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Transition for students with sensory impairments

Transitions are very important for children and young people and can be a challenging and anxiety-provoking time, particularly when the child or young person is vulnerable or has special educational needs or a disability or both that require understanding and support over the transition.

The Sensory Team is committed to supporting effective transitions whether that is to a new class, key stage or school. Your advisory teacher will help plan your transition with you, key members of school staff, parents and carers to ensure that your needs are recognised and understood.

Further guidance, to support successful transitions, is also available at transitions.

The guidance aims to support parents/carers, staff and other professionals to ensure high-quality transition practice across Devon.

Included are booklets that have been designed to be shared with children, young people and parents or carers prior to transition, with the aim of supporting confidence around transitions and this includes practical guidance on factors to consider.

Need the booklets in another language or modified? Please contact us if you require these in large print or braille. Our EMTAS bilingual support teachers have also translated the Starting School booklet into many languages.

Getting ready for primary school – top tips for children with sensory impairments

Starting primary school can be a challenging prospect for you and your child, but it marks the start of an exciting new chapter. Before you know it, your child will be making friends, learning new skills and becoming increasingly independent.

Here are five top tips that will support all children.

Support your child’s independence – really important for a child with a sensory impairment

The most useful thing you can do to get your child ready for school is to make sure he or she is comfortable doing simple tasks independently.

This includes:

Going to the toilet. Resist the temptation to pop your child onto the loo and wipe his or her bottom. It is better to get your child into the habit of doing this for themselves. Make sure they know which side the paper is on. Teach them how to wash and dry their hands. Out and about get them used to the noise of hand dryers. You could also talk about how the room echoes, funny smells or how noisy other children might be in the toilets!

Getting dressed. Let them try to get dressed themselves. Avoid clothing with fiddly buckles and buttons. It is also a good idea to have a few dry runs with the PE Kit!

Putting on shoes. Tie-up shoes might be a bit difficult. Go for shoes with Velcro fasteners if possible.
Eating. This includes using a knife and fork, opening their lunchbox and being able to open everything in the lunchbox – some yoghurt tubes and drink cartons can be tricky. This can also be useful to encourage your child to ask for help.

Solving simple problems. Encourage your child to resolve problems by talking when he or she doesn’t understand or something isn’t going well. It is important that he or she learns when to ask an adult for help.

Practice packing their school bag.

Build up your child’s social skills

Learning in a classroom is a social activity. Children learn and develop by playing alongside their peers, and they will make better progress if they are happy mixing with other children and adults.
You can encourage this by:

  • organising play dates – this is also good to promote turn-taking skills!
  • practising greetings – your child should know how to start a conversation with his or her new classmates – you can use dolls and soft toys to practice saying “hello!”
  • practising conversations – giving your child time to talk – and also time when he or she has to listen – teaches vital speaking and listening skills. You could take turns to talk about the best part of your day over the dinner table. Can they ask questions to find out more? Can they remember what their sibling’s favourite part of the day was? Can they talk about their favourite toys etc?
  • encouraging sharing and tolerance – sharing games such as snakes and ladders or matching games let children practice social skills and turn-taking. Be sure to use the language of turn-taking, like “Whose turn is it next?” and “Thank you for waiting.”

Make a start on early literacy and numeracy skills

Your child is not expected to have amazing literacy or numeracy skills at this age. However, there are some ways you can get your child ready for learning:

Help them recognise their name. It’s handy if your child can find his or her space in the cloakroom, and can keep track of labelled clothes and other belongings. Make sure those school clothes are labelled! Help them to gain organisational skills themselves by putting clothes/toys etc away in the same place.
Share stories. Reading to your child improves their vocabulary and listening skills, and acting out stories is a great way to practice communication. Seeing you enjoy stories also helps your child to be an enthusiastic reader.

Hone fine motor skills. Developing hand strength, fine motor skills and hand-eye co-ordination all helps prepare your child for writing. Making Lego models, modelling with playdough or pastry using scissors, and threading beads or pasta onto string are fun ways to develop hand strength. Drawing and colouring activities are good for introducing your child to mark-making tools. Give them lots of different pens and crayons to experiment with. For children with visual impairments, make sure that the pens contrast well with the paper.

