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Abstract: The transition of young children with autism from preschool to kindergarten is an important event both for sustaining gains made during preschool and for establishing future social and academic development. This article provides a summary of 25 transition elements identified from the research literature as important for a successful transition. The elements were built into a survey instrument, and the instrument was used with the parents, preschool teachers, and kindergarten teachers for three children with autism who transitioned during 1999 to 2001. Results from the survey indicate that transition elements identified in the literature were perceived as important by families, preschool teachers, and kindergarten teachers. High variability, however, was reported in the perceived level of implementation for the transition elements. The report provides an index of transition elements that may be useful to guide future research and to facilitate effective transitions.
Early intervention for children with autism spectrum disorder is one of the most effective means of improving long-term social and academic outcomes (National Research Council, 2001). Children who receive services during their preschool years are better prepared to face academic challenges and to continue cognitive and social development (Rice & O'Brien, 1990; Rule, Fiechtl, & Innocenti, 1990; Wittmer, Doll, & Strain, 1996). The long-term impact of effective early intervention, however, depends in part on the transition of young children with autism from preschool to kindergarten (Fox, Dunlap, & Cushing, in press; Hanson et al., 2001; Harris & Handleman, 2000; Rosenkoetter, Hains, & Fowler, 1994; Wolery, 1989, 1997).
Educational transitions occur when a child moves from preschool to kindergarten, from grade to grade, and from elementary school to middle and/or high school. The transition from preschool to kindergarten is the first educational transition that many children and their families face and is identified as a critical juncture for school success (Wolery, 1997). Children with autism are particularly vulnerable in the transition process. The social and communication deficits associated with autism (Koegel & Koegel, 1995; Lord et al., 2000; McGee, Morrier, & Daly, 1999; Schopler, Reichler, DeVellis, & Daly, 1980) make transitions to new physical, social, and academic environments a special challenge (Fowler, Chandler, Johnson, & Stella, 1988). Skills acquired by children with autism in one setting are less likely to generalize. In addition, children with autism are more likely to require individualized features in their educational environment, and these individualized features may be less likely to be consistent across settings (Anderson & Romanczyk, 1999; Hieneman & Dunlap, 1999; Koegel, Koegel, Kellegrew, & Mullen, 1996).
The goal of transition planning is to maximize the likelihood that the potentially stressful and difficult shift from preschool to kindergarten can occur successfully. The transition plan typically focuses on continuity of services and supports (Bruder & Chandler, 1996; Folwer, Schwartz, & Atwater, 1991) and defines the roles and responsibilities of the kindergarten staff, preschool staff, and family. Families are encouraged to participate actively in the development and implementation of transition plans. Visits to the kindergarten site are recommended, and the unique needs of a child (physical setting, curriculum, teaching procedures, behavior support) are defined (Harrower, Fox, Dunlap, & Kincaid, 1999-2000). A central vision for the transition plan is to share detailed information acquired from student assessments and preschool history with staff at the new school; this minimizes the time and effort that staff need to establish appropriate environmental, educational, communication, and social requirements so a young student with autism can succeed in kindergarten. This level of transition planning is of special importance for those children with autism who also have problem behaviors (Fox et al., in press).
Although a growing literature attests to the importance of transition planning, a need exists to identify the full set of elements within a transition plan that are important for child success (Jewett et al., 1998; Johnson, Gallagher, Cook, & Wong, 1995). The present research had three goals: (a) identify and integrate critical elements in the transition process gleaned from the published literature; (b) develop a practical tool that families, schools, and agencies can use to assess their transition process; and (c) conduct a pilot field test with three families to determine both the perceived importance of each transition element (content validity) and the extent to which each element was experienced in recent transitions.
Participants in the study were the parents and teachers of 3 young children who transitioned from preschool to kindergarten between 1999 and 2001. The children were identified by their county early childhood service providers based on (a) a diagnosis of autism; (b) transition to kindergarten within the past 12 months; and (c) consent of the family, preschool teacher, and kindergarten teacher. Andy, Josh, and Joey attended different preschools and kindergartens. Andy was 5 years old at the time data were collected; he was attending a specialized program for children with autism half a day and a general education kindergarten classroom the remainder of the day (total: 30 hrs/wk). Andy had spent 2 years in preschool and prior to his transition had been in a preschool 20 hours a week with 10 other children.
Josh was 6 years old when data were collected and was attending a general education kindergarten 25 hours a week. Josh participated in an integrated preschool program for young children with autism 3 years before his transition and in that program had received 20 hours a week of formal education.
Joey was 6 years old when data were collected and was attending a general education kindergarten 25 hours a week. Joey had been in a private preschool for children with autism for 3 years prior to his transition. In his preschool, he had received 20 hours of support per week.
Each child had a diagnosis of autism based on the Childhood Autism Rating Scale …