Transitioning Between Schools

When we have children with disabilities, we hear the word “transition” a lot. And most of the time, we are talking about our children’s transition into adulthood.

But even though that is an important transition, it isn’t the first one your child will face. There are transitions between home and preschool, preschool and elementary school, middle and high school – and maybe even between school districts, if your family moves. A child with a disability may be in school past the age of 18 and have even more transitions.

For many children with disabilities, a routine can be their best friend. And each of these transitions might be stressful, because the routine changes.

Here are some tips to make these changes easier.

Working With Your Child to Prepare for Success

Changing schools can be tough. And things change a lot when your child transitions to middle and high school. There are parts of your child’s school success that have nothing to do with academics. It can be hard for them to get to class on time, remember their homework, and learn to navigate new social situations.

Here are some things that other parents have recommended, which helped their kids go through the transition to middle or high school. See if any of these will help your child:

  • Get a copy of the school handbook, in either print or online. Go through it with your child before school starts.
  • Work with the new school to get permission to spend time there before your child’s first day. Walk around the halls. Find the cafeteria, locker rooms, and bathrooms. Go to a sports game or theater performance. The more time your child spends there, the more comfortable they will be.
  • If possible, get your child’s schedule early and go to school to do a walk-through before the first day. Time the distance between classrooms, try to guess where your child’s locker might be, and draw a map that your child can tape in their locker. Bring one of your child’s peers with you if you can. See if you can meet some of the teachers and spend time in their classrooms. Many schools have an orientation session where you can do this walk-through.
  • At the beginning of each semester, help your child set up a single binder with pockets for each class. Ask them to make a list on the front of the binder with their class schedule and school map, and put a reminder inside to look for the homework in each class. Check that binder with them each night until you know they’re comfortable using it.
  • See if the school can assign your child a guide to get through the first few days and weeks in this new environment. This could be an older child, a teacher’s assistant, or someone who has just been at the school longer.
  • Encourage your child to sign up for a sport or club that they’re interested in. Having that social group will help them get through the early transition time.

If your child is having trouble with some of these life skills, and your child has a 504 plan or an Individualized Education Program (IEP), these skills should be included as educational goals.

If you are moving into a new district, it might take your child more time to adjust while both of you learn how this new district works.

Working With the School

Hopefully, you can work with your child’s new school in advance to help everyone be ready. Here are some things other parents have suggested:

  • If you’re moving to a new district, ask your child’s current teacher and therapists to write a letter of introduction that you can bring with you.
  • Ask for a meeting with your child’s new school team before your child starts at the new school. This could be your child’s Admission, Review, and Dismissal (ARD) committee meeting or a chance to discuss 504 accommodations if needed. That way, everyone can be better prepared to help your child on that very first day.
  • Make a 1-page summary of your child’s dreams, visions, abilities, and needs and bring it to the meeting.
  • If your child receives special education services, see if a representative from your child’s previous school can attend the first ARD committee meeting at the new school. Or, if your child is moving within the same district, see if you can get a new school representative into your final ARD committee meeting at your old school. If the schools are far apart, you could also ask if you can have someone call in with Skype or another videoconferencing service.
  • Look over the new school’s physical layout before school starts to see if there are any areas that are not accessible to your child. Make sure that you have asked the school to make any needed accommodations before school starts. If your child has an IEP, you can ask to put these into your child’s IEP.
  • Bring extra copies of any assessments, IEPs, or services your child has received to the first meeting with the new school. Include a list of any assistive technologies or accommodations that your child has used before.
  • Go to your school district’s website to find the phone number or email for the new school’s special education person, the counselor, and the principal. Talk through some of your child’s needs with them.

Early School Transitions

If your child has received services through Early Childhood Intervention (ECI), chances are that they have an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP).

As your child approaches their 3rd birthday, their ECI representative should help your family get connected to your local school district. If appropriate, they can help your child transition into a Preschool Program for Children with Disabilities (PPCD). This is often at the same school, with the same team of people that your child would see in elementary school.

Transitioning Out of Public Education

Your child’s ARD committee should help your child make a transition plan by the age of 14, if your child is receiving special education services. You can see our  Transition to Adulthood page to find out more about that process.

This article was adapted from Transitioning Between Schools by Navigate Life Texas at