Painting with paint or water in up and down movements builds strength in the wrist
Introduce them to numbers. Why not go on a number hunt around your house/ garden and look/take pictures of any numbers you find? You could make a number book. This could be tactile with different objects e.g. 5 red pegs. This also supports conceptual development that 5 is made of 5 things. Also supports expanding vocabulary with descriptive words. You could also share counting songs together or count objects as you set the table for dinner. Can your child get five forks or three cups out? Can they share them between members of the family?

Help your child learn to concentrate

Your child being able to concentrate in 10–15 minute bursts will really help their new teacher. Here are some ways to practice:

Enjoy extended play together. Building kits like Lego are great for encouraging your child’s resilience, especially if they can finish the activity in one sitting. Race-the-clock games such as can you find your shoes before I count to 20? are good for improving concentration (and are helpful when you need to get out to school in the morning!)

Follow instructions. Giving your child simple instructions to follow helps build their concentration. With building bricks you could ask for the red brick followed by the blue brick. You could follow a simple recipe such as making playdough or cakes.

Talk to your child about school

Talking about the exciting things your child is going to do at school helps them get over any nerves. Be positive about school. Let them know that everyone will be feeling the same. Reassure them that they will be coming home every night!

You could:

Visit the school, look at the school website or walk or drive past school. You could talk about the uniform or some of the activities that children are doing. You could create an “all about me” document (or we can help you create one) so that your child’s needs are understood by all. For children with severe visual impairments learning the layout of the classroom will need to be supported.

Talk about how fun school is! Reassure them that they will have lots of similar equipment as nursery, for example, toys, painting, sand, and water. Find out what they like to play with. Give your child time to talk and also let them raise any concerns or questions.

Practice the school routine. It can be helpful to do a practice journey before the big day, looking for interesting things on the way. It might be a good idea to make sure your child has school-friendly bedtimes and getting-up times a few days in advance.

Finally don’t be afraid to ask questions, the sensory teams and the new setting are here to reassure you and your child so that their transition to their new school is successful. We provide advice and guidance for settings so that your child’s needs are understood so that they can achieve their potential.

Creating a transition booklet for starting early years or primary settings

Transition booklets

Children love books, especially books about themselves. One way to support families during a transition to a new class or school is to help put together a scrapbook about the new people and environment they will be going to join in September. This can be done as a scrapbook or created on the computer and printed out.

This type of booklet can be used with any age group and adapted to the individual as appropriate. Some children may need a tactile version which we can help with.

A useful checklist of pictures to ask the school for could include:

  • the outside of the school – main gates or entrance
  • the teacher
  • the classroom (may need a few if it is difficult to get the whole classroom into one photo – could be photos or the different areas, for example, the book corner or maths table)
  • Any adult helpers, for example, teaching assistants
  • pegs or coat area
  • lunchtime or playground staff
  • the playground – again, you may need more than one photo
  • other areas in the school, for example, the library, group room or hall
  • other people the child might see, for example, the headteacher, SENDCo or governors

Other things to include are:

  • significant people at home
  • places that are special to the child
  • equipment being used
  • likes and dislikes
  • interests

Top transition tips for children and young people with a hearing impairment

Starting primary or secondary school for children and young people with hearing loss and their parents is exciting but a bit scary too, sometimes! Research has shown us that a successful transition depends upon face-to-face meetings between parents, children and their teachers and teacher of the deaf.

Look on the school website at pictures of places and activities. What do you like?
Talk to your family or friends about your new school. What are you looking forward to? Are you worried about anything? Talking about things really helps!

Does your teacher of the deaf know any other children or young people who use hearing aids? Can you message them to say hello?

Make sure you have a good place to keep your hearing aids, spare batteries and ALD safe in your bag and in school!

