Transition to high school

Looking for a high school

Finding the best high school for your child can be very challenging, so it is best to start early, at least two years before the end of primary school.

On the plus side, you have had the experience of managing primary school. You already know many of the things to look out for and some of the things to avoid.

First things first, what sorts of options do you have for your child? These are broadly similar to the primary school choices: specialist schools for children with all sorts of disabilities, autism-specific specialist schools, disability classes within mainstream schools, both general disability and autism-specific ,and mainstream schools. All of these are found within the private, Catholic systemic and public education systems.

Home education is also a common choice for autistic children and teenagers. This can be completely managed by the family or can be done as distance education managed by your state or territory’s education department.

Where to start? This will depend on where you live, with, as ever, there being far fewer options for families living in regional and remote areas of Australia. Your current school should be able to give you the rundown of all the options that are local to you. Other professionals and friends with children on the spectrum will be able to let you know about schools further afield. It is then your mission to go to visit some of these schools, to see which might best suit your child and family, and to find out where there might be spaces available.

Mainstream secondary schools can be a real challenge for all new pupils, partly due to their size but mainly due to their timetables which see pupils moving to different classrooms, and needing different books, for each lesson. Secondary students have many different teachers and their classmates may change for some classes too. They need to be able to manage their timetable and all their books, homework and assessments with much greater independence.

So the transition to high school is complex for all pupils, and most schools put in plenty of support for all of them. However, your child may well need greater supports, adjustments and accommodations to ease the way.

There are also other things to consider:

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Travelling to school, a long journey even by car can add stress to the day
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The stress of leaving familiar friends and school behind
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Meeting a lot of new people all at once

You know your own child’s strengths and challenges and you will be able to draw up a list of what areas will require the most support. For many children this is social, for others help is required both at school and at home to manage organizational tasks.

If families can afford them, a new set of psychometric, speech and OT testing, can be very useful to your child’s new school. However, these can be very expensive.

It is best to form a transition team to work with you and your family, with members of the current school team and from the secondary school team, perhaps with support from your psychologist and/or other professionals.

If your choice of secondary school doesn’t have a clear transition plan for your child, you can find comprehensive transition plans on the Amaze website here.

Tips from other parents include:

  • Spend as much time at the new school as possible before you start
  • Use lots of photos and video, even for more able children
  • It can be helpful to start with half days, or just a few days a week
  • Regular mental health days can be very helpful for children and their families too
  • Do be aware of your rights
  • Think of the other issues your child may have, like anxiety or ADHD and try to make sure these are managed as well as possible
  • Try not to be concerned if your child can not keep up with their peers if they are in a mainstream environment. There are many non-academic jobs they can do in the future
  • It is hard for all teachers to adapt all the work to suit your child, do not have unrealistic expectations
  • No need to worry about homework, if it is too hard for your child, they do not need to do it
  • Foster friendships with children who are similar to your child or who share their interests

Helpful resources

“Having a diagnosis empowered us to assess the different school options and make an informed decision on where our child would go.”