Transition Planning to High School for Students with Autism

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

Helping students with autism get ready to transition to high school can be challenging, so it is important to consider it carefully. This lesson discusses some of the things you can do to ease this complex transition.

Students with Autism in High School

For the last four years, Jeanie has been teaching middle school students with autism in a self-contained setting, or one where they learn and grow separately from typically developing peers.

One of Jeanie's jobs each year is getting her eighth graders ready to move to high school. Jeanie knows that high school can be really difficult for students with autism. Some of the challenges they are likely to face include:

  • Struggles with higher expectations of independence and advanced functioning both academically and socially
  • A more overstimulating environment, with loud noises and crowds
  • The influence of puberty and adolescence on their own development as well as peers
  • Increasing feelings of separation and isolation from peer groups

Jeanie also knows, though, that high school can be an exciting time, when her students can learn more interesting things, have access to many resources and grow more independent and capable.

She knows that she needs to plan thoughtfully for this transition to make the most of it for her students.

Know Your District

Jeanie realizes that it is her responsibility to know the different services and settings her district offers for students with autism in high school. For any middle school teacher or counselor working on this transition, the following questions might be helpful.

  • Are students with autism taught separately in high school? What are the inclusion criteria?
  • How does the high school handle students with autism with extreme behavioral challenges?
  • Who are the high school teachers and special educators who work with students with autism? What training do they have?
  • What ancillary services, like speech therapy and occupational therapy, are provided at the high school? Where do students with autism go when these services are not provided on site?

Jeanie visits her district high school multiple times, meeting with her counterparts there and learning more about the services provided. When a student is getting ready to transition, Jeanie also attends IEP meetings with the new high school teachers so that everyone understands the student's strengths, struggles and needs.

Involve Families

Jeanie also knows that the transition to high school can be challenging for families of students with autism, so she works to involve them in the planning as much as possible.

Jeanie encourages the families in her class to visit the high school themselves and take notes on what they think might be exciting or difficult for their children. She brings families into transition meetings and makes written plans for how they will handle changes in things like transportation and daily routines.

Jeanie also knows that some students with autism are ready to be involved in this transition themselves. When this is the case, she takes them on a tour of the high school, talks with them about what to expect, and even gives them photographs of some of the new places they will soon be encountering.

Scaffold the Changes

As she gets ready to transition her students, Jeanie thinks about the specific changes that are most likely to challenge them. This gives her a chance to scaffold, or support, her students as they and their families prepare.

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