Names of important people can really help. Get to know the names of your teachers! Sometimes children and young people with a hearing loss can feel a bit different when they start school.
Your teacher of the deaf can help you explain to your classmates about hearing and hearing aids. Remember to relax and enjoy it! Everyone is there to help.

Transition advice for post-16 students with a hearing impairment

Starting post-16 is a big step. You are now responsible for communication with your college or post-16.
Do you need help with preparing for your college interview?

Remember you can get in touch with your teacher of the deaf before your interview to help you know what to expect.

Your teacher of the deaf may be able to help make sure that you can access the interview more easily, for example by video call rather than telephone if preferred.

We can help you prepare a transition document which will help you think about what support you will need at college.

Are you confident about letting your college know if you will be late if your bus is delayed?

Make sure you have important contact numbers stored on your phone so that you can get in touch with someone if you need help to let college know where you are if you are late. Your college should be able to give you a text number to contact for emergencies if you prefer to use text rather than phone.
Do you use specialist equipment to help you hear better?

Make sure you take a supply of batteries and any hearing equipment you may need. Your teacher of the deaf can provide training for your new college or sixth form, so please make sure you let them know if this will be helpful.

Transition advice for Post-18 students moving on to university or college

This is an exciting time with lots of things to organise and pack. Remember to include all your hearing gear!

Your teacher of the deaf (TOD) can help you prepare for looking after your hearing aid equipment, and any additional specialist technology you will need in your university life. Ask your TOD about the hearing aid management programme.

If you wear hearing aids or have cochlear implants, you will need to think about what spares you need to take with you to university

You might want to have a small bag for all your kit such as batteries, spare ear hooks, spare tubing, sharp scissors for cutting the tube and any other spare bits you need.

If you are going to university, and need support for your hearing needs, you may be able to apply for the Disabled Students’ Allowance.

If you use an assistive listening device, you will need to know how to do basic maintenance and troubleshooting of your equipment, including:

  • checking connector shoes for corrosion and changing faulty shoes
  • knowing where to order spare parts and who will pay for them
  • knowing where your local audiology clinic is for spare batteries

Managing day-to-day transitions for learners who are deafblind

Children who are deafblind are unable to access the incidental information about what is about to happen next in their day. The clues such as materials being packed away or lunch boxes being moved onto tables will not be fully available to them.

This means that all transitions, whether between daily activities, between different learning spaces or between one phase of education and another need to be managed and communicated very explicitly and with additional care. Our Multi-Sensory Impairment (MSI) team supports schools and families to manage daily transitions using some of the strategies below.

The Victoria School Multi-sensory Impairment Curriculum, which is used widely to support Deafblind children educationally, dedicates a whole domain of learning to ‘Responses to Routines and Changes’. This domain is recognised as supporting conceptual development, maths and communication.
The strategies described below are based on the Victoria School Multi-sensory impaired curriculum recommendations for successfully developing responses to routines and changes.

Strategies that the MSI team would recommend to enable students to anticipate a future change include:

Providing children with the greatest needs with daily rather than weekly timetables. For these children following a same time, same person, and same physical space for the same activity principle is embedded. This enables children to develop the understanding that, ‘When I am positioned here, with this person I will probably be about to start X activity.’

If for any reason a change is necessary, for example, a member of staff is off sick, if all other elements of the routine are maintained the multi-sensory impaired child will be better placed to cope with the transition to a different (well briefed!) person. Our multi-sensory workers (MSWs) provide the consistent 1:1 human contact needed to support the delivery of learning and coping with transitions and change at this level.

Children can be introduced to weekly timetables by introducing a single distinct activity that is different each day. For example, on Tuesdays, we always do cooking after lunch.
However this ‘different daily activity’ would be delivered by the same adult and repeated for a series of weeks – again to build anticipation and familiarity – so in cooking the same recipe would be followed repeatedly.

This may feel tedious to us as fully sighted and hearing adults, but for multi-sensory impaired learners it provides an opportunity to build confidence about the change and to be exposed multiple times to the same vocabulary.

