Transition to school eased by planning matrix

Edwards family portrait

Starting school is an exciting yet daunting time for any family, but with two young children diagnosed with ASD, Trish Edwards was beginning to feel overwhelmed by the questions and concerns she had about her childrens education.

“I wasn’t sure of the best way to communicate with the school and education departments” Trish told us.

“I was worried about who to approach regarding education placements, what to do if we were having difficulty with the school, and my daughter transitioning to kindergarten”.

Trish and her husband Joseph are the proud parents of Ella, 5 and Thomas, 3, both diagnosed with ASD in 2014.

“Ella loves art and craft, but drawing in particular. She has a very special interest in cats” Trish says of her daughter, who began kindergarten at Canberra Girls Grammar this year.

“Ella is very creative and has an amazing imagination. She is a perfectionist and likes everything in order; she has lots of routines and rituals and does not like changes in routine. She is also hypersensitive to lights, sounds, touch and is very sensitive to smell, making mealtimes difficult” she continues.  

With the start of school approaching, Trish registered for our Parent/carer workshop in South Canberra last year to assist with the transition.

“I attended the one day Positive Partnerships workshop and found it very useful. I have read through all of the information in the manual, and found the information and tips on the website very helpful, particularly the information about sensory profiles and the planning matrix” she said.

The planning matrix was an especially useful tool for Trish, when communicating with the school in the lead up to Ella beginning kindergarten.

“I found it to be a wonderful tool that I could use with the school that would actually get read.” Trish said about the matrix.

“It provides a nice summary of the main difficulties a child has, and what strategies can best be used to address these challenges.”

“I had a meeting with Ella’s teacher the week prior to school commencing, and discussed the planning matrix with her. It provided some useful strategies to use if difficulties arise with behaviour or sensory sensitivities” she explained.

On some of the strategies that resulted from the matrix, Trish reflects that “there were hand dryers in the bathroom, so I am glad we could develop a strategy to deal with this, and show Ella the bathroom prior to school starting. It was also useful to show Ella some calming strategies, such as quiet spaces.”

These strategies have made the transition to primary school much smoother and according to Trish Ella has actually transitioned to school very well.”

“The biggest things that have been helpful, were meeting with the teacher prior to school starting and discussing strategies using the planning matrix. Ella attended preschool at the same school, and had plenty of practise going to the junior school, and using the various rooms there”

“It was also helpful to buy Ella’s school uniform and shoes early, and practice wearing it to get used to them. We also put a cat name tag on Ella’s bag, lunchbox and drink bottle” she recalls.

When asked if she has any advice for other parents in similar situation, Trish stresses that “it is useful to make the environment as familiar and structured as possible, to have a good communication strategy with the teacher, and to use special interests as motivators. It is also very important to make sure that a child’s sensory sensitivities are taken into consideration in order to maximise their learning and chances of success at school.”

As for her son, 3 year old Thomas, Trish plans to use the planning matrix prior to him starting pre-school next year.

Trish has a positive outlook when it comes to her hopes for her children, “I believe that Ella will continue to do well, she is a happy child and enjoys school” she says.

“I hope that she continues to develop friendships and can keep her anxiety under control, as she is such a perfectionist. I hope she continues to be happy and enjoy school, and continues to be successful with her learning.”

“I hope that Thomas can attend a mainstream preschool and school. I hope that he can learn to read and write, and make a friend. Long term I would love for him to get a job and be able to live independently.”

Learn more about the planning matrix here, or find out about our upcoming workshops.