong disability, the student will likely continue to require support after graduation.
Students may also not be able to successfully live on their own. Individuals with FASD are often vulnerable to being taken advantage of and also experience difficulty with the complexity of living independently. Depending on the level of functioning of the student, it may be beneficial for the school to connect with caregivers/guardians about a transition plan for the student. 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.