Children working at this level are unlikely to be able to manage learning new skills or take in new information if they have already had to cope with change – it is, therefore, a good opportunity for consolidation and post-teaching opportunities.

Deafblind learners who are better able to adapt to and manage change usually do so if change is carefully considered and communicated to them explicitly.

For example, transitioning to a session in a new location will be made easier by having prepared for this ahead. This may have involved visiting the unfamiliar space beforehand, making a photo or tactile booklet about the space or having a very familiar object cue linked to the familiar activity which will take place in the new space.

Deafblind learners who are able to take in new learning despite transitions continue to need changes and transitions communicated carefully and explicitly to them ahead of time as far as is possible.
The key indicator for this is whether they are able to transfer previously learnt key skills to an unfamiliar setting. Strategies to support these learners will be to both prepare them in advance of any planned transitions and also evaluate how the transition went together with them afterwards.

To support the resilience of these children in managing change using “planned sabotage” can be used. For example, discovering a key ingredient needed for cooking is not in its predictable place; a piece of equipment is faulty.

The process of discovering that things can ‘go a bit wrong’ but in the end ‘everything is alright’ can be key to developing communication and coping emotionally with transitions and change in life.
The full Victoria School Multi-sensory Impairment Curriculum is available here.

Transition between primary and secondary school – an emotional journey

Life is changing all of the time, we go through cycles of:

  • gathering – sometimes we gather (gain)
  • letting go – sometimes we have to let go (lose)

Gathering is generally positive, but letting go can be hard. It can feel scary to let go. It can feel like we have no control. We sometimes try to keep hold of what we know. Things we know can give security, but not help us change.

Children in year 6 might have any number of feelings about transition. These include excitement, curiosity, anxiety, apprehension, loss and fear.

We should help our young people understand that these feelings are all normal and rather than being there to make us feel bad, they are there so we can make sense of what is happening and help us move on. If we consider what a child might fear they will lose, it could be any of these: (or more)

  • Established friendship group.
  • Familiarity – they know where everything is, how things work.
  • Confidence.
  • Having one class teacher.
  • Knowing all the staff.
  • Routine – walking to school, putting your bag away, choosing your lunch.
  • Status – being the oldest in the school.
  • Security.

So it’s no wonder they might feel anxious and apprehensive!

How to help

If we can encourage the child to do something about getting one or more of the losses back, it will help them feel better overall, for example, if a particular friend is going to another school or may be in a different tutor group at the same school, arranging a way to keep in contact with that one friend out of school, for example, if they are worried about routine, contact the school they are going to and ask them to tell you or the child what happens when they get to school first thing in the morning, give you a timetable or tell you what happens at break and lunchtime.

Please note that the more the child is involved the more it will help as they will feel part of the solution. Once they have done something to gain back a loss or two, you could also encourage them to think about the ‘gathering’ possibilities.

What might the child gain (gather)?

  • New friends.
  • New subjects.
  • More freedom.
  • More teachers.
  • Opportunities.
  • Choice.
  • Status.
  • More independence.

Learning about Emotional Logic can help further explore this way of understanding our emotional reactions and using them to help us adapt to change. Emotional Logic was developed in a healthcare setting during the late 1990s.

The method is now used in welfare settings, schools, inclusion units, parenting and youth support organisations, care support and for people with learning difficulties.

Emotional Logic is a structured way to understand the useful purposes of emotions and the ability to turn unpleasant emotions into positive action whilst limiting distress and confusion.

This life-long learning method leads to emotional strength and resilience in the face of life’s challenges. In turn, this gives the foundation for positive character development. Adjusting to change is an emotional process and can be difficult.

Emotional Logic is used by many counsellors and therapists. It is not counselling or therapy but helps in everyday conversations and teaching. The resources assist in a non-confrontational encounter and can help to identify patterns of behaviour.

The School Transition & Adjustment Research Study (STARS) was carried out by a team from University College London 2000 young people, their parents and their teachers were involved during the move to ten secondary schools from around South-East England.

