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Everyone has the potential to struggle in some capacity when transitioning from the familiar to the unfamiliar; however, for young adults with learning differences, transitions can prove to be overwhelming, or even completely immobilizing. Let’s explore why transitions can be challenging and the best strategies for coping in the secondary and post-secondary settings.

Why may transitions be difficult for students with learning differences?

Students need to demonstrate the ability to transition and be flexible not only throughout the day and on a daily basis, but also when moving through more long term life milestones as well. We all process information in different ways. For those who demonstrate neurodiversity, difficulty transitioning from one activity or life event to another may be challenging. This can result in problematic behaviors, avoidance, or shutting down. As a child matures, and the need to be able to transition successfully increases, the goal is to guide students through finding ways to cope with transitions through middle school, high school, college, and beyond. Research continues to make strides in discovering how the brain processes information. The brain processes information very similarly to a computer, where communication between the various parts of the brain occur almost instantaneously. Some individuals diagnosed with neurologically-based learning differences may demonstrate processing delays. As the nerve cells in the brain transmit messages regulating everything from social behavior to movement, it is often hard for people with processing delays to quickly process what is unfamiliar, leading to potential confusion, anxiety, or difficulty coping, understanding, and managing change.

How can students manage transitions in the school environment?

Students with diverse learning needs may cope better when they have an established routine; however, this may not always be within one’s control. Using visual cues, such as a written copy of a schedule, with edits made to reflect schedule changes, can help students anticipate and identify what will occur next and out of their typical routine. The use of a timer, such as one on a wristwatch or a phone, may be used to provide cues to students when a transition is about to take place. This warning prompt can provide the students with an additional few moments to adjust to what will come next. If possible, not placing challenging classes back to back can be supportive as well. Instead, sandwich harder courses between two that are more enjoyable to the student. This forethought keeps the student from transitioning from one perceived stress or pressure to another. Before the beginning of a new semester, have the student go to the school. Help them familiarize themselves with their new route and the routine of their changed schedule. This can help with the transitions between classes.

What a Student Must Know to Transition Easily

What happens when the unexpected occurs? Suppose, a class is canceled or moved. What do you do when you are late? Either scenario is stressful for any student, but for one that finds transitions difficult, it can lead to overwhelming anxiety. It is essential that high school and college students know how and where to find help when it’s needed. First, students need to understand how to identify a problem and what it will take to solve it.

  • “My class has been moved; I need to know where the new classroom is located.”
  • “I am late to class. What is the policy for arriving after the teacher has begun lecturing.”

Second, a student should know where they can go for help. Is there a school counselor or administrator that can answer questions or help with transitions? It is also important to understand the resources that are available at one’s school or college to manage transitional obstacles. What should a student do when he feels overwhelmed? Is there a strategy for dealing with the transitions (e.g., look at their schedule, ask an instructor) and when is it appropriate to approach an instructor?

Students should be prepped in advance of the transition from high school to college to feel comfortable asking for accommodations when they are needed. Parents and school staff should teach children how to advocate for themselves beginning at a young age. Students should be able to speak up and verbalize when they need additional help.

New Frontiers in Learning helps students with learning differences navigate both secondary school and college. Knowing the challenges that the student will face and how best to prepare for them gives the student a better opportunity for success.

With assistance and preparation, there is increased opportunity for a student to handle the transitions required for advanced learning. These strategies transcend into the workplace, social/recreational opportunities, and everyday life in general.

At New Frontiers in Learning, we provide customized programs, executive functioning, and transition support services to adolescents and young adults who learn differently. Whether it is transitioning to secondary or postsecondary school, a career, or independent living, we can help. Submit your contact information below to get more information on our individualized or group coaching supports.

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