Team-work needed to guide children on their journey

David van de Klundert

30 May 2017 – Transitioning children from one teacher or from one setting can be a period of uncertainty. Whangarei-based special needs coordinator David van de Klundert relies on many people to help him through the transition process.

IT IS VITAL the transition process, especially between early childhood education and school, is as inclusive and as positive as it can be.

In my experience as a Special Education needs coordinator, I acknowledge that transitions can be a period of uncertainty and stress.

The New Zealand Autism Spectrum Disorder Guideline (2016) states that for children with ASD: “Times of transition (from one teacher to another, as well as from one setting to another) are stressful for all children and young people and their parents.” (p. 129)

In order to allay these pressures, I am reliant on information and advice from many people.

POINT OF CONTACT: Morningside School’s Dave van de Klundert. Photo: Liz Inch, Northland District Health Board

There are three ways I do my first point of contact with a prospective family.

Firstly, through the initial enrolment process with a family that may come into my school to enrol their child. I will meet with family and the child to explain our school, our culture and our strengths and to listen to family about their child’s needs.

The second way involves our own contact with our local early childhood education providers whom we are in regular contact with.

They will bring to our attention potential enrolments in our school and will alert us to any children who may have special needs.

Thirdly, contact with our early interventionist is crucial. This person works for Group Special Education and links me to the child, to their family and whānau, to the centre and to resourcing.

The more information that these sources of information give me, the better understanding I will have of the child, the family, the resourcing, the interventions, the period of transition needed and what type of teacher and classroom placement will best meet the needs of the child.

From all of these sources I then set about building a transition team that usually involves the family and whānau, the early intervention specialist if one is involved, an early childhood centre member, a teacher and myself.

If I can, I also bring in my Special Education advisor.

I also rely on the knowledge that I have of my school setting in meeting and managing need.

I identify barriers to inclusive practice. In essence the information that I receive about a child is balanced with the information that I have about my own setting.

The New Zealand ASD Guideline (2016) states that, “…the most suitable setting will be one:

  • That provides adequate structure and gives the child or young person opportunities for contact with typically developing peers.
  • Where staff are well trained and have a positive attitude, expertise, understanding and willingness to work in a team with the family/whānau
  • That has the ability to be flexible in meeting the child’s needs over time.” (p. 127)
  • Therefore communication is vital. The more I have the better I am able to address needs and supports.

There is another factor that is just as important – that factor is time.

Time is crucial on so many different levels.

Everyone involved in the process needs time to:

  • Build relationships with the child, the family, the centre, and with and between teaching staff. This is key to a successful transition.
  • Meet with other professionals that may have been involved with the child.
  • Read all documentation.
  • Transition a child into the new school setting to observe behaviours, identify areas of need and to strengthen communication ties.
  • Transition a family and whānau into the new school to assist them with their concerns, to celebrate successes, to learn from them about their child’s needs and to support a gradual introduction into the school day if required.
  • Visit the centre to start a relationship with the child and their family, to observe, and ask questions.
  • Support any intervention or resourcing processes that either may exist or are in the process of being applied for.

In reviewing this area of transition, there is still a general need to address the following:

  • Better data gathering tools to be shared with schools. Much of what is discussed is based on anecdotal and qualitative data that doesn’t always capture such things as the frequency of and triggers of behaviours.
  • Better profiling tools that can describe in better detail the specific behaviours across the spectrum and what supports these.
  • A better understanding and explanation of the interventions that have been used – why they were successful and the contexts that they are the most successful in, as well as those interventions that have not been as successful, the reasons why and the contexts that this happened in.
  • A better understanding by schools of Te Whāriki  to better understand areas of focus in both social and education domains so that there can be a better approach to programme continuity.
  • For all professionals involved in the transition to have a better understanding of ASD so that shared understandings with such things as evidenced based interventions can be better understood.
  • To continue during the transition period, the support that the early childhood centre has in place and the conversations with the early childhood centre once the child starts school.
  • To have better built in “check in” times after school has begun after two, four and six weeks as an example by all members of the transition team to better able manage the transition and identify any barriers and to celebrate successes.

As a final word, every child transitions between at least three to four education settings before they complete their schooling.

However, within this they may transition into and out of at least 13-15 classrooms.

Along the way, we in education gather a large amount of information and involve many individuals.

Much of this information becomes lost or deemed obsolete.

This is a shame as this data contains valuable information about each child’s growth, their challenges and successes.

Children with ASD and their families and whānau can sometimes become frustrated in repeating their child’s story, and advocating for their child’s needs.

We need to do a better job, at times, to archive and communicate between settings the information required to ensure that we use transitions as a building block to support continuing growth and positive outcomes.

This article first appeared in the Altogether Autism Journal issue 2, 2017.