See the links below for the published pupil, parent and teacher booklets:

The Top 5 concerns for children were:

  1. Getting lost
  2. Losing old friends
  3. Homework
  4. Discipline and detentions
  5. Being bullied

The Top 5 concerns for parents were:

  1. Bullying
  2. Safety
  3. The amount of homework
  4. Adjusting to having lots of teachers
  5. Making new friends

The good news is that within a short time, the concerns of both pupils and parents were considerably reduced. Young people’s concerns about getting lost and being bullied reduce very quickly, within the first term at secondary school.

Their worries about losing old friends, homework and about discipline and detentions are also reduced by the end of year 7.

Something to look out for

Children whose parents had higher concerns settled in less well to secondary school in both areas of transition success (school adjustment and social and emotional adjustment).

Children do seem to learn a lot of their thoughts and behaviours from those around them.
Your anxious thoughts could be contagious. You can have a really positive impact on emotions related to the transition.

Ask some questions to find out what they are thinking about the move.

Don’t just reassure them or say they are silly for being worried. Their fears will be real to them.
Listen to your child’s concerns and develop a plan together to try and alleviate their worries. This will help them feel as though they are part of the solution and more able to cope.

Change and transition can be more challenging for vulnerable children, for example, those who have:

  • additional needs
  • experienced frequent moves
  • experienced a bereavement or family member illness

It is important to share information with key staff at the new school. ‘Pen pictures’ or pupil passports outlining needs written by or with the child have proved really helpful.

Pointers for writing a personal pen picture

We have found that is it useful for a receiving school and very helpful for pupils when transferring between schools that they compile a ‘pen picture’ about themselves (so called because it is supposed to use words to create a picture about someone using words).

We usually try to keep it to one side of A4 paper so that it is succinct and readable for busy teachers and helps concentrates the mind of those who are putting it together!

The list below gives suggestions as to what can be included. It is not prescriptive or finite and doesn’t have to be done in bullet points, although they can sometimes add to the clarity. This document is then passed to the receiving school SENDCo who will share it with other relevant teachers and staff within the school.

Some ideas to include:

  • my diagnosis and what that means for me
  • you can help me by ….
  • I learn best when …..
  • I find it difficult when ….
  • my needs for specific lessons e.g. Science, Technology, PE
  • how I record my work
  • what I like doing at break times
  • what help I need at lunchtime
  • any specialist equipment I need, for example, IT, seating, writing slope
  • any help I might need socially or emotionally
  • help I might need with moving between lessons
  • what assistance I might need with personal care
  • if I need to follow a physio programme
  • will I need rest times

Anyone can put one of these together, the key thing is that the young person themselves feels that their own views, needs and concerns are being recorded and will be taken into account by those who read it.
A pupil passport follows very similar lines and can be used instead of this if preferred. The key thing is that the pupil gives the information and knows that it is being passed on to the appropriate people in their new school.

Visual impairment moving to year 7 transition activity – how do you feel?

Transition activity: Being aware of how we feel.

Moving to secondary school is an emotional time for all children, with many feeling a combination of excitement and anxiety. But for children with visual impairments, the upcoming transition to year 7 can feel even more nerve-wracking, as reduced vision makes it harder for them to learn about their new school.

Understanding our emotions and being mindful about how we are feeling can really help to ease anxiety. Here is a simple transition activity that can be completed at home with your child, as we move through the final few months of year 6.

All you will need is a pen, some small pieces of paper and a container such as a box or a hat. You will need three pieces of paper with the labels: Not sure, worried and excited.


Ask your child to think about what they are worried or excited about when they think about secondary school. Ask them to write each idea on a piece of paper. If needed, talk a little about these two feelings: how do they make us feel?

Fold each piece of paper up and place them into your container.

Lay out the three emotion signs supplied with this activity – ‘worried’, ‘excited’ and ‘not sure’ – in front of the child.

Ask the child to pick an idea from the container. Read through it together and ask the child to choose the sign that reflects how they feel. Are they worried, excited or not sure? Talk it through together.
Read through each idea until you have talked about them all. Keep revisiting the activity periodically.