Q A boy with Asperger syndrome is transfering to our secondary school next term. As Senco, how can I best prepare? In reality, how inclusive can we be?
A There are some general points to consider, which should benefit all new pupils, things such as using straightforward language, getting a person's attention before giving instructions, reducing unnecessary noise and stimulation, having clear rules which are consistently followed, and an atmosphere of positive behaviour and mutual respect.
Children with Asperger syndrome do not enjoy settings where their anxiety is heightened by over-stimulation, demands for them to comply with conditions that make them uncomfortable, and language that confuses them.
Difficulties with social interaction make them vulnerable to bullying, so you will need to think about how to cater for pupils who want friendships but cannot manage them unsupported.
The important thing is good knowledge of the pupil - what to expect and how to help. You will need planning meetings with parents and staff who know him well - ask for a list of Dos and Don'ts - what strategies work best (for example, prompt cards, rehearsal, time out to calm down, written lesson plans and instructions). You should also consider a risk assessment if his response to everyday situations - such as literal interpretation of instructions, change in daily routine or being touched by others - suggests he might put himself or others at risk. Follow this with a plan and any necessary training.
If possible, set up visits for your pupil to get to know his new school, its layout, timetable and key staff - he may then be able to join in with scheduled visits from his primary school.
Ask him for a list of strengths, areas he finds difficult, how people can tell if he is upset, what people should do to help him feel less anxious.
Set up activities for break and lunchtimes, places he can go to feel safe, routines he must follow if he needs to leave a class, and make sure there are fall-back positions if his regular staff are absent or changes have to be made to his routine. With parents' permission, prepare a briefing for all staff about his particular needs and put his photo up in the staffroom.
Make sure office and site staff are aware of his needs and how to talk to him.
Discuss how best to support his self-organisation so that letters are delivered home, homework is completed, and his diary is not just written in but read and used for preparation and assignments.