Aspergers and Transitions

I had an idea that, as it is coming to September, the time of year when school starts again, I would write something about transitions and how people with Aspergers can be affected by these. Of course, some people on the spectrum struggle with even day to day transitions such as from home to school or from activity to activity but, for the purpose of this post, I am dealing with bigger transitions. There are lots of strategies that help with day to day transitions such as timetables and PECS books and anyone is welcome to research these further. As I don’t struggle with small transitions myself, I feel I am not in a position to offer advice on these.

I personally struggle with transitions even when they are transitions that I know will be beneficial for me, such as starting at university. I get very comfortable with familiar routines and having to find and settle into new routines to go along with each transition is hard. However, most transitions I can cope with OK even though I hate them. The two transitions I have found hardest in my life thus far were the transition from primary to secondary school and the transition from sixth form college to university.

Primary school was, in general, quite a contented place for me. I had experienced some small level bullying but, overall, I loved it. I had grown up with the same children in my class year after year. It was a comfortable routine. Even though I changed teachers every September, the other pupils in my class were always the same. When I moved up to secondary school, everything changed. I was the only person from my primary school to go to that particular secondary school so I was completely on my own. Like most people with Aspergers, it takes me ages to get to know new people and make new friends. Dealing with having to change classrooms between every lesson and having multiple homeworks every evening on top of having none of my primary school compatriates with me was very hard. Therefore, when I first moved on to secondary school, I was not a happy child. It took me six months to fully settle in to my new environment and I know that many people with Aspergers take even longer than that. I was lucky in that my secondary school had a good SEN (Special Educational Needs) department and I received a lot of support because of my statement so I settled in quicker than I perhaps would have done otherwise.

Fast forward seven years and I was in the same situation. I was going from a sixth form college where I had close friends, including some who had come up through secondary school with me too, to a university where I initially only knew one person (and I didn’t even realise he was there until the first night when I heard someone yell my name and saw him!) University is a totally different environment from school or college (I use the UK definition of college here as an educational environment for students aged 16 to 18 years). The social life there is a lot more unstructured and there is a lot more free time too. Luckily I made some amazing friends within the first few weeks, who I am still in contact with today. Academically, I didn’t find the change overwhelming-I was lucky in that the college I attended pushed students into independent working assignments in order to prepare them for university. I did come across several people at university who really struggled with having to work so independently. Socially, however, the change was huge. I was fortunate in that the university I attended, which was the University of Kent, had an Aspergers social group which I used to attend on a fortnightly basis. I also saw an Aspergers tutor for an hour a week throughout my three years at university which I found immensely helpful. I know that not all universities are as supportive of students with Aspergers. I would say that, looking back, I spent the entirety of my university career rather confused and finally realising just how much I do actually struggle socially. I did have some fantastic times and met fantastic people but, overall, it was not a particularly happy time of my life.

Looking back, the common denominator of my two most difficult transition experiences was lacking friends to transition on with. I didn’t have that issue when moving on to college as my secondary school, at the time, finished after Year 11 so the majority of my school year went on to the same college as me so it didn’t feel so overwhelming. However, nobody from my primary school moved on to my secondary school with me and only one other student from my college moved on to the same university as me. I think transitions work a lot better when you are not the only person going through them from your previous environment.

I also believe that people with Aspergers benefit hugely from individual mentoring when settling into a new environment. These mentors should be chosen with care though. I think it works best when it is either staff or an older pupil who is sympathetic to the issues that Aspergers can cause. Unfortunately, I am aware that far too few people with Aspergers receive such support even though it makes such a difference.

If you or someone you know has Aspergers and is going to be transitioning onwards in September, please be patient with either yourself or the person you know. Transitioning is hard but it is not impossible for people on the spectrum to settle into new environments. We can do it-it just takes time and patience from both us and the people around us. Try not to give up on your new environment too easily/ If organisation is an issue for you, get as much support as you can with organising yourself so you know where you are supposed to be at what time and make it to your lessons on time. This was something I really struggled with initially when I moved to secondary school because my sense of direction is appalling and my memory for routes is non existent too. It took me ten years to memorise the 15 minute route from my old house to the nearest town centre-of course it was going to take me longer than the average person to remember a whole school building!

Try not to get upset with yourself. I have met people with Aspergers who get upset that they can’t tolerate change and transition well. I can get like that myself but it is the way your brain is wired and, as long as you are trying your best to settle in to your new environment, you shouldn’t be harsh on yourself. Sometimes other people need to understand that transition isn’t so easy for us and be more patient with us too.

Eventually you will settle into your new environment for a while before the next transition comes. I can’t speak for everyone but, for myself, it has become easier to deal with these transitions over the years. They still get to me but I can settle in quicker. For those of you with Aspergers, keep using your different coping strategies to help you settle in. For those of you who know someone with Aspergers, please appreciate how difficult transition is for us and just be gentle and patient. We know we should settle in quicker than we do but we are trying our best!

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One Response to Aspergers and Transitions

  1. maximusaurus says:

    As an Aspie myself, I find transition quite challenging, and my best coping method is to ease myself in to new things slowly.

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